Keyword Research

Keywords: Search Queries and Marketing

The search queries used in Google and Bing are called keywords. Investigating which keywords people are using in their search queries allows you to target a search marketing campaign tailored to your specific business. Furthermore, what is learned in the research phase of a marketing campaign, provides valuable insights into your customers in general. The research allows you to get to know the persona of potential customers, and then create content that people are already actively searching for.

Getting Started: What Keywords are Relevant to Your Business?

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and think about what keywords you might search for to find your business. Sometimes our clients come to us and say, “We must rank high for these keywords!” when in reality the keywords they chose are just too general or far too broad. For example, if you sell mountain bikes in Vancouver, ranking high for the term “Vancouver” might bring you heaps of traffic, but how many of those visitors are really looking to buy a mountain bike?

Ideally you want to rank high for a precise search term that defines not only your business, but also your business objectives. If selling mountain bikes is the core part of your business, and you focus on selling those bikes in Vancouver, then the search term “Mountain Bikes Sales Vancouver” would probably be a realistic keyword to go after.

Searching Google and/or Bing using potential keywords for your business is a good place to start your research. Do you see your competitors there? If so, you are on the right track. Do you see Wikipedia results, news results, or general websites that have some content on your subject? If so, you might be searching for something that is too broad or general. Try refining your search query a bit and make sure it is as precise and relevant to your business as possible.

Keywords Reveal the Intent of Potential Customers

Until the Internet and search engines came along, there was no easy way to gain the insights and knowledge of peoples’ intent across virtually every interest imaginable. Now, virtually every time someone searches on a search engine, it is recorded into a database so that it can be analyzed afterwards. Think about that for a second. Think about what can be learned from looking at the intent of millions of people looking for something specific, or trying to find the answer to a question they have. This is what author John Battelle called “the database of intentions” back in 2003. John considers all of the data we are collecting, to be a special artifact of humankind; a snap shot of what human intentions were at a particular time. As he puts it, “The aggregate results of every search ever entered, every result list ever tendered, and every path taken as a result.”

Companies like Google can use this type of data to help deliver better search results for both paid and organic traffic. In turn, Google provides some of this information to the public at large in the form of a Keyword Research Tool. This tool can be used to discover what the search history is for certain areas or topics.

From a commercial point of view, this type of data is invaluable to marketing departments who are seeking ways to capture the wants and needs of customers. Keyword research then, is a key component of any online marketing campaign.

Three Types of Keywords

When people search on Google, they use a combination of keywords or keyphrases. Regardless of the industry or interest, keywords or keyphrases can be broken down into three different types.

Head Keywords

Head keywords are broad, popular search keywords, generally just one or two words in length. Examples of head keywords are, bikes, Vancouver, or shoes. As mentioned, head keywords, or general keywords are sometimes too broad for certain websites. There are many different types of bikes, many reasons to search for Vancouver, and many different types of shoes serving countless uses. The website selling mountain bikes in Vancouver might think that ranking for the term “bikes” would be a good idea. But not only would that be really challenging, it probably wouldn’t be very relevant to most of their visitors.

Although head keywords and phrases are very popular, they account for just less than 30% of overall search queries. The remaining 70% of search volume lie in the two other keyword types.

Body Keywords

Body keywords are usually two to three words and less popular than head keywords, but body keywords start to narrow the intent of the searcher quite a bit. Examples of these would be mountain biking, Vancouver Weather, or cycling shoes. Body keywords represent about 10% of search queries.

Long Tail Keywords

Long tail keywords contain three or more words in the query, and individually are searched less frequently than head keywords, but when added together represent about 70% of search volume worldwide. The long tail of keywords contains hundreds of millions of unique searches that might only be searched for a few times a month, but when taken together, they make up the majority of the world’s search queries through sites like Google and Bing.

Long tail keywords are hard to research, and almost impossible to predict. Developing a content writing strategy to capture the long tail of search is a key component to success on the search engines.

Keyword Categories

In addition to the types of keywords, keywords are also categorized in different ways. The most basic categories, and perhaps most critical to high level marketing decisions, are brand keywords and non-brand keywords.

Brand Keywords

Brand keywords are keywords that contain the name of the business or company. These keywords are used by people who are already familiar with the brand or company, and are perhaps searching Google for something specific about the brand, or just using Google just to get to where they already know they want to be.

This is an important distinction to consider. People who search your brand by name found out about you somewhere else.

If you are a new company just starting out, you might not have much brand traffic at all. However, monitoring this metric monthly gives you a good indicator of the growth of your brand. If more people are seeking out your website by name, it means your company is growing and making a name for itself. This is a good thing! But how do we grow the business in the meantime?

