THREE THINGS YOU’LL GET FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1. How your keywords relate to the way people search for you
2. The three basic types of searches
3. What a long tail keyword is
Targeting keywords is one of the basic building blocks of a digital marketing plan. But maybe because it seems so basic, a lot of people are embarrassed to admit they don’t really understand it. Or they have an inflated idea of what keywords are, and what they can achieve. Add to that jargon like ‘long tail keywords’, and you have a formula for frustration.
This article will explain how keywords relate to search engine results. It will also explain what long tail keywords are. It’ll show why you don’t need to go into a panic about keywords, and how you should think about them in your marketing.
Understanding SEO basics
The reason I decided to write this was, we asked a client to come up with some target keywords for his site. He came back with three.
That’s not uncommon. Often when people try to think of keywords, they only think of the ones you might use to find and buy a product or service. In their mind, they picture someone thinking, “I want to buy XYZ product or service, where do I get it?”
But that isn’t how your customers use search engines.
The three types of search
Before you think of your keywords, it’s important to understand how people search the web. There are three broad types of searches people perform:
- Navigational searches: where people know exactly where they want to go, but don’t know how to get there. So they might want to book a Qantas flight, but not know the website address. So they type the name of the company into the search bar;
- Informational searches: where people don’t know what they want, and they don’t know where to get it. This search could be anything from “how do I fly to Brisbane?” to “what’s an airplane?”;
- Transactional searches: where people want to either download, buy, or join something, or intend a transaction to take place. In the words of the researchers who worked out these categories: “queries containing terms related to movies, songs, lyrics, recipes, images, humor, and porn”.
Those categories come from this comprehensive study of web surfing from US and Australian researchers. In that same study, they determined that more than 80 per cent of searches are informational in nature. The other two categories only account for a small percentage of searches.
People don’t just do one search
It’s also important to realise something search engines have known for a long time: that people don’t just do one search. The search engines would love it if they could return the perfect answer to your query straight away. But they rarely do. So you go back to the results page and type in another version of your query. Or you refine it a little more.
This is where keywords are important. Keywords aren’t just single words. They are the words and/or phrases that people use to search for a business like yours.
And more than 80 per cent of the time, they are not searching to buy something.
So if you run a dental surgery, you might assume that someone searching for your surgery might type ‘dentist’ and the name of your suburb. But if that searcher had just moved to your area, they might type something else into Google. Something like; “how do I choose a local dentist?” Or “best children’s dentist”. Or “emergency toothache remedy”.
It may take several searches for them to refine down to a search for you. And they may refine their search according to terms like “gentle” or “natural” or “holistic” dentistry.
Getting unique answers
Each time someone types something new into the search bar of Google, the search engine refines its results. It does so based on what you’ve already looked at, interacted with, and shown interest in. So each group of results gets a little more unique and individual, based on the person who is searching them.
So with all the millions of possible word combinations that people can search for within a single category, targeting one or two is really bad practice. Even targeting ten or twelve limits the number of times people may potentially find you.
This is where the idea of long tail keywords comes in.
What are long tail keywords?
There are a few wonderful, magical keywords that get thousands of searches every day. The competition to own those keywords is often fierce. Which is silly, because if you do what SEO expert Rand Fishkin did in 2009 and look at the most popular terms searched for on the web, you’d find that the top 1000 search terms only accounted for a bit over 10 per cent of all traffic. That means 90 per cent of all search traffic are for those uncommon searches that might only happen a few times, if that.
I liked Fishkin’s metaphor to illustrate this. He said, if you think of search as represented by a tiny lizard with a one-inch head, that lizard’s tail would be 221 miles long.
And you don’t have to worry too much about being down the end of that tail.
You would think that with all the websites out there, and all the possibilities of answers to search queries, search engines would be able to neatly index every site in the world. But of course, they can’t. Recently, a senior Google executive said that every day, 15 per cent of queries Google receives are completely new.
Pause a moment to take that in. Every single day, roughly 500 million Google searches are brand new, never-before-seen combinations of words.
So the more keywords you target, the better. Not just to appeal to search engines, but to work with them to help people find you.
Free tools for finding keywords
There are many free and paid tools you can use to find extra keywords for your site. But one of the easiest is Google itself.
When you type a search query into the Google page, you’ll notice Google will start to suggest answers. And often, when you get the results page, you’ll also get some other suggested searches down the bottom of the page. Take a note of it—every one of those is a possible keyword string for an article.
Keywords aren’t the only factor search engines take into account when determining search results. There are ways you can change elements on your web pages that make it easier for search engines to find you.
If you’re across all that and you’re still not getting traffic, it’s possible the search engines haven’t found you. There are some simple things you can do to make yourself visible to search engines too.
Want to learn more?
If any of that is unclear, please feel free to leave a comment. I do read them and comment back, and I’m more than happy to discuss it with you.
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