Keywords That Click

by Barry Welford November 3rd, 2009 

Keywords and click are two of the most popular words on the Internet.  Countless readers will have visited this blog post because they realize the importance of those two words.

We should immediately warn you that many may find the content of this blog post disturbing.  If you think you know all there is to know about keywords you may be in for a surprise.  If you stay with us through to the end, be warned.  Your preconceptions about keywords may be in for some serious disruption.  Hold onto your hat, here we go.

Keywords For What

How could we even pose a question about the reason for using keywords?  Most Internet savvy people realize that the word keywords should immediately make you think of how to get around the Internet.  Yes, Google really has done a great marketing job.  The way to find what you want is to put keywords in a simple search field.  Just look at the almost classic simplicity of their search page at the time of writing this blog post.

google search

Indeed in their browser, Google Chrome, they even encourage you to forget about URLs and you can put either a URL or keywords in the single address field.

Isn't that the natural way to get around.  Well not everyone agreed that keywords were the most useful way of surfing.  Remember Jeeves.  He suggested you should ask questions and the ongoing version, Ask, still recommends that.

Now we have Bing, which launched itself as a decision engine.

Bing is a new Decision Engine providing customers with a first step in moving beyond search to help make faster, more informed decisions. Bing is specifically designed to help customers make better decisions, focusing initially on four key vertical areas: making a purchase decision, planning a trip, researching a health condition or finding a local business.  A Decision Engine is designed to empower people to gain insight and knowledge from the Web, moving more quickly to important decisions.

Neither of them is likely to displace Google anytime soon.  However it does point out that keywords are not the only choice.

Of course many will perhaps find this line of thinking almost blasphemous.  Indeed while writing this, I received an e-mail from Acronym, which pushes its keyword-driven marketing approach as the superior way to market on the Internet.

However before swallowing that argument, let's continue with our examination of the conventional wisdom.

Who Needs Keywords

A number of groups accept the argument that keywords are almost the most important element on the Internet.  Let's explore the different motivations they have.

At the top of the list we should put Google which has built its business on keywords.  They suggest they should be used as the way of finding whatever information you may be seeking on the Internet.  If you are an Adwords advertiser, Google offers keywords as the only way of specifying where your ads should appear.  Clearly keywords are working for them.

The next group clearly must be website owners.  They find that Google (and the other search engines) can bring so many visitors to a website, that if Google says they are important then that is the way to go.  Website owners thus use SEO methods to ensure that their websites will rank highly for important keywords.  Of course only a small fraction of website visitors arrive via a search for a simple keyword.  Most often they have typed in some longer phrase that includes a simple keyword.  This is often defined as a long tail search.  Website owners are thus involved in trying to rank highly for these long tail searches as well.  It is somewhat like trying to create a huge 'butterfly net' of words and phrases that may bring in as many visitors as possible.

The other key group that must work with keywords are the Adwords advertisers.  They also must develop sophisticated 'butterfly nets' of keywords to ensure their ads appear before as many eyes as possible.

Do Website Owners Really Need Keywords

Many would regard that question, Do Website Owners Really Need Keywords, as foolish.  Indeed we would not say keywords are unimportant, but perhaps there is a more fundamental issue here.  After all a website owner does not necessarily want only a visitor who has tapped in a keyword in a search field.  Usually they want prospects who are interested in what they have to offer and are likely to be persuaded to buy whatever product or service they are offering.

That prospect is not defined by a set of keywords but probably by some concepts.  They have certain needs and certain prior experiences and they are looking for solutions.  Ideally if you could see what concepts they had in mind you could better target what you present to them.

The Big Picture - Concepts not keywords

As you might expect, Google does provide help on what keywords may work well for you.  It's called the Google Adwords Keyword tool. However they do add a small disclaimer.

Use the Keyword Tool to get new keyword ideas. Select an option below to enter a few descriptive words or phrases, or type in your website's URL.

Keyword Tool Tips
Important note: We cannot guarantee that these keywords will improve your campaign performance.

You might assume that trying to understand the concepts that potential website visitors might have could be more difficult.  However there is another Google tool that can provide some help.  It is called Google Insights.

See what the world is searching for.  With Google Insights for Search, you can compare search volume patterns across specific regions, categories, time frames and properties.

I would highly recommend that you try Google Insights as a first step in trying to get the big picture before you home in on what specific keywords might relate to the concept.  I have used it on a number of situations and it has always expanded my field of vision.

You can of course use the Google Adwords Keyword tool, but it seems to edge out from the keywords you have inserted even though you may allow it to a look at synonyms.  The results seem to be centered around the initial keywords.  Google Insights on the other hand does seem to look at the underlying meaning of the words and can produce major surprises.

One example that highlighted this for me concerned the VTEA charity website that provides therapeutic riding for disabled children.  Another word for therapeutic riding is hippotherapy. That is buried in the Adwords Keyword Tool results.  Looking at the Google Insights results for therapeutic riding, this alternate description is shown in certain countries to be only a little behind the more traditional phrase.

Perhaps an even more dramatic result is shown in considering laser eye surgery.  Note that if you wish to repeat the searches mentioned below, the results will depend on your location.  Using the Google Adwords keyword tool, although the word Lasik is mentioned, it does not particularly stand out.

adwords laser eye surgery

Using the Google Insights tool however, a search for laser eye surgery produces somewhat surprising results.

insights laser eye surgery

By doing this, it is quite clear that the big picture includes both laser eye surgery and Lasik eye surgery.  By doing a Google Insights search to compare these two phrases, it is quite clear that there are strong regional differences. The blue bars are for 'laser eye surgery' and the red bars are for 'lasik eye surgery'.

regional laser eye surgery

In some parts of the world laser eye surgery is the preferred phrase.  However in the US Lasik eye surgery is used more often.

