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Two vs three word phrases

     
2:23 pm on Mar 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

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how common is it to get a higher search ranking for widget services versus red widget services?
in this specific case i am seeing #3 for the two word phrase and #9 for the three word phrase.
in the adwords keyword tool the two word phrase gets about 10x the volume.
just for more data i looked at the singular phrases - widget service versus red widget service.
the two word phrase ranked #21 and the three word phrase stayed at #9.
the volume for the two word singular is about double the plural version and the 3 word singular gets about 20% of the plural volume.
for further scale data the number of search results for the 4 phrases are roughly 3M, 18M, 36M and 120M.
6:07 pm on Mar 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I've definitely seen this kind of thing - sometimes, depending on the page involved, it can be a real head scratcher. It's not what you would normally expect, especially if "red" is a well-used term on the page.

Is there a tip-off for your case in the anchor text of strong backlinks?
8:24 pm on Mar 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

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that might explain it.
most of the backlinks are using the company name or the domain name.
the company name is like Magic Widget and the domain is like www.magicwidget.com

then the title is like:
Magic Widget | Red Widget Services | Personal Widget | Red Widget | Executive Widgets

Red Widget is actually the "money term" in this space.
most of the high ranking pages have redwidget in the domain and in most cases have Red Widget first or alone in the title.
or have strong backlinks/authority.

there are a couple that are hard to explain.

this page is not even top 100 for Red Widget.
8:26 am on Mar 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I've been talking about this here:

[webmasterworld.com...]

and nearly all my inbounds are the three-word phrase, not the two-word, yet I am seeing the same issue.
4:48 pm on Mar 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

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That's a pretty funky title, phranque. Too much keyword repetition for my liking - and an overdose of pipe characters as well. I guess the CMS has it locked in, eh?
7:34 pm on Mar 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I agree with tedster about the keyword repetition... so over the top that it jumped out at me. I try to avoid or minimize single-keyword repetition in a title, and I'd most likely never repeat a multi-word phrase.

Title IMO should be attractive enough to the searcher to motivate click-through, which can mean anything from a call to action to simply attractive phrasing (incorporating your keywords) that flows well.

One thing you don't mention is onpage content. If there's not much on the page causing the algo to deem the page relevant for the three-word phrase, the two-word phrase might naturally outrank it. (This of course depends on inbound linking as well).

...and in most cases have Red Widget first or alone in the title.


Position in title has traditionally been a factor, perhaps less so in recent years. In this case your money phrase is buried.
8:00 pm on Mar 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I try to avoid or minimize single-keyword repetition in a title, and I'd most likely never repeat a multi-word phrase.

I always have, too - but lately I've seen results that make me suspect just one repetition is a good thing, especially with phrases.
5:25 pm on Mar 19, 2010 (gmt 0)

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... but lately I've seen results that make me suspect just one repetition is a good thing, especially with phrases.


I can see some results that perhaps might suggest that, generally in some extremely competitive areas where 800-lb gorillas battle 900-lb gorillas.

It's hard to generalize from these, though, and say that the repetition is causing the rankings. It may well be that the repetitions are simply an indication that the SEOs in those areas are trying extremely hard, perhaps throwing everything at their pages at once.

In such areas of serps, for keyword widgets, I'm seeing results on the first page which, in their titles...

- repeat the phrase keyword widgets

...but also seeing results with titles that...

- repeat this vocabulary, but in a different order
- don't repeat this vocabulary
- contain only one word of the vocabulary
- contain one word and a stem of this vocabulary

Similarly, treatment of the onpage text (on the ranking pages) ranges from onpage phrases that are well targeted... to the other extreme of no text at all.

I'm seeing this basically on pages with strong brands and obviously strong inbound linking, which can often ameliorate other problems.

Clearly, inbound links play a large factor in the serps I've checked. What's particularly hard to tell without some deep checking is whether, on pages with lesser inbound linking, excessive repetition in titles would hurt, or whether it's simply discounted... and whether that discounting then represents lost opportunity costs (ie, you might have had other target terms in the title that could have helped more with long tail).

I have, on sites I've worked on, removed repetition in titles where I thought it would help... and (in conjunction with other seo measures) removing that repetition has helped. But there have also been pages I've encountered that were generally doing OK, albeit with repetition I didn't like, and I've left that repetition alone.
5:36 pm on Mar 19, 2010 (gmt 0)

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in this specific case i am seeing #3 for the two word phrase and #9 for the three word phrase


To double-check on one point, is this logged out, with cookies, etc cleared?
5:59 pm on Mar 19, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I bring it up because I think it is important to challenge "accepted SEO wisdom", especially when that "wisdom" is not backed up by recent testing.

