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Keyword Research and Google’s Knowledge

A recent article from our friends at Conductor talked about the most common and costly rebranding mistake, ultimately changing the terms that you use to terms that are not used as heavily in search. The example used by Conductor is that you can change from using the word “couch” to the word “sofa” and you will lose roughly 40,000 potential customers actively looking for the product.

First, I want to clarify 3 things very quickly:

  1. Conductor is a great company that knows its stuff.
  2. Overall, I agree with the point Stephan makes. Not doing research and changing your brand terms can have terrible effects, and you need to be careful.
  3. There is great value in the keyword research that Stephan talks about as well.

However, the numbers aren’t quite what they seem.

The data implies that your website can be visible in about 40,000 extra searches by targeting the right keyword. This can add up to a lot of money, even if you only get 10% of those extra clicks, from about 2 minutes of research.

Interestingly, you can also see that “sofa” used to be more highly searched, and that changed. This is another trend that marketers need to keep watch over – at one point “sofa” was a better keyword to target statistically, and then search behaviors changed and couch became more prominent. Always know how your keywords are trending, not just where they’re at.

Here’s the curveball though. Let’s take a look at the actual search results when you search for “couch,”

The top four results target “sofa” more than “couch”, but they’re still ranking high – above other sites that are targeting “couch” first. What are these sites doing that target “sofa” first?

  • Look at titles. If they say “couch” (the top result doesn’t), it’s after sofa.
  • Word count – sofa is mentioned much more on each page (ratio of 25-1 on top result, 160-1 on second result). In the html, this is the case even more.
  • Looking at backlinks in Open Site Explorer, top result has no anchor text containing “couch.”

This is obviously a preliminary analysis, but it shows that the top results aren’t making “couch” a primary focus.

What is happening here? At Points Group we believe this is a result of Google’s ongoing (and recently amplified) focus on semantic keywords.

As Google is gets smarter, it is increasingly building correlations between terms to build a knowledge base. Then, when it sees these words, it realizes same or similar intent. A common example is with the concept of “pasta.” If you talk about spaghetti, penne, or rigatoni, they’re all related to pasta. Google is increasingly picking up on this and using related keywords as part of its algorithm. We believe this is happening here with “couch” and “sofa.”

So What?

This will have a big effect on your content strategy. With the increasing push on semantic keywords, your content should be less keyword focused and more concept focused.

Please understand that keyword research is still important, and there is still a lot of value in long tail keywords. As the original post stated, you want to make sure that you are using the keywords that are going to be the most searched (I cringed when I read in that post that a cosmetic company was going to take out the obvious term make-up from their product terms). The difference is that your strategy needs to be bigger. You’ll want to include all relevant terms (as the “couch” examples did – both keywords were present in the content, though to differing degrees) and create a comprehensive approach to content creation.

Similarly, Google uses more domain indicators in ranking content. It is looking for what you write about not just on a page, but on a domain. If you have one page about couches and another domain has many pages (or a whole sub-section) on sofas, which do you think looks like the greater authority and the better search result? Continue to create content around the entire topic using all relevant keywords, and show increased expertise in your subject matter.


It’s also worth noting that for AdWords, the individual keywords are even more important to target. The importance of keyword research in this case is magnified. You can raise your quality score, resulting in lower bids, by ensuring your ads and keywords target what users are searching for. Yes, AdWords has a phrase match option that will help you by utilizing synonyms, but if you can match and create higher immediate relevancy, you’re better off.

The Bottom Line

At Points Group, we absolutely agree with the premise that you need to do research when branding. It is imperative that you know the search terms your customers are using and brand appropriately. In the example of the sofa, strictly speaking from a search standpoint (outside of demographics, visitor behavior based on keyword, etc.), it is definitely a good move to stick with “couch”.

However, it’s also important to realize that using a specific term isn’t as effective as it used to be. The world of search has evolved, and keywords are much more complicated than A vs. B. When developing your strategy, make sure you take a comprehensive approach.

Do you want to add to the conversation, or have you noticed any additional trends? Add to the discussion in the comments below.