James Lowery is one of our digital strategists who keeps us informed, up to date and entertained about the search landscape.

OMG U OK BABES, INBOX ME.

 

On a scale of one to ten of annoyance, vaguebooking – where someone posts something deliberately obtuse to gain attention – scores an eleven.

As a parent of several children, I am swamped by moments of non-specific events. My middle child spent a week “LITERALLY FUMING” about something that someone had done or said to someone else. A whole week of above average stroppiness to the point where I utterly lost interest.

To this day I am non the wiser about what this appalling injustice was, except that everything was sweetness and light when her arch enemy subscribed to her YouTube channel.

Being vague might get you a couple of emojis and some attention, but it probably won’t get you what you really want. 

Generic search is also a minefield of statements that have little meaning or context outside the person typing them. One of Google’s greatest successes has been in using massive amounts of data to apply context to people’s search behaviour and deliver a set of results that are relevant.  Google’s really good at providing results that approximate intent, meaning searchers become increasingly lazy in how they find things.

A really tired approach that  SEO professionals have relied on for years is taking a list of keywords and creating content that’s relevant to the keyword rather than the intent behind it.  It’s a technique that’s so ‘Old Skool’, it’s got a ponytail and a plaid shirt.

Getting back to the point.

We’re currently working on an extensive piece of research that looks at how query length is evolving across different devices and how our content teams can better understand the questions that people really want answering when they Google.

So far, we’ve analysed about 5 million searches for March 2018 and March 2019 to see what’s occurring. By way of a teaser for the bigger piece, here’s some of the things that we’ve seen so far:

Queries are getting a teeny bit longer:

Measure

2018

2019

Change

Characters

22.54

22.84

1.33%

Words

3.39

3.47

2.36%

 

This is potentially a good thing – users might be becoming more specific in their queries.  It might also reflect a growing move toward voice search and people shifting to a more conversational relationship with search through virtual assistants. That might make Google’s job a bit easier.

What else? Even accounting for ranking position, click through rates increase based on query length – and are also improving year on year:

Query Length

2018

2019

Change

<5 words

4.00%

6.30%

57.50%

<10 Words

7.59%

9.30%

22.53%

10+ Words

11.80%

13.30%

12.71%

 

If people are being more specific, the chance of them finding exactly what they want at the top of the results is going to be higher. But what else does this tell us?

Well, for a start we’ve seen a lot of changes to the layout of the SERPS over the last couple of years – more ads at the top of the page, more people using mobile, Google knowledge graph results and so on.  One reason for the above change might be related to people getting a bit more comfortable with how the results pages look.

This type of data comes in handy when forecasting. We can apply modifiers to click through rates based on query length that can help to calculate potential ROI for campaigns. This is particularly important when you’re working on more expensive individual content marketing pieces that will attract a smorgasbord of long tail queries.

And of course, a higher number of searches are getting longer. This chart shows a log value of searches for clarity:

As above, this may reflect an increase in the use of voice search – although I’d be surprised if the only factor was people being polite to Alexa and saying “please” at the end of the query.

So, what’s coming next:

The objective of this research is to map shorter queries to the intended questions they represent so that we can improve how well our client’s content is structured to meet their customers’ needs.

Taking the statistical data for click-through rates from shorter queries to multiple versions of pages and comparing this with the information presented to users through page meta will give us insight into the “why” behind the “what” and help us build better content.

That means better click-through rates and improved on-site experiences that’s a big part of our ‘Intelligent Engagement’ approach.

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By James Lowery

Director of Strategy

SEO