Friday, 23 December 2011

Keyword Strategies: How Much Does Google Influence Search Results?

Check out any “SEO basics” article these days, and the word “longtail” is bound to pop up. And if by chance you haven’t bothered to read any of those tips, longtail keywords basically refer to unique phrases around a popular search term. In other words, something ridiculously general like “business” isn’t going to help you very much as a target keyword. But something like “small business development strategie”? Now that’s a longtail keyword that might have some legs.
Unique phrases. High search volume. Low competition.
It’s SEO 101.
But an interesting inforgraphic from has gotten some buzz recently that’s throwing the perceived value of longtail keyword phrases into question. Titled “How Google Killed the Long Tail”, it presents a slew of examples of how the changes Google has made over the years are pushing longtail phrases (the cornerstone of many keyword strategies these days) out of the spotlight.
You can see the full inforgraphic below, but here is one interesting tidbit that jumped out at me:

The search engine auto-fill is making a bigger difference than I realized.

These are the search suggestions that Google presents in the dropdown as you begin typing your search term. It gives the impression that the search engine is trying to “guess” the phrase you want to search for based on popular searches related to whatever you start typing.
But what the infographic suggests, however, is that by providing users with these popular phrases, the engine is actually enticing those users to select one of them rather than continuing to type their own unique search requests. (As a result, the infographic notes that the percent of unique searches are down as much as 9% from just a few years ago.) In the end, you could argue that this is directing users away from valuable longtail phrases and towards the ones that are already popular.
Now whether this is good or bad is up for debate – but the influence being exhibited here is certainly interesting.
What really struck me, however, was how there are instances when Google blatantly shows search results for phrases that aren’t even what the user searched for. The infographic presents the example of the phrase “weight loss estimator”, where the auto-fill suggests the related term, “weight loss calculator”. Naturally, as with any other auto-fill suggestion, the user is welcome to say “No thanks” and continue with their original search. However, even if you continue with “weight loss estimator”, Google still shows the results for the phrase “weight loss calculator”! (I tried it myself, it totally works.) It’s almost as if Google is saying, “We know you are looking for this phrase, but just trust us, this one is better.”
Bizarre. Anyway, there’s a lot of info in the complete infographic (thanks to Sally Ormand for sharing on Twitter, by the way), and it’s definitely worth checking out. Thoughts? Comments? Sound off below and let me know what jumps out at you.