Single vs. Multiple Word Queries

As Google has evolved to better understand who its users are and what they want, SEO companies are continually pushed to reevaluate their onsite optimization strategies. With the search giant zeroing in on perfecting the “answer engine,” keyword strategy is now synonymous with providing the right content for users’ questions. Provide the right answers, get the clicks, get the traffic, and get the conversions.

So how do people use Google?

For most SEO companies, the data is already within reach. Google Webmaster Tools provides specific user queries for which your website’s URLs appear in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), the number of impressions generated from these queries, and the number of user clicks per query. This can be supremely helpful for identifying new keywords and improving onsite content for higher clickthrough rates, thus resulting in more traffic to your site. With all this available data, we decided to do a brief study of one website, a successful SaaS company. Focusing in on user search trends, we looked at the prevalence of short (aka head) vs. long tail keywords, and the success rates for each of them. We wanted to know which queries – long or short – were used most frequently, which generated the most impressions, and which resulted in clicks.

Comparing single vs. multiple word searches

Using one month of Webmaster Tools data from the SaaS company, we divided up some 2,057 queries based on the number of words in the searches, from one to ten or more. Below are the results. The arc of the results proved two-pronged, showing the highest clickthrough rates with one-word queries (17%), then on the other end of the spectrum with eight-word queries (39%). The latter lends credence to the “answer engine” model, wherein most of the queries were phrases or interrogative (e.g. “who, what, where”) searches. We know that the length of a search query often reflects the user’s intention. They search a one- or two-word movie title if they want local movie showtimes or the name of an actor, but then turn around and compose an 8-word query if they’re trying to find that damn song from the soundtrack they just fell in love with. And while this may seem anecdotal, this phenomenon is at least backed in our study by the individual queries themselves. The single word searches are largely branded terms, while the 8, 9, and 10+ word searches are geared more toward technical specifications of the software in question.

How do we target multiple word keywords?

With this knowledge in mind, keyword strategy must align more with helping Google determine the search results that are right for each user. Instead of looking for keywords with the highest search volume or “right amount” of competition, it might be prudent to envision the questions that users are asking — and then answer them with smart content. Rather than measuring the keyword density on your main pages, try to see how many questions these pages lend advice to — whether your target market wants to know “Who provides emergency plumbing” or “What is the knowledge graph.” Less Keyword Planner, more brainstorming sessions. While this data is from one site alone, and therefore prone to a certain margin of error, it is certainly enough to get the discussion started. We are certain that, in order to increase organic traffic and conversions on your site, a long tail (answer-based) keyword strategy will prevail. This is further backed by other industry experts’ opinions in light of the Hummingbird update which was aimed at improving results for long-tail conversational queries.

How to Optimize Keywords for Google: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love LSI

Recently, a post on the Moz blog seemed to ignite a particularly intriguing debate that centered around Google’s famed list of the 200+ factors that they use to rank results. Within the post, the author posited that Google has never relied on keyword density as a ranking factor. While this ignited a fiery debate within the comments section, it also ushers in an important conversation that search marketers should keep in mind–one that touches on the merits of looking at correlation vs causation, and one that looks at the complexities of language as a looming variable in the world of search.

To answer the initial question: No, it is very unlikely that Google uses keyword density as a ranking factor. However, to say that keywords in content won’t influence your position in search is naive, at best. Descriptive keywords not only dictate the way in which bots and search engines process and index your site, but also the way in which the public at large talks about your product or service, playing a major role in search. However, the early days of search still seem to guide the strategies and tactics; exact-match keywords strategically dot a page, rampantly reinforcing the keywords for which you are attempting to rank.

Yet Google’s come a long way; from the very public introduction of the Hummingbird algorithm, to the publicly announced, but less discussed addition of Ray Kurzweil to the Google Search team, and further explorations into AI, Google is becoming more fluid, adaptive, and intrinsically intelligent with how it understands and interacts with language. Today, we wanted to take a look at three complex ways in which Google processes queries and indexes information. Term frequency, semantic distance, the evolution of Google’s understanding of pronouns, synonyms and natural variants, and co-citation and co-occurrence, all govern how Google understands language on the Web.

While many may think that this is simply another word for keyword density, Google has made numerous references over the years to term frequency and inverse document frequency in applications for patents, as well as other documents. Term frequency and inverse document frequency focus less on keywords and how often they appear on a page, and more on the proportion of keywords to other lexical items within a document.

Expertly covered by Cyrus Sheperd on this Moz blog, TF-IDF is a ratio that helps Google compare the importance of particular keywords based on how often they appear in contrast to other documents on the page, as well as the greater corpus of documents as a whole. Supported by Hummingbird, this allows Google to have a more complex understanding of the way in which natural language can support overarching topics from a top level. Using language in a way that’s natural, and in a way that resonates within your niche or industry may be a better use of your time than trying to ensure your document includes your keywords a set number of times!

This goes without saying, but using synonyms and natural occurring variants of your target keyword help Google to identify a natural match for the searcher. In the previously referenced Moz blog, they use the example of “dog photos.” There’s a good chance that if someone is referring to dog photos, that other words on the page might exist, including “pictures of dogs”, “dog pictures”, “puppy pics” or “canine shots”. By ensuring that synonyms of your target keyword regularly appear, Google and other search engines are able to affirm the page’s intent and align it with that of the searcher by finding words with similar meanings that could potentially answer a user’s query.

