Longer Search Queries Are Becoming the Norm: What It Means for SEO

User search queries can no longer be considered in terms of the basic keywords and keyword phrases that comprise them.

In the early days of SEO, many people relied on short phrases to find what they were looking for, but the way people use search engines is changing. People are relying on longer queries to find what they’re looking for, and this increasing trend demands action on the part of search marketers everywhere.

Why Search Queries Are Becoming Longer

As with most market trends, there’s no single reason why user queries are getting longer. It’s the result of a combination of different factors and it certainly didn’t happen overnight. Understanding the background and context of these longer search queries can help you better prepare for the resulting changes in user search patterns.

Semantic Search Capabilities

First, a fundamental change in how Google interprets user queries has driven the change in user behavior. Back when Google first started, it broke apart user queries into its fundamental components (keywords), and searched for those components as they appeared exactly on the web. Sites that had the most keywords matching the user’s query would rank on top. Today, Google uses a process called “semantic search,” which analyzes the intention of a user’s query, then searches for sites whose capabilities make them good fits for serving that intention. Because of this change, users are finding the traditional, short, keyword-based queries to be less effective at getting relevant results than longer, more conversational queries. In fact, many users are asking full, specific questions rather than searching for a general topic.

Availability of Information

The sheer amount of information available on the web has increased dramatically since the dawn of the digital era, and it continues to increase exponentially every day. In order to find the most relevant information in the cluttered, possibly oversaturated web, users are forced to come up with longer, more specific queries. Simple, generic, or ambiguous searches will only return general information like Wikipedia articles or the home pages of major brands. To get better, more useful information, longer queries are necessary.

Mobile Devices and Voice Searches

Few people enjoy typing. Because typing has been the primary means of submitting search queries, users have stuck to a minimalist approach. With the rise in popularity of mobile devices, typing has actually become even more difficult and annoying for many users as screen sizes are smaller, leading to more difficulty from a dexterity standpoint. To add to this, features like autocorrect bring accuracy into the fold as a major issue. The alternative, which exists in the form of personal digital assistants like Apple’s Siri, is voice-based searching. More people are using voice functionality to run their searches, and because of this, more queries are becoming conversational and informal. That means users are relying on more colloquial and sentence-based structures to do their searching.

How Businesses Can Take Action

Now that you realize the motivating factors for this increasing trend, you can take action to get in front of it. As with any SEO strategy, it’s going to take time for these tactics to start taking effect, so start early and stay consistent in order to see the greatest eventual results.

Elimination of Keyword Based Strategies

Your first step is to eliminate any trace of keyword-based SEO tactics from your overall campaign. Stuffing your site’s titles, descriptions, and articles with keywords in the hopes of ranking for associated user queries is no longer effective. Google doesn’t even consider keyword matching as part of its ranking algorithm anymore, and user queries are so long and complex that it wouldn’t matter even if it did. Add to that the fact that over-stuffing your site with keywords can actually earn you a ranking penalty, and trying to rank by using specific keywords becomes a potential disaster.

Long-Tail Keyword Optimization

Instead of relying on keyword tactics, start looking at things from a higher perspective: long-tail keywords. Don’t let the “keyword” portion of that term fool you; long-tail keywords are just topics and extended phrases that people are searching for. For example, “who is the best podiatrist in Orlando” is an example of a long-tail keyword phrase. Rather than optimizing for these phrases by including them verbatim on your site (like with a conventional keyword strategy), you’ll be writing topics that address these phrases and improving your site pages to make sure Google clearly understands the purpose and position of your company.

Niche Content Topics

Finally, because user queries are becoming even more targeted and the web is filling up with even greater volumes of content, it’s more important than ever to have a niche. Your area of expertise as a business should be as specific as possible, and accordingly, your topics should give very specific answers to very specific questions. If your strategy is too generic or too broad, you’ll easily become lost in the fold.

SEO is always evolving. Google rolls out more and more updates to increase the sophistication and capabilities of its search functionality, and users adapt to use that search function in newer, better ways. If you want to stay ahead of the competition and get the most online visibility for your brand, you’ll need to understand and respond to these changes proactively. If you haven’t already started optimizing for longer user search queries, now is the time to start.

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