Keyword research: the intent behind a search

We all know that keywords are a really important factor of your search engine optimisation strategy. Choosing the right keywords and keyword phrases for use on your website is the key to driving the right type of traffic.

At the end of the day most people want visitors to their website to perform some type of action - sign up to a newsletter, make a purchase, etc. One of the most important factors in doing this is to drive the right type of traffic to your website. Without the right type of visitors, your website will get loads of traffic (which looks great in an analytics report) but you won’t be converting any customers (which looks bad on the balance sheet).

Choosing the right keywords for your website

Choosing the right keywords for your website is a subtle art. Many people assume they need to rank for high level terms like cars, ebooks, software or flowers. There are a few major problems with this approach (particularly for small to medium businesses).

The problem with this approach is due to the long tail of search. So what are long tail keywords? Well, imagine a comet. A furious, busy head with a long tail sweeping out behind it. In the busy, furious head there’s a lot of action and heaps going on. It’s exciting.

This head represents high level keywords like cars, ebooks, software or flowers. Typically the search volumes for these terms are huge i.e. there’s hundreds of thousands of people typing these terms into a search engine every day. With the high search volume comes a lot (I mean A LOT) of competition.

Do a test… it’s pretty easy. Type ‘cars’ into Google and you get about 2.24 billion results. Yep, that’s billion. Type ‘Commodores for sale Brisbane’ and you get about 166,000 results.

This last keyword phrase represents the long tail of the comet. The longer the tail gets, the longer the keywords are that people type into a search engine. But along with this comes less competition and more accurate intent behind a search.

The intent behind a search phrase

The most important thing you can do when choosing keywords to use in your website is to get the intent behind a search right. Lets take the last two keywords we used as an example:-

  • cars
  • Commodores for sale Brisbane

Let’s look at cars. If you sell cars, it makes sense that you would want to rank number one for the term cars, right? Wrong. Let’s think about the intent behind this search term. Are people looking for cars to buy, cars to rent, the history of cars, perhaps how they work… who knows?

This term is very broad so the intent behind this search is very broad. We don’t really know what a person wants when they type cars into a search engine. We know it’s something to do with cars, but beyond that is anyone’s guess.

Now let’s look at ‘Commodores for sale in Brisbane’. This is a more accurate search phrase and gives us a better indication of what the searcher is looking for. It’s pretty blatant. Sure there are less people looking for this term but if you sold cars in Brisbane you would have a better chance of converting the second searcher into a customer.

Chasing the long tail

With SEO becoming more and more popular it’s getting more difficult (and expensive) to rank for higher level keyword terms. It makes sense for smaller businesses that simply can’t create a website like eBay, or Wotif to chase longer tail keyword terms. Here are a few reasons why:-

  • They are usually easier to rank for as there’s less competition
  • They convert much better than higher level keyword terms
  • Whilst you get less traffic you have a better chance of converting the traffic you do get (I would rather get 50 sales out of a hundred inquiries than 50 sales from a thousand… wouldn’t you?)

So in closing, remember high level keyword terms are tempting to reach for but chances are, you won’t get there and if you do, you would have spent a lot of money on getting loads of untargeted traffic.

Rather than spending $1000 on one page getting to the first page of a search engine for a high level keyword term, spend $1000 on ten pages for longer tail terms. This way you won’t be fighting tooth and nail to keep that one result in the first page (and your traffic along with it) and you’re spreading the risk if one of your pages drops in the rankings.

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