Understanding Keywords, Key Phrases

July 21, 2009

by Andy Atkins-Krueger

Funny how the world revolves around keywords and key phrases these days and yet no one understands them!

So what’s to understand? First off is getting to grips with the intent of the person behind the keyword or phrase. Search engines have been struggling with this for decades and very little progress has been made. The attempt to understand intent has led to personalisation, search engine logins, search histories and cookies the size of saucepans. Still the user’s intent remains elusive, not just to those of us not benefitting from the data search engines are collecting – but also to the search engines themselves .


Think of the keyword as an abbreviated thought – a thought which has been abbreviated by the user. The term ‘keyword’ tends to suggest that, because it is ‘key’ it must be commonly used and we must know what is behind it. But we don’t. Nor is the searcher aware of all the wide ranging potential ambiguities which make it tough for the search engine to respond to their search with a relevant list of potential answers to an implied question.

Part of the problem lies in the training that searchers receive from search engines as a result of their search experience. Every searcher’s queries change and evolve as a result of the feedback ‘food’ they receive from search engines who are training people to search in particular ways. Unfortunately that confuses matters further because that training tends to focus the user more on certain keyword structures irregardless of their intent.

But there is a way around this problem that is not new – in fact it has existed since before search marketing, before the internet and even before computers existed – and that is the mathematical approach of probability.

We cannot change the impact of the varied intent of the user confusing the picture. But for each web marketer, every keyword has a certain probability of leading to some sort of action or conversion. It is of course different from product to product and website to website.

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