Introducing key term terminology: head and body, fat and long tail

It helps to know the ropes as far as key term terminology is concerned. Here’s some useful information.

Why do key term research?

Even at its most basic, key term research reveals valuable insights into the questions people ask search engines.
Once you know what people want to find out,  you can provide the information. Adding relevant content to your site means it’ll potentially rank for the key search terms you’ve identified, engaging people who find it.
Put your customer head on and imagine you want to know about car accessories. You might type Ford Ka accessories into Google, Bing or Yahoo. If a website in the search results answers your exact question, you’re likely to click on it. If you like what you see when you get there, you’re more likely than average to buy something, feel good about the brand or at least remember it once you’re ready to buy.
It’s all about fulfilling people’s intent. As Google says, “Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it.”

Finding your level

The thing is, some key terms are incredibly competitive. Unless you’re the proud owner of spectacularly deep pockets you’ll find it difficult to rank for them. Take insurance. You’d be hard pushed beating the top ten UK insurers to a page one Google position for the term. But would you want to when it’s often easier to rank for longer, more detailed and specific terms? 1976 Rolls Royce car insurance, for example, might turn out to be less of a challenge than car insurance, with fewer organisations fighting for page one search positions.
At the same time longer terms are often used by people further down the sales funnel, nearer to a buying decision. Someone who types buy a new Ford Ka in Brighton into Google is more likely to buy at that stage than someone searching for the generic term Ford cars.

About key term terminology

Different types of key terms do different things.

  • Head terms are usually generic search queries. They don’t convey detail about someone’s intent. They’re usually short, one or two words. And they’re often extremely competitive, horribly expensive if you’re paying for AdWords. For example clothes. 
  • Body terms tend to be slightly more specific but are still generic in relation to a particular niche. Some people lump body terms and fat tail terms together, others separate them. An example of a body term might be cardigans, a little more specific than clothes
  • Fat tail terms are  bit more specific but still don’t convey the intent of the searcher accurately. For example pink cardigans
  • Long tail terms are highly specific, revealing what the searcher is looking for and often identifying their intent. They contain three or more words – for example girls pink cardigan or even buy girls pink cardigan – and tend to be much less competitive than shorter terms

As you can imagine, catching people’s attention at the point they reveal their intent is a good thing. When you deliver exactly what people want on your site, do a superb job of it and add as much extra value as you can, people get what they want. Search engines know how and where to classify the content. You generate more sales. And everyone’s happy.

How quickly can you rank for long tail phrases?

Once Google has indexed the content and ‘noticed’ your chosen long tail phrases, you have a good chance of appearing on page one of the search results for them. And it can happen remarkably quickly.

Caveat: don’t take the mickey!

It’s all very well capitalising on fat and long tail terms to boost your site’s visibility and catch people at the hot end of the sales funnel. But search engines hate it when marketers manipulate the search results without thinking about the end user and if enough people play dirty, they’re likely to slam the SEO door shut. Unless, of course, your  content is absolutely excellent: useful, relevant, appropriate, entertaining, in-depth, widely shared and linked to, well written and properly optimised for search engines without venturing into dangerous spam-infested waters.
You can cut the risk by treading carefully, respecting search engines’ ambitions to deliver the best possible search experience and putting people first every time.

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