Case in point - a website that had a title element of 10,000 characters. Accepted "wisdom" says that's way too long, right? And yet, in this case, the site was ranking at #1 for a phrase at the very end of that title tag - and getting a decent stream of traffic and conversions for it.

And so, having no recent data about keyword repetition in the title tag, I am willing to question my "instincts" here - especially when I see what look like counter-examples. Yes, these are SERPs where the 800 and 900 lb gorillas fight it out daily. But one 200 lb gorilla was able to pop into those SERPs, and the only difference I could see after a backlink analysis that included anchor text (the 200 pounder was much weaker), was that the 3-word phrase in question was repeated in the title element.

As the weeks go by since I spotted that single data point, I've begun to notice other apparent examples. And now I'm not so sure about keyword repetition in the title anymore. I am sure that in most cases it would put off a lot of potential clicks. But where it can make sense to a user, I'm willing to get past my instincts.
6:20 pm on Mar 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

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To double-check on one point, is this logged out, with cookies, etc cleared?

logged in, history off, logged out - doesn't seems to make much difference in results.

i've done some optimization of on page phrases and will report back if i see some results.
i will probably also tweak the title - but i'm waiting to decide if the repetition appears to be helpful or not.

i have also done some more backlink analysis and am not yet seeing any anchor text that easily explains the results for the two-word phrase at #3 or another 3 word phrase that gets a #1 results (Executive Widget Services).
still working on backlink analysis in terms of relevant content on referring pages that use company name or domain as anchor text.

i may also look into competitive SERP listings for clues.
12:16 am on Mar 23, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I always have, too - but lately I've seen results that make me suspect just one repetition is a good thing, especially with phrases.


I would concur with this. observations and testing seems to show a single repeat is maybe better than not these days IMO.

especially if one's singular and one's plural that seems fine.

maybe something like this?

Magic Widget | Red Widgets - Personal & Executive Red Widget Services

if it makes sense in context?

i think that might give you a kick in the red widgets.. :)
3:24 am on Mar 23, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Discussion here hasn't touched on how competitive your two and three word phrases are. Lots of ways to look at this, including number of pages returning exact matches (ie, searches in quotes), AdWords costs, domain name/ company name matches in red widget serps, whether root or inside pages are returned, etc.

Your inbound anchor text, which includes "widget" in the company name, might be enough to boost you up for phrases without "red"... but it's likely that "red" is the word that makes both the money phrase the three word phrase more competitive than other phrases you're ranking on.
4:03 am on Mar 23, 2010 (gmt 0)

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My little secret is I've looked at the parts of speech in English grammar to make my keyword choices. Choosing the right parts of speech is key. But that little bit of what I use I'll keep to myself. Just consider this a hint.
6:08 am on Mar 23, 2010 (gmt 0)

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to get a sense of how competitive the phrases are:
- a google search for "red widget" (quoted) returns about 1,400,000 results
- a google search for "red widget services" (quoted) returns about 85,000 results

there is not currently an AdWords campaign running but for an almost 8 month period last year in a google search campaign:
- [red widget] (exact match) had an average CPC of $3.50 which displayed at an average position of 4.8 and had almost 45,000 impressions.
- red widget services (broad match) had an average CPC of $2.70 which also displayed at an average position of 4.8 and had almost 9,000 impressions.

domain name matches for "red widget" in SERPs:
- 5 of the top 10 have redwidget in the domain, but not many more of the top 50.
- there are a few that have "red" in the domain and a few more that have the plural of or a stem of "widget"
- there are a few that have the equivalent of "rw" in the domain as the two-letter initialism is in common use in the industry.

company name matches for "red widget" in SERPs:
- 9 of the top 20 and 15 of the top 50 have "Red Widget" in the company, organization or site name.
- there are a few more that use "red" or "rw" or "widget" or a stem thereof in the name.

regarding root vs inside pages:
- for "red widget services" results, #20 is the first inner page result and only 4 of the top 50 are inner pages.
- for "red widget" results, 11 of the top 50 (evenly distributed) are inner pages.
7:23 am on Mar 23, 2010 (gmt 0)

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to restate that last point more clearly in terms of characterizing the competitiveness:
8 of the top 10 "red widget" (quoted) results are root pages.
the two exceptions are:
- #7 is the wikipedia entry for "Red widget" (the equivalent of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_widget)
- #3 is a popular and established business magazine with an article about "Starting a Red Widget Business".
included in the several hundred word article is a list of 11 tips.
following the article is a list of links to professional organizations in the industry, networking groups and forums, directories, certification programs, and books.
just the sort of relevant and authoritative article that attracts tons of links.
also a good source of research for link development.
i've bookmarked this page for further investigation.