Contemporary Search Phrase Research

There have been many developments in search-phrase research over the years and if I had been writing this article when I started my career in search engine optimisation (SEO), it would have basically described a process of hunting around for a few relevant sources of data and a lot of brainstorming (making it up!).

The first really useful tool was a feature of (Now Yahoo! Search Marketing) -- the keyword popularity tool "Suggested Search Terms." Then, in 1999, launched a more advanced suite of research tools, which fast became essential for search engine optimization professionals.

These days, Hitwise and, which Hitwise powers, offer data and insights that can be used for search optimization.

The main advantage of Hitwise data is the fact that it is captured at the ISP level and, therefore, contains data from all the major search engines and search marketers.

Regional Intelligence Data is available across five main regions (United States, United Kingdom, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand). This geographic breadth allows the popularity of search phrases to be evaluated in each region. This ability is important if you are targeting an international audience as spelling differences and the popularity of terminology does change dramatically especially between the United States and United Kingdom, the two largest markets.



A good example can be found in a topic we are all familiar with. Here are the top three search engine marketing phrases in each region:

US: 31 percent "search engine marketing," 25 percent "search engine submission," 20 percent "search engine optimization"
UK: 25 percent "search engine ranking," 19 percent "search engine optimisation," 13 percent "search engine optimization"
AU: 28 percent "search engine optimisation," 18 percent "search engine submission"
NZ: 40 percent "search engine optimisation," 20 percent "search engine registration"
SG: 52 percent "search engine optimisation," 24 percent search engine submission," 21 percent "search engine optimisation"

*Results taken from a shortlist of 11 "search engine..." based relevant and popular terms. The percentage provides an indication of the volume of searches for each term in relation to all 11 terms in the report. Source: (Hitwise)

Phrase Success Another very interesting metric is the "Success Rate." This provides an indication of the percentage of searches that resulted in a user visiting a Web site. For example, in the United States, the phrase "search engine marketing" has a 90.9 percent success rate while the term "search engine ranking" only has a 40 percent success rate. The main reason for low success rates is low results relevancy, either because the content searched for is not apparent or the search phrase used is ambiguous. In this case, a bit more drilling reveals that most searchers are looking for free ranking reports not a search engine marketing provider, but most results returned are for SEO services.

Industry Search Phrases This feature is a fantastic time saver especially if you have a mainstream site. Select one of over 100 industry categories and discover the search phrases that are driving traffic to sites in that industry. This function provides an instant search phrase list tailored to your industry and should include a wide range of phrases relevant to your business. Normally you start with a small number of phrases and try and identify all the related terms. This works the other way around and you are less likely to miss related phrases. For example, the U.S. Automotive industry returns 398,363 search terms.

Competitor Search Phrases If 398,363 sounds a bit much then why not focus in on your direct competitors? Using Hitwise, you can see the exact phrases that are driving traffic to your competitors' sites. So if your competitors have spent years optimizing their site or have been running extensive search engine advertising, why not see which phrases are working for them? This is a very powerful tool indeed, and is only available in the main Hitwise product.

Who's Winning? The last tool I would like to mention is Hitwise's search term analysis tool. Simply type in the phrase you are interested in and it will list the sites that receive the most traffic for that phrase along with their percentage share of the total traffic generated by the phrase. There is a lot more to search engine success than a position in a ranking report and this tool tells the whole story of where all the traffic is actually going.

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