What Are the Different Keyword Types?

What Are the Different Keyword Types?

by Justin Deaville
Managing Director

7 August 2013

Successful SEO starts with keyword research. Fail to research and it’s likely your online marketing’s headed for failure too. It helps to have a clear sense of what you’re looking for. So, here’s some advice on how to find the most suitable – and profitable – keywords for your business.

As we know, a keyword is any word or phrase that gets typed into a search engine. In this case, we’d say that “vintage glass beads” is the keyword.

If your site sells vintage glass beads, you probably want to come top of Google’s results for that keyword.

But, getting to the top takes time and effort. And, it’s only worth investing those resources if you’re sure your keyword is popular (lots of people are using it in their searches); and you can rank for it (there’s not too much competition); and the traffic will convert (buy your products).

Keywords are your market research

Keyword research is market research. So, it won’t be able to give a definitive answer to these questions, but it can give you some clues.

So, our objective when researching keywords is to hunt down a list of target keywords that are:

  • Relevant to your services or products
  • Searched for
  • Likely to bring visitors who will convert into customers

If a keyword doesn’t do these three things, it’s not worth your time.

The customer journey

It’s worth thinking about the different approaches potential customers take when searching. It’s likely that customers will pass through the following stages on their journey from research to brand loyalty.

  1. Research
  2. Consideration
  3. Purchase
  4. Loyalty

At each stage they use different search techniques.

The number of keywords, the order of the words and their meaning, help us identify how close to a purchase the customer is:

  • Research keywords tend to contain one or two words
  • Consideration keywords tend to contain two or three words
  • Purchase keywords tend to be long tail – having three or more words
  • Loyalty keywords are brand based. These tend to be shorter

Often you can increase your return on investment (ROI) by attracting searchers in the consideration and purchase stages of their journey.

A good rule of thumb: a longer search phrase suggests better targeting and increased conversions. ie, long keywords can be A VERY GOOD THING. Shorter keywords are used either by people browsing or who already know which brand they’re looking for.

Often, search marketers talk about the head, body and tail of a keyword niche.

What is a keyword niche?

A keyword niche is simply a collection of keywords that contain the head term. So, if our head term is ‘motorcycle’, its niche would be all possible keywords containing ‘motorcycle’.

So, we say that ‘motorcycle’ is the head term. This is the main theme of the keyword niche.

‘Motorcycle lessons’ would be part of the body: ‘Motorcycle lessons in London’ would be part of the long tail of keywords. As would ‘Motorcycle lessons book online’ and ‘London motorcycle lessons’.

Let’s look at another keyword niche, this time beads:

  • ‘Beads’ is the head term.
  • ‘Glass beads’ is the body. Notice that the order of the words doesn’t matter.
  • Terms like: ‘buy vintage glass beads’, ‘artisan-made glass beads’, and ‘glass beads Minnesota’ are all long-tail terms that are part of the beads niche.

When looking for suitable keyword niches to target, we’re interested in the long-tail.

The long-tail

We love the long-tail – and for three main reasons:

1. First, long tail keywords make up the vast majority of searches. There’s lots more of them. Most searches conducted on the Internet are long-tail keywords.

Back in 2008, Bill Tancer, an internet expert at Hitwise, looked at 14 million searches and he concluded that the long-tail is so long that the head is of no significance. Bill puts it like this: “If search were represented by a tiny lizard with a one-inch head, the tail of that lizard would stretch for 221 miles.”

Which means that if you’re not targeting long-tail keywords on your site, you’ll be missing out on about 95% of your possible traffic.

2. Long-tail keywords tell you more about what people are really looking for.

A keyword such as beads doesn’t tell you very much about the searcher’s intent. Whereas a keyword such as ‘buy vintage glass beads’ tells you that the person is interested in beads AND that they’re looking to buy.

3. Finally, there is usually less competition for long-tail keywords. So, it’s easier to attract traffic.

Those three reasons are why long-tail keywords are fundamental to your online success.

This is such an important point, it’s worth saying again. The long-tail of keyword research is absolutely fundamental to your online success.

Keyword value pyramid

As business people we want to know where the most profit for our business is likely to be.

Here’s a pyramid that represents the different types of keywords we’ll find.

As you can see, we’re likely to be targeting head terms on our home page. As we’ve discussed, these are usually low value and you’ll face lots of competition.

It’s usual to target body keywords on category pages: we’ll usually target more valuable keywords on our product pages, or in our blog posts.

Here’s how those keyword types map on to our customers’ journey. Again, the long-tail keywords often offer the best possibilities for conversion.

For our bead site, we might target ‘beads’ as our head keyword. We’d have a category for glass beads, and we’d have a product page with lots of vintage glass beads.

If we include lots of unique content on that page, we may pick up long-tail traffic for terms such as ‘Buy vintage glass beads online’.

Where do I start?

Most sites are planned from the top down. We’ll target our head keyword on our home page, then create categories, followed by content.

Once we’ve researched our market we’ll create a keyword map that shows the keywords we’re targeting on each page.

If you’re building a new site, you should consider where best to start your pyramid. What keyword should you be targeting on your home page?

In lots of markets it will be almost impossible to compete with big brands.

If you’re in a sector such as travel, you’ll be competing with the likes of Tripadvisor, Expedia, and Hotels.com, all big well-established brands with significant marketing budgets.

If you are not well-funded, it may be impractical to compete for generic terms, such as travel.

So it may make sense to target a smaller niche.

Which is what we did when we chose to target beads. We could have chosen to target jewellery instead. But, jewelry is a broader more competitive term.

For lots of sites, your home page is your most powerful page. It’s the page that gets most links and it’s your links that will get you ranked well in Google’s results.

Generally, your link popularity spreads from your home page, via your category pages, to where you want it: on the pages that are targeting long-tail BUYING keywords.

On our beads site, the link power doesn’t have to travel far to get to the buying pages.

A site selling jewellery is likely to have more pages and a deeper site structure.

With more categories and sub-categories, our BUYING keywords are further away from the powerful home page.

That’s fine, if you’re a big business with lots of resources for link building. But, if you’re a smaller business it’s far better for your site to have 100 pages packed with great content about beads and bead-making, than it is to have more low-quality pages, spread across a broader range of keyword targets.

Your aim should be to dominate a small niche. Only you can decide on which niche to target. Evaluate how competitive your market is, what resources you have available, and whether you can compete in that market. In other words, how will you attract links? Many websites fail because of a lack of clear focus.

If you’re competing against big brands like these, you’ll need to invest a large budget, create something fundamentally innovative, or look for a better, maybe narrower niche opportunity that you can dominate.

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