In auto racing, it’s tempting to go full power, full time. But skilled drivers know that taking the corners too fast can cause them to lose the battle with centrifugal force. They could spin out, hit a wall or get taken out by another driver.

It’s a balance, and at strategic points, you have to slow down to go faster.

That bit of motorsports wisdom applies to search engine optimization, too. Aim to kick your SEO campaign into high gear as quickly as possible, but watch how you cut your corners. Some firms accelerate too quickly, only to rack up search engine penalties that delay progress.

Good SEO companies take a different tack, balancing speed with intent to help you make sustainable gains. That way, you can move ahead of the competition and stay there.

Why can’t we target the “most searched” keywords?

SEO seems easy, right? You simply find the most commonly searched keywords and focus on targeting them to skyrocket rankings and traffic.

Not so fast. There are a couple of reasons why this is not practical—and not necessarily even good for your campaign.

Keyword metrics are deceiving.

While every SEO firm out there would like to scan analytics to figure out which terms are “most searched,” neither Google nor any other search engine provides this information. In fact, Google stopped providing organic search volume data in 2011 to protect user privacy.

There are platforms out there that provide search volume data for specific keywords, but beware. They are usually basing their data on pay-per-click results (not organic results) or guesstimating based on combined metrics. This data is often inaccurate, and building your SEO campaign on inaccurate data is always a losing idea.

Buyer intent is better.

Even if you could be sure that a certain term has an astronomically high search volume, it doesn’t mean that it will benefit your campaign. For example, if you are optimizing an e-commerce clothing website, you might find that “shirts” is a hot search term, but that term is so broad that even if you did rank, you would attract unlimited numbers of irrelevant visitors. What kind of shirts? Shirts for men? Women? Kids? Dogs? Additionally, the more off-target your visitor, the faster they’ll leave your website. The faster people leave your website, the more Google may assume it’s not a good result and show it to fewer people. Targeting too broadly may do more harm than good.

A far better tactic is to focus keyword research on search terms that imply buyer intent. This approach helps to filter broad audiences into potential customers. Carefully researched, high-quality keywords that align with buyer intent trump high-search-volume keywords virtually every time.

Can we launch an aggressive backlink campaign to accelerate SEO progress?

One strategy that can accelerate your ranking and increase traffic to your site is acquiring backlinks—links to your site from external websites. Confused with the logic of “more is better,” though, a major surge in backlinks (especially low-quality backlinks) can catch Google’s attention and result in penalties.

Links to your site from trusted sources are seen by Google as a vote of confidence, certifying that your content is valuable and that your website is a trusted authority in your industry. Google loves trustworthiness and credibility and will reward your site with better rankings.

Bad SEO firms try to shortcut this process by paying for links or using other link-building schemes that bring in traffic from low-quality sites. Google sees right through these toxic links and may penalize your site.

A better idea is to focus on building authority that will attract a growing number of links from high-quality sites over time. There are ways to get high-quality links fast, but an aggressive campaign can be far more expensive than a gradual one, and the cost often exceeds the benefits. For example, a 50% increase in SEO budget for building links rarely produces a 50% increase in returns.

Slow drivers don’t win the race, but neither do reckless ones. The best SEO strategies navigate that critical balance and help you get the biggest wins possible as soon as possible—without jeopardizing your domain authority.