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In the search engine optimization and marketing industry, there's been a rule of thumb: Longer keyword phrases have better conversion rates.

Recently, we put this conventional wisdom to the test, producing a study, "How Keyword Length Affects Conversion Rates." We discovered that, generally, longer keyword phrases do in fact have higher conversion rates. But we also found that conversion rates peak at four-word phrases.

Even though we found some surprises in the data, the study upheld our counsel on keywords. Here are strategies you should consider when developing keywords for your optimization and pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns.

Develop keywords all along the decision-making process

As people become more educated about a product or service, they pick up industry jargon. A well-optimized site uses keywords and content for each stage of the sale—from when a prospect identifies a problem to the final sale and everything in between.


  1. What's the language a novice would use to describe the problem your company solves? For example, in the kitchen fixture industry, cabinet "handles" or "knobs" are called drawer "pulls" or "hardware." What problems will your prospect be trying to solve?

  2. Armed with a little knowledge, what features will attract your prospect? Your customers may be attracted by a product's smart design, but they may be convinced to purchase by the money-back guarantee. Make sure that your site is optimized for both benefits.

  3. Don't forget your brand. In your effort to optimize for products and services, don't forget to optimize for brands as well. Your branding efforts in other media will encourage prospects to search for your brand.


Plus, later in the sales process, prospects may search for your brand name to return to the resource-full site they visited when they were just learning. Our study pointed out that corporate or brand names have very high conversion rates. Make it easy for them to get back to your site by making sure you optimize for your brand and product together.


Add three- and four-word phrases

Most companies optimize for one- and two-word phrases. The study clearly shows the benefits of expanding your optimization to include three- and four-word phrases:

  1. Call out the types of resources, information and tools you have on your site. Make sure you optimize for all terms that novices and experts alike might use to refer to these items.

  2. Get specific. Does your product or service apply to a specific model, timeframe or holiday? Make sure you optimize for all the models and every appropriate holiday. If you don't target your audience with specific keywords, you'll miss prospects.


Divide and conquer by integrating optimization and PPC strategies

Do your keyword lists for natural optimization and pay-per-click have to match? Not necessarily. Take a hard look at balancing natural optimization and pay-per-click strategies for maximum return on investment (ROI).

Most often, we recommend having both natural and PPC ads. However, there are times when a divided approach may be more suitable:

  1. Expensive PPC rates for general terms. In some situations, PPC ads may be fiscally out of reach. Therefore, businesses can use natural optimization to secure a presence in the results for these expensive keywords and use PPC ads for more specific, less competitive keywords.

  2. Seasonality. Some keywords are very important for a short time: for example, "Father's Day gifts" or "changes in business taxes for 2005." Depending on timing and resources, other keywords may have a higher priority for natural optimization. In such cases, rely on PPC ads to ensure your presence for these keywords.


How many keywords?

Some companies approach search engine optimization and marketing like a sprint—get a handful done—quick—and call it a day. Others have a marathon in mind, spending time and resources over a longer time but still finishing.

Think of search engine optimization and marketing as a journey. Every marketplace change is an opportunity to re-examine your keyword lists and determine whether new terms need to be added. The following are some business triggers that call for a review of your keyword lists:

  • Launch of a new product or service
  • Addition of a new location
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • New research, studies or tools available online
  • New use for an old product (e.g., Avon's Skin-so-Soft as a mosquito repellant)
  • New information on customer language from tracking


Using these tips should help you improve your site's conversion rates.

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Lisa Wehr is president of Oneupweb. For more information, visit