Optimization projects normally start with keyword research to identify the most promising “head” search terms (short, frequently used keyword phrases), and over time, a site’s rank for these terms is closely watched (and often much fretted about).
Nothing wrong with that—head terms are critical to optimization efforts. But it’s also important to note that when it comes to on-site conversions, the leads often come from multi-word, infrequently searched “tail” terms.
Looking at multiple b2b websites, in the U.S. and Canada, with a combined 150,000+ visits during the first half of this year, it’s clear that head terms drive traffic, but tail terms drive leads:
Okay, that’s a bit of an oversimplification; obviously, head terms are vital to lead generation as well. But the point is, across site after site reviewed, the common pattern was that a relatively small number of keyword phrases (typically 50-60 out of several thousand) drove well over half of all traffic. At the same time, a larger group of head terms drove a smaller share of leads.
This makes sense. Searchers often use broad head terms early in their buying research process and longer, more specific terms as they get closer to a decision. So what are the implications?
1. Use AdWords (and SEM in general). First, head keywords matter, but some terms are so competitive that it’s nearly impossible for a small to midsize company to rank for them. Second, rankings vary between individuals based on factors like personalization and location, and they also vary (sometimes considerably) over time as the search engines continually tweak their algorithms. Finally, some head terms are great for driving traffic but less so for producing leads.
Search engine marketing programs like AdWords enable marketers to identify which keywords actually drive conversions most effectively, and to always have their site appear on the first page of search results for those terms, regardless of variations in organic rank.
2. Use SEO best practices. Specific tactics change over time as algorithms change, but certain basics remain vital: create quality content, utilize all aspects of on-page website optimization, and build quality links (including social links). This won’t guarantee your site a consistent #1 ranking for any specific phrase, but it will optimize your results over time across both expected head and unpredictable long-tail terms.
3. Continually produce new content. Even the best keyword research is, by its nature, point-in-time and backward-looking. Publishing a steady stream of optimized new content, driven by customer and social intelligence, will position your site best to take advantage of new, trending and previously unanticipated head and long tail phrases.
In short, optimizing a b2b website for conversions isn’t simple enough to do in your head (terms only).