Are you targeting keywords correctly?

An article from Technology Weekly:

Optimising for Google, Yahoo, Bing and Ask has often been a case of optimise for Google and hope the rest works.  An additional element now seems to be the growing query length.  Judith Lewis looks at what the latest study on keyword usage in search means for business.

Query length is something that has changed over the last decade for a number of reasons.  Originally, keyword usage was simplistic as people and search engines tried to get to grips with the complex nature of sorting through and finding the most relevant result for what an individual searcher may mean when tying a query.

Search has grown quickly, having to evolve as searchers demanded more of them.  They attempted to organise the web and sort it out to aid people find what they are looking for.  This sorting is made more complex by words like “java”, “apple” and “orange”.  When the web was young and search was in its infancy, multiple searches on keywords were often made to find the right result.

Search engines have evolved and are now able, through using cookies and other even more complex methods, to understand a bit more about searcher intent.  Along with this increasing sophistication has been the evolution of the behaviour of the searcher. No longer, it seems, does a searcher trust a single word to a search engine but rather they rely on increasingly complex keyword combinations.

Ad network Chitika has recently published a set of findings from a study into keyword usage by searchers coming in to their network.  They looked at over 41 million searches performed between June 13 and June 19 2010 in the US.  This relatively short time period, during which this staggeringly large number of searches was performed.  These are not Google figures and so they represent only a tiny fraction of searches done overall but this does give businesses some interesting insight to help them better target their SEO efforts and possibly help them refine paid search targeting.

Chitika found that 26 percent of organic search traffic was the result of three-word searches.  The next most used search query lengths were two word queries at 19%, four word queries at 17% and one word queries at 14%.  One interesting note is that queries of three to five words tended to convert better but search volume dropped off dramatically after five-word queries.

What this means for business is that the past focus on one or two word queries is now no longer a winning strategy and businesses need to research and optimise for three to five-word queries.  This change in focus will help catch the larger volume of searches and also capture the better converting traffic.  Optimisation is a holistic process with over 200 elements and as such, this is just one piece of the puzzle and once the searcher lands on the page, the page itself needs to convert.

Judith Lewis has been working in search since 1996 and currently works as head of search for Project Metal.  She writes regularly for Technology Weekly, speaks at conferences and provides comprehensive digital media consultancy.


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