This comparison does point out the importance of understanding the concepts that prospects may have in mind before homing in on the specific keywords that may be appropriate to use.

$64,000 Question - Do the Google algorithms search on concepts or keywords?

If you have been following the argument here, you may have the same major question that comes to my mind.  Does the Google search algorithm follow the logic of the Google Adwords keyword tool or the logic of the Google Insights tool.  If the search algorithm is closer to the Google Insights tool, this suggests less emphasis on specific keywords and more emphasis on the underlying concepts.  It is not just a question of adding in synonyms for keywords but may suggest fully describing the meanings behind such keywords.  That approach would make a great deal of sense and would certainly ensure that more insightful articles and blog posts will appear higher in the rankings.


In summary we are suggesting here that Search Engine Optimization should not prompt an immediate rush to a keyword analysis with traditional tools.  You should use a little insight first to understand the concepts that your target prospects may be considering.  Once you have checked out the concepts and have the right 'Big Picture', then your keyword research may be somewhat broader and will certainly be more relevant.

Barry Welford

Offering practical, effective ways of strengthening Internet marketing strategy and getting bottom-line success, particularly through local SEO.


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19 Responses to “Keywords That Click”

  1. […] starts with the above phrase, it's going to be good. Such was the case this past week over at SearchEnginePeople where Barry talked about the focus on including keywords in your site … and some arguments […]

  2. matt says:

    When performing keyword research, I also always try and find every way a word, or keyword, can be written. Because there are so many ways one word or product can be said, it's important to research all of the synonyms or other variations for that key term.

  3. This really makes you think on where you should be heading with your blog. Keywords are good but how long will they be around? That's my question.

  4. Nice Article – I would add wonder wheel to your mix when exploring concepts and keyword groupings.

    .-= @steveplunkett recently posted: BBQ Addicts – a Bacon Explosion BBQ Recipe =-.

  5. Barry, interesting in the way you used the insights tool in the keyword discovery process. I've always believed, especially, before there were keyword tools you should ask lay people, the least internet savvy person you know and professionals in that field how they would search for that info/product. You'll get the full gamut. Then you go to the SEO tools to validate/verify what your questions indicated.

    Also in the discovery mode if you do a search on lasik eye surgery what you pointed out as being odd is spelled out by following two links. You would know that lasik eye surgery is a specific procedure used prdominantly in the US, and Commonwealth. IMO, explains most or all the numbers in the insights tool.

  6. Ruud Hein says:

    @Steve Wonder Wheel is a very nice one. The standard related searches view too although I much prefer how Yahoo shows those.

    @Terry Good points. I think asking people in general works best if you're working on your own site or project. As a business process it might be hard to "bug" people tens of times per month asking which keywords they use for this or that :)

    • Yeah… good point Ruud, but if you aern't "talking to all your potential customers" you'll have problems bridging the gap between Social and Search, My mommy… appreciates all calls and would be glad to have me call 10 times a day… 75 yesterday definitely the least savvy!

      Besides the problem with handling 10 clients a month… the little things get passed over as not "fitting the process". There are lots of people reading this who fit into that category. IMO, To leave people out of the process is to not see who buys and takes the action we want and ummm Search engines aint ever bought a thing from anyone.

      Just my .02

  7. Ruud Hein says:

    You make some really good points, Terry. Love to hear more about them and in fact, am about to email you regarding this.

  8. Altinkum says:

    Keywords will always be around, it is like you say just how we use them. Thanks for google insights I had not heard of that one before. After changing my keywords numerous times, I am going to go back and check on them with insights!!

    Speaking of Bing, all of a sudden in the last week it has started sending me lots of traffic, when I checked I am on the first page for all these terms that are not even listed as my keywords. Happened overnight, strange.

  9. […] Welford at Search Engine People has written a somewhat shocking article on the importance keywords. I’m not going to give away all of his secrets but he is questioning how important keywords are […]

  10. Michael says:

    I agree that keywords is to finite a term. People are looking for a phrase, or a long tail keyword with an adjective. No one types in 'apartments' if they are on a search. They are more likely to type 'Manhattan One Bedroom apartments under $3,000'. Strategies must exist to tap in the less traveled, but more lucrative phrases. Good point.

  11. I think keywords are always going to make things go round when it comes to the search engines. People like to type in very little to find the information they are looking for.
    .-= Nick Stamoulis recently posted: How A Keyword In Your Domain Name Can Make A Difference =-.

  12. […] Keywords That Click – Barry dropped a guest post at SEP on one of my fav conversations. How do you conceptualize SEO? Is it keywords or concepts? He does a good job of fighting the good fight (I am a concept guy myself). […]

  13. […] Keywords That Click – Barry dropped a guest post at SEP on one of my fav conversations. How do you conceptualize SEO? Is it keywords or concepts? He does a good job of fighting the good fight (I am a concept guy myself). […]

  14. 2Go Media says:

    Choosing the right keywords should be taken lightly, it is very imperative to pick the most marketable keywords which enables your site to the top of Google index. Also keywords should be be mostly highlighted for article submission purposes and content integration.

  15. This site has been bookmarked !:) Ive noticed that using phrases of keywords seem to work better, instead of just targeting keywords – singleton.

    Forinstance the use of Lasik as a keyword alone, is not so good compared to Lasik and Lasek (forinstance). So by adding more keywords to the same phrase, you reduce the competition hence rank better.. I guess:)

  16. […] Keywords That Click – Search Engine People […]