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Keyword Basics Part 3: Understanding a keyword's structure

Understanding a keyword's structure on Wordtracker, the leading keywords tools

Keyword research allows you to find, assess and target the best possible keywords for your website. In this third article in the Keyword Basics series, Owen Powis explains that by understanding what a keyword is and how it is structured you can find better keywords more quickly and attract more traffic to your site.

So what is a keyword?

The term 'keyword' most commonly refers to the words people use when they search. this might be a single word or a phrase.

Someone might search using the keyword restaurant, for example:

Google search restaurant

Or they might be more specific and search for restaurant discount online:

discount search

In both instances the word or phrase being used to search is known as a ‘keyword’. Elsewhere, you might see a collection of words referred to as a keyphrase. At Wordtracker, we usually talk about a keyword.

Head, modifier, tail

A little analysis can tell us a lot about what a searcher is really looking for. Once you know what the searcher wants, you can provide relevant content on your site.

Let’s take a look at that longer phrase, restaurant discount online. The keyword consists of three terms:

restaurant + discount + online

This can be broken down into three core elements:

head | modifier | tail
restaurant | discount | online

The head

Restaurant is the head of the keyword, this is the focal point of the user’s search and what the rest of the keyword relates to. Whether the user searches for restaurant discount online or luxury restaurant we know they’re searching for a restaurant.

The modifier

The modifier is a term which can be interchanged with other words in order to change a single aspect of the keywords meaning. Unlike the head of the keyword it will not alter the type of the search.

Typical keyword modifiers are things like:

  • locations
  • brands
  • styles

In this example, discount is the modifier:

restaurant | discount | online
head | modifier | tail

So, how do we distinguish between the head term and the modifier? Well, if you were to change the word discount to critic it would fundamentally change the meaning of the search, or the type of search. It would now form part of the ‘head’ of the keyword.

restaurant critic | online
head | tail

The searcher is no longer looking for a restaurant. The subject of the search has changed.

Bear in mind that different modifiers are relevant to different types of customers. Someone searching for 'discount' or 'offers' is likely to be looking for a less expensive product than someone using a modifier like 'luxury'.

Your understanding of your market - and the products you offer - is important. Only you can know which type of customers you are targeting.

The tail

The tail of the keyword clarifies or adds further detail to the head term. Yet, it doesn’t fundamentally change the searcher’s intent. In our restaurant discount online example, the use of 'online' suggests that the searcher is looking for discount codes that can be found online.

A keyword where these three elements - head | modifier | tail - are used is often referred to as a 'long tail' keyword. Some examples of long tail keywords include:

restaurant | discount | online
dog training | best | Chicago
head | modifier | tail

A keyword may also be referred to as long tail where only the head and tail of the term are used. Here’s another long tail keyword that contains no modifier:

directions to restaurant | from Manhattan
head | tail

Order doesn’t matter

It’s worth mentioning that order is unimportant. The head, modifier and tail of a keyword are named according to their properties, not according to the order in the keyword they occur in. The head of the keyword may not be at the start and the tail may not be at the end. So, a searcher might type:

online restaurant discount
tail | head | modifier

In this case, the tail comes at the start of the keyword.

Your keyword research will tell you which combination of words have the most potential in your industry.

If you already have a website that attracts traffic you can use Google Webmaster Tools to find the keywords that already bring you traffic and sales. Use GWT to look for modifiers that convert well and try applying them to other popular keywords in your market.

Keyword Basics

Keyword Basics Part 1: How search engines work

Keyword Basics Part 2: Finding keywords

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 7: Using keyword modifiers

Keyword Basics Part 8: Building keyword rich inbound links

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