Does Anyone Still Use One Word Searches?

Does anyone still use one word searches? Well I know I still do on occasion and I’m sure I’m not the only one, but according to most of us are using a one word search phrase less and less often. So why would anyone want to optimize pages for one word anymore? Does anyone still optimize for one word?

I can’t remember exactly when I came across the link above, sometime recently given the data is from July, but it’s interesting to see that two, three, and four word keyphrases are all more common than the single word search worldwide. In fact if you live in Canada you’ll likely use six words in your keyphrases before using that lone single keyword. Good for you Canada. You’re more sophisticated as searchers than us Americans or our friends in the U.K. Then again maybe we just choose more descriptive words when we search or something. Anyway all three of us along with a lot of others online have moved way past searching using a single keyword.

And if you compare the 2006 data to the 2005 data you’ll see using more words is a growing phenomenon. Seems even those of us using two words have shrunk somewhat over the last year, while four word searchers have grown the most. What it all means though is that people are including more words in their queries in order to find the websites and information they want.

Longer Keyphrases Means Optimizing For The Long Tail Of Search

What does all this mean to webmasters and site owners? Well it’s more proof we should be targeting longer keyphrases in the search engine tail. If potential visitors are going to use more words to find us, shouldn’t we be optimizing our pages with more words in mind?

The beauty of it though is that there are more unique longer keyphrases than there are shorter phrases or single keywords and consequently there should be less competition for any one of those longer phrases. It doesn’t mean there’s not competition, but there should be less pages optimized for any single unique version of a seven word phrase. For example common sense would tell us there are going to be less pages optimized for ‘discount pc computer parts in omaha nebraska’ than there will be for ‘discount computer parts.’ Not everyone who sells computer parts sells them in Omaha.

Fortunately if you’ve optimized your page for the longer location specific keyphrase it should be pretty well optimized for the shorter phrase as well. Close to 30% of searches still use three words after all so we do want to be optimized for those searches.

However because people are using longer keyphrases it becomes harder to predict which variation of a word they might use in a given phrase. Your keyphrase may include ‘autos’ while mine includes ‘cars’ and someone else may use ‘automobiles.’ A good way to improve the chances of your pages being found by any of these three sets of searches is to use all three on your page. Write about your selection of blue cars in one place on the page and talk about the shiny red paint you have on your automobiles on another part of your page. Maybe toward the end of the page you can even try to sell me some auto insurance.

Since optimizing for the single word is less important, it’s ok to mention cars a few less times in place of autos. There’s less competition for the longer phrase someone will use and a couple less instances of a single word probably isn’t going to make a huge difference. However, by using common alternatives you can pick up traffic on what will be a few unique longer keyphrases. There’s also indication that search engines are beginning to prefer pages that use synonyms for keywords when deciding which to rank higher. Even better is that varying your words is more natural for anyone reading your page.

Searches are getting longer and longer and will most likely continue to grow as more and more web pages are added to search indexes every day and it becomes harder to find what you’re looking for with just one or two words. Keep that in mind when you optimize your pages. If you’re optimizing your pages for a two word keyphrase remember that many potential visitors will be using more words in their queries. If they’re going to use more than two words in a search box, you should also add some words to your keyphrases when optimizing your page.

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

One comment

  1. Nice write up.

    We definately have google to thank for this. With their highly developed search algo it means you can tell it that you want “baked beans in spicy sauce with a sausage on the side” instead of just “beans”. It’s nice to see that searchers are picking up and taking advantage of this.

    It also means there is a lot more room in each market for webmasters. If you can’t rank well for one search phrase, you can target another one and still rank well.

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