Over 70% of searches rely on synonyms. According to Shepard, “To solve this problem, search engines possess vast corpuses of synonyms and close variants for billions of phrases, which allows them to match content to queries even when searchers use different words than your text.” Again, this is more incentive for marketers and webmasters alike to create copy that departs from a minimum requirement for keyword density, and instead rewards natural language that allows users to refer to their target keyword and other potential variations.

Related to the idea of synonyms and variants are the idea of co-citation and co-occurrence. First of all, Bill Slawski, of SEO by the Sea, has stated that co-citation and co-occurrence are part and parcel of the Hummingbird algorithm, which uses co-citation to identify words that may be synonyms. The search engines rely on corpus of linguistic rules and may even replace a query for a synonym where co-citation and co-occurrence have determined a better match or a heightened probability of a better search result.

This also helps determine and parse out different search queries for words that may have multiple meanings; in the example above, “dog picture” is a very different search than “dog motion picture”. However, in a more extreme scenario, a “plant” could refer to a tree, a shrub, or a factory, while a “bank” may refer to an institution that lends money, an index of thoughts or memories, or the land that dots either side of a river. A “trunk” may refer to an article of furniture, a part of a tree, a car, or an elephant. Contextual clues within the content help parse out the inferred meaning of the content on-site and ensure that Google serves a page that’s relevant to the searcher.

However, this is also playing a significant role in off-site optimization as well. While keyword-rich anchor text is still valuable, it is noticeably declining in importance due to concerns about spam. In a different piece, Rand Fishkin noted that queries for “cell phone ratings” regularly returned results on the first page that didn’t even contain the word “ratings” within the title, and instead used “reviews” or “reports”. This is a highly competitive query, yet Google used co-occurrence from both on-site and off-site content to determine that these sites are more relevant than those that contain the keyword.

One benefit of looking at co-occurrence from the search engines’ point of view, is that it is extremely hard to manipulate. This relies on a heavily updated corpus featuring an amalgamation of sources that are talking about the keyword in such a way to support the surrounding co-occurring words or phrases. It is an incredible testament to the algorithm’s ability to understand and naturally parse out how language intrinsically sounds. While Latent Semantic Indexing has been around long before Google or search engines, co-occurrence is a part of the algorithm that works much in the same way, identifying relationships between phrases and lexical items to extract and assign meaning.

The growing ability to detect and extract meaning to seemingly unrelated pieces of text illustrates Google’s growing ability to use artificial intelligence to understand language. From leaning on a user’s personal historical searches to understand pronouns, like a recent Google patent demonstrates, Google continues to lean on the information available to make the search process a more conversational and intuitive one.

Similarly, in appointing Ray Kurzweil and their acquisition of DeepMind, Google continues to leverage some of the sharpest minds in artificial intelligence to truly understand and engage with a user’s language.

Language is an incredibly dynamic and fundamental component of society, and Google and other search engines continue to expand their indices to ensure that they provide the best experience possible. As a result, marketers need to forget about manipulating Google’s search results, and instead engage with their community in their own voice. Worry less about keyword density, and instead look at how to present something in a way that is engaging and natural. Relevant, unique, and natural content both on-site and within the online community will help influence your position as an influencer and industry-leader.

How Do You Know Keywords Are Still Related to Search Traffic?

So as you know from our blog post earlier in the week, rumor has it that Google is going to make an effort to change what we can see in our beloved Google Analytics. In Jori and Richie’s newest blog about (Not Provided) Keywords, we learned that Google will no longer be giving us information on what actual keywords are being referred to your site. No worries, as we have analyzed much data in the past so we know that our keywords are related to search traffic. Search Engine Keyword Rankings: Search engine rankings offer a nice indicator that the keywords you focus on are getting traffic to your site. Even if you’re on page 2 or 3 for your main keyword “Best Dog Toys” – there can be search related keywords or longer tail keywords that help to increase traffic. You have to think about all of the other strings of keywords we help you to ranking for. Long Tail Keywords: So you’re on page 4 for “Best Dog Toys”? We know that you want to be on page 1 for that keyword, but you also have to think of the longer string of keywords such as “Best Dog Toys,” “Best Local Dog Toys,” “best dog toys in San Diego,” “San Diego Dog Toys,” “Dog Toy Store,” and more that are also bringing you traffic. Even though those keywords may not be “included” in your actual campaign, we still put focus on search related keywords. And it’s still very important to rank for relatable and longer tail keywords. You want to be optimized for search traffic. Search Related Keywords: Now how do we put focus on these? By providing quality content to your site! Content is still king. Content is very important, not only on-site, but off-site as well. We look at “search related” keywords and weave them into your campaign where it sounds natural. The Way to Find this Data: You can see what users are typing into search queries via Google Webmaster Tools. Here you can find impressions (people actually seeing your website link on Google), and how many people are actually clicking on them (clicks). This gives us an idea of the search related terms (or long tail terms) that are helping your campaign overall. The End Result: Take a look at the percent of new visits, has it increased? Bounce rate: is the percentage lowering? And your target URLs, are they one of your most visited landing page? Search engine traffic numbers, are they are up? If so, this is a perfect way to indicate that your keywords are performing. Again, (not provided) keywords are nothing to worry about – there are many other ways to analyze your traffic! Give us a call if you need any further information! — Uyen Ochsner is an Account Manager at SEOhaus. If you would like to stay up-to-date on all of the latest SEO industry news and tips, you can subscribe to our blog here. Thanks for reading the SEOhaus blog!