Non-Brand Keywords

Non-brand keywords are the opposite. These keywords are all based on non-brand search queries and would typically contain relevant words that pertain to your business. Growth in non-brand keywords is really the bread and butter of a search marketing campaign.

Traffic from non-brand keywords is made up of discovery-based visitors. They are finding out about your website and company from a search query that is related to your product or services offered.

Brand Keywords – know the brand.

Non-Brand Keywords – grow the brand.

Withheld (not provided) Keywords

There is another category of keywords that was only recently introduced to website analytics programs – the (not provided) or withheld keyword. These visits come from searchers who are signed into a Google account when they make the query. Google withholds the data for organic search traffic because they are looking out for your safety online.

From Google:
“As search becomes an increasingly customized experience, we recognize the growing importance of protecting the personalized search results we deliver. When signed in users search, websites you visit from our organic search listings will still know that you came from Google, but won’t receive information about each individual query.”

So instead of seeing the search query in analytics for a particular visit, you will instead see (not provided) and all queries that match that will be lumped in together. When Google first released this feature in 2011, they said it would impact 5% to 10% of search queries. But this is industry specific as sites that are more technology focused are reporting that (not provided) keywords represent 50% of search traffic. Additionally, as Google pushes and promotes the use of their social network called Google+, more and more Google users will be searching while signed in, resulting in less data for Web marketers.

Losing this data forces some marketers to use Google’s advertising product called Adwords, where full search query data is available from all users, signed in or not. If you are interested, Relentless is a Certified Google Partner and can help you set up a paid search marketing campaign.

Research Tools

There are a number of research tools available to the public. Some of them are free while others require a subscription service. Relentless uses a mix of free and paid services to perform keyword research for our clients. Here are some examples of the tools we use.

Google’s Keyword Tool

The Google Keyword Tool is probably the most popular tool when it comes to keyword research. It allows you to enter search terms or a specific website, and get an estimated number of monthly searches for the terms globally or locally on Google. You can select which country you want to use for local results depending on which area your services or products are offered. This tool is free to use.

Bing Keyword Research Tool

The Bing Keyword Tool is essentially the same as Google’s version but obviously uses historical searches on Bing for its dataset. This tool is free to use.

Google Trends

Google Trends lets you can compare the world’s interest in specific topics or categories. You can enter up to five keywords or keyword phrases, and see how often they’ve been searched on Google over time. The nice feature about this, is that it also shows how frequently your keywords have appeared in Google News stories, and in which geographic regions people have searched for them most.

Knowing what keywords are popular for certain months, and also where those keywords are popular can give you a lot of great insight into marketing possibilities.


Wordtracker is one of the first paid keyword research tools and is still very valuable for digging into the long tail of search phrases and comparing keyword competitiveness.


This tool has quickly become our favourite at Relentless. Ahrefs has released a keyword research tool that provides so much more depth than any other tool we have used. It allows you to get keyword ideas based on search trends, understand how much traffic competitors websites are getting based on live search results, as well as understand the difficulty in achieving top rankings for your chosen keywords. It really is best in breed when it comes to keyword research tools.

AHRFS Keywords Explorer offers:

  • Keyword suggestions — a giant database of more than 3 billion keywords, which is updated with fresh data every month.
  • 100+ countries supported — this helps us narrow down to certain locals and international markets.
  • Accurate “Search volume” — highly accurate search volume based on clickstream data.
  • Keyword difficulty score — understand how hard it will be to rank for your keyword based on the current top-ranking pages.
  • SERP Overview & Positions History — top-ranking pages and see their ranking history for the past year.
  • “Clicks” metric — Just because a keyword has a high search volume doesn’t mean people click on the search results. Ahrefs is the only tool that shows the actual “click” data for your keywords.

Putting it all Together

Keyword research is one of the first steps to any online marketing campaign. What is learned in this stage often affects all aspects of the program and can dictate product development, marketing budgets, and uncover unforeseen opportunities. The amount of data available to businesses of all types and across all industries means that a tremendous amount of insight can go into a marketing campaign.

Knowing what keywords to use for your marketing campaign is only the beginning. Once you have carefully selected which keywords are most appropriate and potentially valuable to your business, you next have to make sure that your website has content based on those keywords. This means writing meaningful, relevant and informative content for site visitors, not just search engines.

At Relentless we work with clients on consulting, research and data scraping, and finally putting it all together into a concise strategy to achieve unique marketing goals.

Posted on: 05/28/2012
Updated on: 05/29/2017
Posted by: Craig Hauptman – President & Founder

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