Keyword Basics Part 7: Using keyword modifiers

Using keyword modifiers from Wordtracker, the leading keyword research tool

In this seventh article in the Keyword Basics series, Owen Powis explains how understanding keyword modifiers can help speed up your SEO campaigns.

As the web has developed, so has the way in which websites are built. We are now able to build sites with thousands of pages more quickly than ever before. Using dynamic content we can create a site that uses the same foundational elements all the way through and pulls in unique content on a page by page basis.


How to use modifiers

The use of dynamic sites has led to an increase in the size of many websites. No longer restricted by flat structures, sites can be created many thousands of pages wide.

A good example of this are retail sites with multiple product pages. In order to maximize the effectiveness of these pages we still need to apply keyword research and optimization techniques, however this is not practical on a page by page basis.

By understanding how to effectively apply keywords with modifiers across these pages we can dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to optimize the site whilst increasing the potential visibility of each page.

The basics of a keyword are covered in Understanding a keyword's structure To give a quick refresher, a keyword can have up to three basic parts; the head, the tail and the modifier. Whilst the head and the tail of the keyword apply directly to its meaning the modifier applies to a single aspect of the keyword.

To give an example, if the user is searching for cheap restaurant in venice then the keyword would be made of the following elements:

tail | head | modifier

Changing this to the term cheap restaurant in italy has not overtly changed the meaning of what the user is looking for as they are still searching for a cheap restaurant, however it has changed an aspect - the location - of what they looking for. This is why this part of the keyword is termed the modifier, as the search term can easily be modified to change a single aspect of the search without changing its meaning.

Modifiers and search volume

A key part of understanding the modifier is understanding how it affects search volumes. Take the following example keywords:

restaurants in new york city
diners in new york city

restaurants in chicago
diners in chicago

restaurants in miami
diners in miami

Use Wordtracker's Keyword tool to check the search volume for each of the above groups of keywords in Google, using the most accurate 'Exact match' setting. Simply enter your keywords into the Seed box, and click on 'Search':

The results shown for the different locations reveal a pattern. No matter which location modifier is used, the term restaurants… produces a higher volume of searches than the term diners… Although the exact number of searches changes, the keywords which have the greater volume do not.

If, for example, you owned a website featuring reviews of things to do in US cities, the site structure for a city might look like this:

Discovering the best keywords within an individual group may not be too daunting. However, if you had 100 cities to cover then the task becomes much more difficult.

All of these groups are unique to New York City in the above example, so the keywords selected within them are going to be unique to that location; going out in new york city, restaurants in new york city etc. Understanding that the location is the modifier you can change this aspect for each city.

So the keywords I have chosen for the group “Going out” are:

going out in New York City
things to do in New York City
activities New York City

I can now identify the modifier within each of these locations:

going out in {location}
things to do in {location}
{location} activities

All I need to do now is swap the {location} element for the correct city when I optimize each page of the site.

This can only be done where the keyword is generic and not specific to the location. For instance bobs restaurant in new york city is relating to a specific place in New York City. Changing the word new york city would mean that the keyword is no longer relevant to the location.

Brand modifiers

A modifier can be used in many ways, not just to change location. To give another example, if I had a website which sold bicycles I might choose to use a similar technique across all the different brands:

Under each type of bicycle I will need to enter all the different brands that I stock for that item. Using the modifier can save time. Instead of performing the keyword research for each of the brands, I identify the brand I think is most popular for each category. You can see above that I've added 'cannondale' and 'schwinn' - popular bike brands.

This can be done by simply looking at the search volume for each of the brands in the Keyword tool:

Taking one of the most popular brands for that category, target the best keywords. Using road bikes as an example, the keywords I may want to target are:

Schwinn road bikes
Schwinn mountain bikes
Schwinn recumbent bikes

I can break these keywords down, using Schwinn (the brand) as the modifier:

{brand modifier} road bikes
{brand modifier} mountain bike
{brand modifier} recumbent bikes

Now I can apply this to all the brands, replacing the modifier with the relevant one. Notice this only works for brands within the same category. If I was to use these keywords in the BMX category they would no longer be relevant even after changing the modifiers.

Using modifiers as a technique is a powerful tool for creating large pieces of keyword research. Without them it is difficult to be cost effective when optimizing a large website or campaign.

It is also a technique best used in combination with manual optimization, as your most important pages on the site should always be optimized individually.

Using this method will allow you to get a large site optimized quickly so you can start to see the benefits earlier. You can then work back through the site manually, reviewing pages and adjusting the optimization as necessary.


Keyword Basics

Here are links to the other seven articles in this series:

Keyword Basics Part 1: How search engines work

Keyword Basics Part 2: Finding keywords

Keyword Basics Part 3: Understanding a keyword's structure

Keyword Basics Part 4: Targeting your primary and secondary keywords

Keyword Basics Part 5: How to narrow down your keyword list

Keyword Basics Part 6: Keyword mapping

Keyword Basics Part 8: Building keyword rich inbound links

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  • Generate thousands of relevant keywords to improve your organic and PPC search campaigns.
  • Optimize your website content by using the most popular keywords for your product and services.
  • Research online markets, find niche opportunities and exploit them before your competitors.

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