Keyword Phrase Length vs. Keyword Specificity in SEO

In SEO, in general, the longer your keywords are the more specific they are, and the less competition you have when you use them in headlines, titles, and just in general in your articles or product pages. But it’s not black and white, as you’ll learn today.

The single keyword “banana” is only specific about the name of the fruit, but no other context is given. If you only search for “banana” on Google, you get almost a billion results, where “banana” is used in every context imaginable.

  • Banana: 807.000.000 results

Now if you combine banana with another word you quickly narrow the scope of the returned search results. Let’s try that.

“Banana cake” is describing a type of cake that has banana in it — this is more specific than only saying “banana”. And the Google search results numbers agree:

  • Banana cake: 624.000.000 results

You get around 200 million fewer results, by just adding 1 more term to your keyword phrase.

Now consider this example:

“how to make a banana cake”

Now that keyphrase is way more specific because it’s describing 3 things:

  • A fruit: banana
  • Cake, a type of food
  • How to use the two concepts in combination

This type of keyphrase is more than specific enough to suggest that if the user clicks on that links/title, they will get to a recipe about how to bake a banana cake.

And the Google search results align perfectly with the above:

  • how to make a banana cake: 240.000.000 results

That’s around 1/3 of the number of results returned for just “banana cake”.

If you want your website’s SEO to be optimized for search queries that have something to do with a banana, whether it’s a product you’re selling (like a cake) or information (like a recipe), try to specify exactly what you’re offering by adding as many words as relevant:

Let’s be even more specific with the next example:

“how to make a banana cake without eggs”.

The result:

  • how to make a banana cake without eggs: 47.800.000 results

What a difference!

Here are all 4 results next to each other:

Search query results (all from February 3rd, 2020):

  • Banana: 807.000.000 results 
  • Banana cake 624.000.000 results 
  • how to make a banana cake: 240.000.000 results
  • how to make a banana cake without eggs: 47.800.000 results

These search query results displayed right next to each other support my initial claim, that the more specific your search query is, the less competition there is.

If you have a website about recipes and you make a particular type of banana cake and you make sure to specify than in your page title, paragraphs, and anywhere relevant, then you have way less direct competition and your odds of ending up dominating that search query is much better than if you were targeting the less specific “how to make a banana cake” which has much more competition.

This specificity approach will ultimately make your website show up in less total search queries that include “banana” but it will have you show up in more relevant search queries — and that’s exactly what you want, relevancy.

It’s not 100% black and white

You may have gotten the impression that the longer your keyword phrases are, the more specific they are automatically, and therefore there’s less competition on those keyword phrases. And that’s often the case, but not always.

Consider the following, this time a more tech relate example:

  • “How to load images progressively”
  • “How to make your website faster”

Both are long-tail keywords and they’re approximately the same length. Both keyphrases fall under the performance optimization category.

However, the first keyword phrase is much more specific than the second one and should be easier to compete for.

And the search results show exactly that:

  • How to load images progressively: 33.700.000 results
  • How to make your website faster: 1.040.000.000 results

Now look at that difference, it’s night and day, less than 35 million vs more than a billion search results (and for a topic that is closely related)!

Progressive image loading is a relatively new topic in tech, thus not that many people have talked about it, yet. In comparison, “how to make your website faster” is a topic that is broad and as old and common as the Internet itself.

What the results above strongly suggest is that if you want people to find your website when they search for how to make their website faster, it’ll be an uphill battle to go after the broad keyword phrase, but it’s way more realistic to go for the less common keyword phrase about progressive image loading.

To conclude

The take away is that although long keyword phrases naturally become more specific as you keep adding words, and generally have less competition than short keyword phrases, it’s not black and white.

  • Some long keyword phrases are so commonly used that they have massive competition, as you just saw in the website example.
  • On the other hand “snail pudding” is a very short keyword phrase, but it’s still quite specific, and due to its unusualness it will have way less competition than “banana pudding” — try comparing those two search queries yourself!

It always depends on the topic!

What’s most important in terms of SEO (and UX) is that if you want your target audience to find the products and services that you offer, you should be specific about how you structure your keyword phrases in titles and your writing in general so they’re as relevant as possible for your audience — whether that means using short or long keyword phrases.