Most people know that Google and other search engines use keywords to help users find exactly what they’re searching for. What they don’t know is how to choose the keywords that will help users and help their businesses make a profit.

There’s a lot of competition on the internet for keyword rankings on search engines. You can’t just optimize your website for one or two keywords anymore. If you want to capture search traffic and increase your conversion rate, you need to use more specific keywords. Tweet This

In this blog, I’ll go over the kinds of keywords that can make you money, as well as the kinds of keywords that could waste your money.

Head Keywords vs. Long Tail Keywords

You may have heard these terms thrown about in an internet forum or from a slick salesperson. What’s the difference?

Head keywords are popular search terms that produce a high search volume. Tweet This Head keywords generally contain 11-25 characters. According to a study by Search Engine Watch, head keywords account for almost 60% of all impressions (the number of times a site URL appears in search results), clicks (a user visits your site by clicking on the link), and conversions (the visitor makes a purchase).

For example, if you own a restaurant in Tucson, the most relevant head keyword for your business would be “restaurant Tucson AZ” (16 characters). This keyword is vague enough that it would yield a high number of searches.

However, if you want your restaurant’s website to rank on the first page of search results, you will likely have to pay a lot in advertising costs. After all, this keyword is quite competitive, as there are a lot of restaurants in Tucson, that are presumably also targeting that keyword. Then once you’re on the first page, your business may not be what users are searching for, so you don’t make back your money in conversions.

A better strategy is to employ long tail keywords. These keywords are longer (usually 26-40 characters) and more specific. Long tail keywords account for 6% of clicks and 10% of conversions. This may sound like less compared with head keywords, but actually it’s a better bang for your buck. You receive more conversions (money in the bank) per visitor to your page. According to Search Engine Watch, long tail keywords are about 66% more profitable than head keywords.

Let’s go back to your restaurant in Tucson. If you choose a long tailed keyword that is more specific, you can expect a higher return on your investment. The keyword “Asian fusion restaurant Tucson AZ” (30 characters) may not yield as many searches, but you will experience a higher conversion rate.

Broad Match vs. Phrase Match

When you record which keywords you want Google and other search engines to recognize, two of the most effective choices are broad match or phrase match options.

Broad match signals to Google that you want search engines to include your website if users type in search terms that are slightly different than those you specifically defined. Variations include synonyms, related searches, misspellings, and reordered words. Tweet This

Choosing broad match keywords helps you shorten the time you spend building keyword lists. However, Google takes your decision into account. Broad match keywords can contribute to a lower quality score, and your website may not rank as highly as you want.

Phrase match indicates to Google that you want users to find your ad when they type the exact phrase or close variations of that phrase into a search engine. Google generally will not bring up your website as a search result if the user typed the search phrase in a different order.

You lose out on some search traffic by choosing phrase match, but Google considers this to be a higher quality score. Also, you can view a search terms report of what customers were searching for when they found your website. When you know what your customers are already searching for, you can make more money by optimizing your site to fit those keywords.

Get Optimizing!

Now that you know how to choose the right keywords for your business, start setting up an SEO strategy to take advantage of business available online. Potential customers are already searching for products or services your company offers. Wouldn’t you like them to find you?

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9 Comments

  • Becca Watters (Vaughn), January 27, 2015 @ 12:05 pm

    Thanks for the post, Lindsay! I just want to emphasize that when you begin an SEO Campaign, or any online marketing, the first thing you want to find is your “Head Keywords”. Once you have found the root of your marketing campaign, you can then begin to find the longer tail, more specific versions of that same keyword. Often times this is going to be the very best net to cast ever. For example, if a client sells baseball gloves going after just the term “baseball glove” would be such a waste of time and money! The competition for the term is so solid, a start up company would have a hard time competing for top rankings.

    I think Andrew Eager goes into this in one of his videos; you need to look at intent! Long tail keywords may bring in less traffic, however their intent is more clear which is what causes the higher conversion rates. I could go on and on about why long tail keywords are the very best route for any company, whether new or old, but I feel like you did a great job letting people know the ground rules to start with. Thanks again!

  • TJ, January 28, 2015 @ 11:34 am

    I also think that starting with the longer tail versions can also help a start up to build a foundation. Once they are ranking well for all of their longer tail keywords, it will be much easier for them to then focus on the more competitive head keywords.

    That said Lindsay I think this post is great. Spot on plan for starting your keyword research and something I’ll definitely be sharing.

  • Becca Watters (Vaughn), January 30, 2015 @ 2:43 pm

    Let me clarify in what I meant. I was not trying to imply that you start by optimizing your site for head terms, but simply identify what they are. I have found that it is easier to find a multitude of long tail terms to optimize for if you know the options for the head terms. As they say, dress for the job you want, not the job you have. If you have your end goal in mind, it is so much easier to find a plethora of long tail terms to optimize for. This way you can “dress” your long tail terms around the head terms you would like to populate for in the long run.

    Sorry if I was not being clear.

  • TJ, February 3, 2015 @ 11:19 am

    I totally agree. You definitely want to make sure that all of your long tail keywords play into a bigger plan. If you just pick a bunch of random long tail terms then you’re going to be hurting yourself. Picking one general theme and working on terms towards that goal is the way to go!

  • Caz*, February 5, 2015 @ 11:30 pm

    Do you have any specific suggestions on deciding what your “Head Keywords” are?

  • Caz*, February 5, 2015 @ 11:31 pm

    I love researching long tail keywords but taking a handful of terms I think people should search in regard to a company and typing in just a few keywords to Google. Watching to see what Google auto completes is a great way to see what people are searching for!

  • Caz*, February 10, 2015 @ 9:21 pm

    I think this blog has a lot of good references that help explain how to research and choose keywords. For most people, the Keyword tool provided by Google seems easy to use, but isn’t very easily understood.

  • Becca Watters (Vaughn), February 12, 2015 @ 9:51 am

    Great question! Honestly, when I am doing keyword research I find the core value of the company I am working with. What is their bread and butter? What do they have to offer, and how are they different? The next step I take is to look at Google Suggest, or Google Trends, as well as other simple online tools that will tell me within this category what is searched most often. For example, if a client sells handmade jewelry, I would want to start with that simple term; “handmade jewelry”. I would then work my way out from there. I may end up finding that the best “head term” is actually “handmade necklaces” instead. This is going to still be a very competitive term, however we have found that it is going to be much more specific to what they are wanting to sell, and what consumers are looking for. Their long tail terms may end up being something a long the lines of “buy handmade turquoise necklaces”, or even “find handmade necklaces online”.

    I could go on and on all day about researching head terms, and finding their trophy keywords, but really what it comes down to is finding what works best for your site, as well as your consumers. Sometimes we need to change the way a site is worded simply because the consumers verbalize things differently than the provider, and sometimes it is spot on! I hope this made sense and helps! Thanks!

  • Andrew Williams, January 22, 2016 @ 1:19 pm

    Going after specific keyword phrases may not have as much search volume as general keywords, but can bring you traffic with more buyer intent which is really what it’s all about.

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