BrightHaus Digital Marketing Agency

Single vs. Multiple Word Queries

November 6, 2014

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.

Single vs. Multiple Word Queries

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.

longtail clickthrough rate

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.

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