Don’t waste your time and money on broad keyword targeting | Varn


28 May 2019

Don’t waste your time and money on broad keyword targeting – it is not as important as you think

When optimising websites for keyword ranking, it is so easy to get drawn down the broad keyword targeting route. One of the main reasons for this is big holes in the data that is available from Google and other search engines.

You see that a broad but relevant term for your site has a relatively large number of searches performed and your competitors are listed. You may even see that the term generates a lot of clicks to your site – so why wouldn’t you want to rank well for it?

The simple answer is that, yes, it is nice to rank, but this will take a lot of time and investment because all your competitors want to too. However, in a large proportion of searches this broad ‘head’ term is only the start of a search journey and the searcher will actually go on to refine the term a number of times before they find a set of results they engage with. There is – as yet – no data to analyse these search journeys, hence companies are investing heavily in head term keyword targeting that is actually pretty useless.

How many searchers actually find what they are looking for from the first set of results? It seems reasonable to assume that the more detailed the search query the higher this data set will be. Google researchers have undertaken many studies testing search behaviour and how this changes throughout the course of a searchers ‘journey’. They call this ‘query formulation’ and it is an essential part of web information search and therefore presumably also plays an essential role in search engine ranking factors.

What did Google find in their studies?

“When having difficulty in finding information, users start to formulate more diverse queries, they use advanced operators more, and they spend a longer time on the search result page”

In the news recently, it was reported that Google ran a test on broad queries such as “restaurants” in which it hid the search results and showed users the following message instead: ““Hmm… the results for your search don’t seem very relevant.” Searchers were then prompted to refine their search with a number of pre-scripted options.

Perhaps, in future we will see more messages from search engines asking the searcher if they really want to see results for broad queries – with suggestions for narrower searches – and the impressions and click through rates for generic broad queries will drop drastically.

But as yet website owners are left in the dark as to what search journeys looks like. We don’t even know roughly what percentage of queries performed result in subsequent query refinement. So why is this so important? Basically it means that a lot of the time we might be concentrating on optimising pages for keywords at the start of a search journey when we should be focusing on end journey keywords.


What is a typical search journey or query formulation?

We can tell from google analytics if someone clicked through to a landing page from a bunch of (mostly hidden) search terms – and then what they did when they were on our site.

But what if they clicked back? What was the first, second and third queries they made before they found a search result that was more useful to them. What refinements did they make to their original search and which search result led to a final ‘buy’ click? Did they change the search terms completely or did they add to or edit existing terms?

The data available gives us no idea about the overall behaviour of our target market in search.

Let’s take an example of someone wanting to buy a fridge freezer online. In this case, we are going to assume that they know some basic facts about the type of product they want to buy – size, colour and freestanding. And they also have a couple of brand preferences.

An inexperienced or lazy searcher might start with a generic and broad search term ‘fridge freezers’. We know a lot of people do use this term as in the UK it has on average 201,000 searches a month. The Google results are:

It is a very competitive term and dominated by shopping ads and PPC results. If the searcher has a lot of time they might make the effort to click through to a few of the top ranked electrical retailer fridge freezer main category pages and spend time on each site filtering through to products they are interested in.

But it is likely – at some point – that the searcher will want to refine the results in a search engine to something more useful and the journey will look more like this:

Term 1 ‘fridge freezer’                                                                    201,000 searches per month

Term 2 ‘freestanding fridge freezer’                                         1,900 searches per month

Term 3 ‘freestanding fridge freezers black’                           <10 searches per month

It only took two refinements to get to a much more useful page of results that are more likely to generate a click from this searcher:


In fact the searcher might go even further in their search journey before settling on a website to buy from:

Term 4 ‘Free standing fridge freezer black water dispenser’

Term 5 ‘Free standing fridge freezer black water dispenser 185cm high’

Final converting search term: ‘Samsung fridge freezer “RB29FWRNDBC” best price’

And the winner is …. Amazon! They only just scrapped a first page ranking for the head term ‘fridge freezer’. But, not only do they get the top organic spot for the final bang for your buck long tail search term, but they have also achieved a fantastic featured snippet right below the PPC ads:

No wonder they are dominating online retail sales right now. It doesn’t matter that other sites outranked them for term 1, 2, 3 etc. What matters is the ranking for the final converting search term.

They might only be getting <1% of the available clicks for the head term = 2,000 visits unlikely to convert. But how many searches are being made for the final converting search terms, or terms 4 – 5, that individually all have 0 search volumes but collectively have multiple searches = 0000’s of visits likely to convert.

So what can you do?

Search engines have all this data. But as yet website owners are kept in the dark about query formulation in organic search.

So what can you do to get a better idea of the real search journey of your target website visitor?

  • Test it out yourself. Ask a group of people matching your target market what they would do given a certain search task and then watch what they do as they try and find a product or website that they would consider buying from or interacting with. Examine the searches they make, how they refine their queries and what type of final search term gives them a result they are happy enough to convert from.
  • Make sure you optimise your pages for the ‘related queries’ and ‘people also ask’ keywords and phrases that Google shows. These are insights into the real modifications that are made to head search terms during the ‘query formulation’ process, so are incredibly useful indications of the different directions that search journeys branch into from the same starting position.


Until the day we are given access to data on individual search journeys we are still only guessing which queries are the most important in terms of generating conversions and revenue. Ranking for broad queries may be good for your vanity but not much else – you need to really understand how your target market uses search and rank for the queries that matter.

If you would like to chat with someone at Varn about how to start analysing search intent and search journeys get in touch with us today via our website or call 01225 439960.

Article by: David, SEO Account Manager More articles by David

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