Keywords for dummies: A short survival guide
In the last few years Google has been striving to weed out poor written, generalized content and improve the understanding of users’ intents during the search process.
Google Panda, Google Penguin and Google Hummingbird changed the world of SEO completely. They combined the need of better content, the battle against link profile spamming in order to get a flashy ranking in Search engine result pages (SERPs) and most importantly: worked towards intuitivity in answering users’ search queries.
Amidst the ever-changing infrastructure and algorithms of search engines, keywords remain of vital importance. Experts have emphasized on the need of greater customization of the message you want to convey with your keywords. They have praised the importance of long-term keywords – and done so with a reason.
Keywords are divided into two types.
Short-tail keywords (or “head” terms) are the basic, most simple answers to searches performed by users. They are commonly used words that come first to the mind of a person who searches content. “Website builder” is a short-tail keyword.
Long-tail keywords provide more context, are lengthier and more complex. They are less popular in search queries but are a good answer to anyone having something more specific in mind. “Free open source website builder” or “drag and drop website builder with HTML5” would be two fine examples of long-term keywords.
Benefits and drawbacks of short-tail keywords
The short-tail keywords are popular. For a regular search on a topic
you would like to receive surface information on, you would write a simple
search query, right? If you are a rookie in the content management system world, you would write "CMS" or "content management system" or "website builder". You won't write specific technical parameters like "new generation open source website builder with rich API and PHP".
Due to their popularity short-tail keywords are the way to go when you need traffic for your website and you wish to improve your site ranking. In comparison with more niche, complicated long-tail keywords, “head” has the potential to bring lots of visitors to your website.
Thus said, the competition in head
terms is huge. The more general any information is, the more people who offer
it there will be. So you’ve got some pretty heavy competitors for the user’s
attention in the short-tail basket. Website behemoths with established
authority in terms of Page Rank and Domain Authority have already guaranteed their high position in SERPs.
The generality of the keywords also
means less-targeted traffic if you’re offering a specific service in a certain
niche. So while you receive a lot of traffic and boost your page rank, user
engagement and user conversion would be at a lower level.
Benefits and drawbacks of long-tail keywords
Long-tail keywords are much less
popular and bring in less traffic. This is their only alleged drawback in an internet world that has turned towards customized messages and niche targeting. Simply wrapped up - they are your ultimate friend if
you are focusing on a specific niche. This is especially valuable for owners of online shops and niche bloggers.
Let’s pretend you are the owner of an online shop for organic fruit in the USA. Search queries like “organic fruit online shop” or “organic online shop in USA” will wield much less results than a general “online shop” search term.
The competition will be weaker, though, and you will be able to stand out. Not to mention that you get targeted traffic. Users that search for organic fruit will be on the right place in your online shop and will be much more likely to make a purchase. Additional playing around with long-tail keywords showcasing what you offer, from organic tomato soup to Brazilian organic sunny oranges would ensure an even more targeted stream of visitors to your online shop platform.
All in all, long-tail keywords ensure you a better targeting, less competition and traffic, but much more conversion. This is the verdict of many experts. And I have to agree. After all, in some cases it's better to be the leader in a niche with only 50 000 searches per month, than to be on the 10th page of a global 2 million searches per month keyword. When people are looking for general terms, their attention span is much shorter and they won't bother to reach the n-th page you have reached in SERPs.
Long-tail keywords like best hair clippers for fades, for example, will simply engage with your audience better. They know what they're looking for and will convert easier than people looking for only shaping a fade and not interested in the product (clippers) itself.
Keyword length is also something important to look out for. An old but gold article at Search Engine Watch includes a terrific analysis of keyword length and the results it yields in terms of impressions, clicks and conversions. Some of the conclusions include:
- Keywords between 6 and 10 characters are the impression kings. The issue is that they don't generate a quality proportion of clicks and conversions at all. If you're into PPC, this is not a vital option at all. Visitors aren't too engaged when searching short keywords and they won't click or convert on the ads you've put up.
- Keywords that range from 11 to 20 characters hold more than half of all impressions, clicks and conversion. Nearly 60% of them, to be more exact.
- The shorter long-tail keywords (ranging between 26 and 40 characters) inevitably net less impressions, but have an increased conversions to click ratio. While "head" terms have a 1:1 ratio, long-tail keywords shift the correlation to 5:3.
- Longer long-tail keywords (40+ characters) are problematic and questionable in terms of efficiency so you'd have to think twice about using them.
Here is a visual graph of these conclusions, courtesy of Search Engine Watch.
Check the whole article as it is a very valuable resource to read.
Cool free resources for keyword planning and research
So you might be just starting with keywords and are confused by all this information. Here are some neat and free resources for some keyword practice.
Google Keyword Planner
Wordstream Free Niche Keyword Finder
Keyword Spy (Free trial)