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Keywords. At the heart of every SEO strategy and PPC campaign there are keywords. These are the phrases that users type into the search boxes of search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing millions of times a day. Keywords are what trigger those fancy search engine algorithms to do their magic and serve up relevant results. They are the key (yeah, I know) to the communication between the user and the search engine, and they come in a few different flavors. We’ve served up a guide here to give you some insight into how keywords are categorized and how they’re handled in the world of web marketing.

1. Short Tail - e.g. “Shoes”
These types of keywords are very general, and very competitive. The ambiguous nature of these one or two word phrases makes them open to interpretation by both the user who is searching with them, and the browser that is trying to find the most relevant content for them. The results for these search terms are usually big brand names that want to pull in a huge audience, and can afford to do so. Ranking high for these terms requires a serious investment of time and money. PPC campaigns that are aggressive, extensive SEO, and a relentless linkbuilding effort that is probably reinforced with Social Media, will likely be required to rank well for short tail keywords. If you have an up-and-coming business, or have a brand new website, and want to rank number one for a term like “shoes,” you will need all of the aforementioned strategies as well as a small miracle.

2. Long Tail - e.g. “Red Toddler Shoes”
Keywords that will typically generate more conversions are specific, multi-word combinations that reveal an unambiguous intent. Users who know what they want will use long tail keywords, and the search engines will have no trouble serving up relevant results. This is advantageous to smaller, more niche companies, as these phrases are relatively less competitive. Larger companies will still have a strong presence however, and a well rounded approach to SEO is necessary to rank for them. Another variation of the typical long tail keyword phrase uses a specific location, such as “Red Toddler Shoes Albany.” The searcher who uses this phrase is looking for businesses in Albany, NY, and will likely see the search engine’s local listings mixed in with the results. Having a well optimized local listing is a crucial ranking tactic, and is one that greatly benefits smaller businesses. Long tail keyword phrases require some creative thinking and a little more analysis, but optimizing for them is usually very effective.

3. Intent Keywords - e.g. “Buy Baby Shoes”
These keywords reveal an intent on the part of the user to perform an action, typically to buy a product. These phrases are usually just as competitive as short tail keywords, but making them more specific like, “buy red baby shoes for girl,” will generate more pointed results. The meaning behind these types of searches is easily understood and the search engines will usually provide relevant results like online shopping sites, but product reviews and even “how to” guides will show up in results too. Strong SEO and detailed descriptions of products help sites rank for intent keywords, but more than that, driving relevant traffic will require an effective PPC campaign.

4. Question Keywords - e.g. “What Size Baby Shoes Should I Buy?”
These phrases are in the form of a question, not necessarily with the question mark added. These phrases may have a very general root phrase (“baby shoes” in this case), or be very specific, and that is really what will determine the competitiveness of the phrase. In general, question keyword phrases will produce results that address the question and attempt to answer it. Blog articles, “how to” guides, wiki sites, and forums will likely be among the top results. The best way to rank for terms like this is through quality blogging, and of course on-site SEO that focuses on the root phrase to heighten relevance.

5. Brand Keywords - e.g. “Osh Kosh Baby Shoes”
Keyword phrases that contain a specific brand can be very competitive, unless of course it is your business’s brand. Typically that brand’s site will rank very highly for these search phrases, but it’s possible that online shopping sites featuring that brand’s products will push passed it and rank higher. The results are similar to the intent keyword phrases in that they feature sites that list products, but the “how to” guides likely won’t be present and the rankings are harder to break into. If the searcher is looking for a specific product it’ll be difficult to get them to land on your site unless you offer that prouct. It is possible to rank in those results with carefully worded blogs (articles like “Why Our Shoes Are Better Than Osh Kosh Shoes”), aggressive PPC, and quality Linkbait content.