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Are Long-string Keyword Phrases and Answers Winning the Long-string Keyword Phrase Searches or Questions?

03/08/2009

You bet.

I like to imagine I’m the Google Bot. Besides imagining light speed travel and seemingly infinite storage and computational abilities, it helps me build web sites that get traffic from Google. Almost every client whose site I ever worked on had a very long list of long-string keyword phrases that applied to their goods or services. From organic Kona coffee beans to northshore Kauai Hawaii beach accommodations, I’ve always known that the best chance I have for winning a search is when the intent of the searcher is discernible through the sheer number of descriptive words in the search.

As the search engine algorithms got smarter and were able to understand the language of search better, I started seeing more combinations of longer strings of words showing up in the analytics. I started creating more content that had multiple combinations of those long-string keywords, especially on FAQ pages where I could take the most popular strings of long phrases, often actual questions, and make headers followed by explanatory paragraphs that could repeat those strings in different combinations and orders.

This internet marketing strategy for winning organic searches for long-string keywords worked very well for clients whose main phrase, usually two to four words, was extremely competitive. My Hawaii bed and breakfast client was getting more traffic from a combination of more specific and longer phrases that she won the search for than she was from the shorter, but more searched phrase Maui bed and breakfast. Her long-string winners include upcountry Maui bed and breakfast, historic Hawaii bed and breakfast, Maui Hawaii bed and breakfast, or Haleakala National Park bed and breakfast.  It made sense for the search engines to answer those queries with her site because she is the answer to that question. All I had to do was make it easy for the search engines to understand that relationship.

Interesting side note and possible post someday: in this case, as with other sites that are actual places that can be mapped, I’m pretty sure that Google searches that include a place or an area are being influenced by whether or not that business has a local business listing with Google’s Local Business directory, which literally puts your business on the (Google) map.

Eventually, I started seeing click-throughs from searches for strings I hadn’t thought of or even listed. The bots were getting much smarter about understanding all the information on the site, and were sending traffic to my sites from searches that made sense, but that were not actually spelled out as a target long-string key phrase. A pair of words in one paragraph combined with a pair of words in another would be enough to win a search that included those pairs separately in a long query. This was good news, of course, for sites with lots of content, like blogs, that had continuously re-hashed versions of the same material said in different ways.

But things were getting even better than that. The search engine could study the entire site and conclude that if the top page said deserts, and a page under that said chocolate, and a page under that said cupcakes, and a page under that said chocolate icing recipe, then the site could win a search for chocolate icing cupcake desert recipe, even though that exact phrase never actually appeard on the site, per se.

As usual, the internet is catching up to where we visionaries had seen it moving. One of the predictions many of us had about search was that while, yes, search engines were getting smarter, but perhaps more importantly, searchers were getting smarter. People who’ve been using the internet for a long time have gotten quite good at searching for the thing they want using a longer string of specific keywords. Recent evidence has shown that search strings are indeed getting longer.

Here’s a chart from Hitwise on search query length, in words, over the last year.

Change in number of clicks by number of keywords in search.

Change in number of clicks by number of keywords in search.

As you can see, the number of long-string keyword searches has increased substantially. This trend is very good news for content providers. No matter why you have a web site (as noted in my last post, money is not always the goal of internet marketing), the more content you have, the better. But now that content is starting to pay off in ways people rarely imagined: in more traffic from searches.

The other good news about this increased traffic? It’s almost always better traffic. Anyone who bothered to type in 8 specific keywords looking for your product, service, or message is definitely looking for what you’re offering. The odds of converting this traffic into a successfully achieved goal is much higher because the odds that the visitor is looking for your specific subject are much greater when that visitor used more words to find you.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. 03/14/2009 2:46 pm

    Be the GoogleBot… that makes perfect sense and most SEO specialists don’t understand the GoogleBot. How it reads your site is how it indexes your site.

    Great article.

  2. 03/09/2009 4:49 pm

    I liked a lot, thanks

  3. 03/09/2009 7:06 am

    For some reason, I thought the amount of long tail phrases an average internet user was higher than even this. But you are right, unique content is the way to go. You can’t guess some of the keyphrases you’ll be getting hits for. Just add content.

    • 03/09/2009 8:56 am

      I still keep a sheet for each site with a list of the best keywords and phrases to try to work in. I write out variations, different uses of the word (noun, adjective, adverb, gerund), and I try to use them in different combinations every time I add content. But, generally, yes, I try not to fret about it too much. If you just say what you’re thinking, or at least what needs to be said, then the chances are you’ll be loading up your content with what people are looking for.

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