Blog | Walsworth

How to Find the Best Keywords or Phrases

Written by Alex Blackwell | December 2, 2013

Want an intriguing riddle for your next social event? Here it is: What do chinchillas, bats and Google searches all have in common? Answer: They all have short-tail and long-tail varieties. Get it?

OK, maybe that’s not all that intriguing, and maybe the members of your social network would simply find this bit of trivia boring or just plain odd. So let’s forget about impressing your colleagues and friends and focus instead on how Google’s new search algorithm, dubbed “Hummingbird,” looks at both short-tail keywords (broad one- to two-word phrases, like “t shirt”) and long-tail keywords (three-plus word phrases, like “mens cotton t shirt”) and how you can use that knowledge to your advantage.

As noted in my earlier post, How to Approach SEO in a Hummingbird World, Hummingbird focuses a lot more on context than on specific phrases or keywords, generally known as short-tail search terms. This means the act of populating your webpages with a bunch of oddly worded keyword phrases (something that might have helped your search engine optimization efforts in the past) is now more likely to harm your SEO. Instead, what Hummingbird likes to see are more conversational terms that reflect real, natural-sounding phrasing. That’s where long-tail terms come in.

Long-tail keywords use several words – typically three or more words – that are more specific than shorter terms and single keywords. Determine which long-tail terms your customers are using and you can significantly increase the traffic to your site. A long-tail term focuses on what a customer really wants, and so is typically much more likely to result in a sale.

So, are short-tail search terms dead?

Not at all. If a short-tail phrase fits naturally into your content and helps draw visitors to your site, by all means use it. Short-tail keywords are also useful for adding locations to your page to help boost local search rankings.

That being said, here’s how to find which keywords or phrases are best for your content marketing strategy:

  • Sign up for AdWords to use Google’s Keyword Planner. You can use the tool even if you don’t have any money in your account, so go ahead and sign up. To use Keyword Planner, you enter your industry, the area you want to target and other variables to find out which terms are being searched most often. While Google hopes you’ll use that information to set up an AdWords account, you can certainly use the planner as a tool to identify the phrases you should be using in your site’s content.
  • Think about your product or service and type a few possible queries into Google, then see which pages turn up. Do these businesses offer a similar product or service? Might they attract a share of the customers you’d like to serve? Maybe most importantly, are your competitors there? Then that’s a term you might want to focus on.
  • Poll your customer service reps and ask them to list the most common customer questions or concerns.
  • Do the same with your sales team, asking reps to list questions or concerns they encounter from customers at each stage of the sales process.
  • Now use those lists to generate long-tail search phrases. For example: Suppose you sell granite countertops. One of the concerns your customers have is how long it will take to have countertops installed. Here’s your search phrase: “How long will it take to have countertops installed?” Many questions can be turned into subject headings, helping you break your page into smaller segments which results in a more readable, more appealing site.

Getting used to Hummingbird may take some time, so experiment a little – or a lot – with your content: Use a mix of short- and long-tail keywords and include locations if you want to attract customers performing searches on mobile devices. And of course, keep track of your results to see which keywords are giving you the results you want.