Keywords with on-page optimization activities move up, on average, more than one full page in search results (11 positions), compared to a downward movement of more than 2 positions for keywords without on-page optimization, according to [download page] a study released in December 2011 by Conductor. Data from “The Long Tail of Search” indicates that keywords with no on-page issues remained relatively flat during the 9-month period of study, with an upward movement of roughly half a position.
On-page optimization refers to the practice of optimizing on-page elements to emphasize the keyword for which companies wish to rank.
Long-Tail Queries Most Impacted
The study also segmented the keyword set into representative buckets of head terms (high-volume) and long-tail (low-volume) queries, finding that long-tail terms were significantly more impacted by on-page optimization, moving more than one full search page (11.24 positions), compared to about half a page (5.28 positions) for head terms. According to Conductor insight, these findings support a two-pronged SEO strategy of focusing on long-tail terms while utilizing a long-term strategy of gradually moving up the search ranking for higher volume, more competitive head terms. The study suggests that it is often significantly easier to move up the search rankings for multiple keywords, while focusing on multiple, less competitive search terms can generate as many visits as a single, more competitive term.
Multiple Word Terms Also Fare Better
Recognizing that the phrases “long-tail” and “head terms” can also refer to the number of words in the term, the study also grouped terms with 1-2 words into a “head terms” bucket and those with more than 3 words into a “long-tail” bucket. The analysis showed that even with this alternative definition, long-tail terms moved at a greater rate from on-page optimization, rising an average of 6.31 positions, compared to 4.63 positions for head terms.
According to data from Experian Hitwise, roughly 9 in 10 US search queries conducted in September 2011 consisted of 5 words or less. Shorter search queries of 1 and 2 words had the two highest individual percentages of the monthly query total, although queries of 3 words or more accounted for half of the monthly total.
Conversion Rates Soar for Multiple Word Queries
To test the assumption that longer, more specific queries generally mean that the searcher is farther along in the buying/conversion cycle and will convert at a greater rate than head term (1-2 words) visitors, Conductor looked at goal conversion rates by query type for three major online retailers. Examining more than 7 million visits, the study found that conversion rates were more than twice as high for long-tail queries than for head terms (26.07% vs. 10.6%).
About the Data: Conductor used its SEO platform, Searchlight, to analyze the rank movement for thousands of keywords over a 9-month period.