Google's Relevancy Algorithms Change by Keyword: Longtail vs Core Category Words

Changes in Search

In recent years personalization, localization, universal search, search suggestion, and specialized algorithms like query deserves freshness have altered the landscape of search. But even outside of these add-ons, Google's core relevancy algorithms are (at least to some degree) query dependent.

Competitive Keywords

When there are many matching search results for a given search query, Google places a lot of weight on core domain age & authority and on external signals of quality like link quality, link diversity, link anchor text and perhaps other signals of quality like usage data and a LocalRank boost. For competitive queries where there are many matches on page optimization is not given as much weight.

Long Tail Low Competition Keywords

For search relevancy algorithms where there are fewer matches and fewer external signals of quality available, Google must put more weight on the content of individual pages. Where there is no community to rely upon Google must trust publishers. And while each longtail ranking might have little value the nickels and quarters add up. Their limited search volume and value leads many competitors to skip over them as they do not appear in most keyword research tools.

In a recent blog post the Google AdWords team asked "Did you know that 20% of the queries Google receives each day are ones we haven’t seen in at least 90 days, if at all?"

The same post highlighted that "broad match currently accounts for over 1/3 of all clicks and conversions for advertisers, worldwide" and that Google "recently improved the search query report to provide more granular detail on which queries are triggering ads for your broad match keywords."

A Comparison

This graphic makes no attempt to be 100% correct for any given query, but was made to show an illustrative difference between competitive keywords and non-competitive keywords.

If you are starting a new site and have built little to no offsite signals of quality you can expect to rank for longtail phrases first. As your site builds authority you can compete for some of the head keywords.

Published: November 15, 2008 by Aaron Wall in google


November 16, 2008 - 2:11am

Great summary Aaron...
I intuitively knew what you said about the various percentages for quite some time, and have slowly been building towards the competitive keywords pie chart, while recognizing all my current traffic is based off of the long-tail keywords chart.
For my keyword chart, I've been working on the Domain Authority, (link building I believe) by slowly building up links to the site where I can using relevant anchor text (Link Anchor text 15%) on pages that are relevant to my sector (In Community Links 20%). Part of the problem is that I'm getting alot of sitewide links (Link Diversity 15%), instead of getting a smaller number of inbound links from "trusted" or "authoritative" domains, BUT, I'm slowly getting there.
Almost seems kind of wierd and contrary to say, but it sure would be nice to rely on external factors for dominating the serps, then internal factors like On Page Optimization, and the only reason I say that is the feeling that the competitive keywords will bring in a significant amount more of traffic then the long tail keyword traffic.
Have a happy!!

November 17, 2008 - 4:20pm

Does anybody know a good website to get good long-tail keywords?

November 17, 2008 - 5:46pm

Well there are some already

  1. your server logs
  2. Wordtracker's question keywords
  3. search suggestion tools
  4. visual keyword tools like Quintura
  5. most general keyword tools can also help you find some portion of the longtail terms so long as you are creative with how you use them.
November 16, 2008 - 7:20am

After reading this article, it makes a lot of sense compared to many different opinions you hear or read about. Your explanation and graph paint a very good picture. Thanks.


phillip skinner
November 16, 2008 - 10:05am

Hi guys gals one n'all SEO knowledge seekers far n wide
... excellent very usable information once again Aaron its super doper to have some one with your understanding on this topic that is slashing the mystery's of how these modern day search engine tick ... to me its all about understanding where you want to go and what you want to achieve with your own workable daily efforts implemented ... simply because no one can communicate within all the ways that are available to be seen and heard on this ever expanding vast world wide web, anyone can get really frustrated if they don't "plan their work then work there plan" ... my mentor Chris Moos says it better than me seen below

But first - The mindset

1. Everything always starts with insignificance.
2. As you move forward out of procrastination, you don't have to get it perfect, you just have to build momentum.
3. Get going now; movement builds momentum and permanent habits of success.
4. Feedback is the answer to all your prayers.
5. Always take focused, inspired, out-come driven action.
6. YOU have been created to win, but conditioned to lose
(Ask me about this personally)
7. You must look within for value, but look beyond for perspective.
8. Whoever has the strongest focus wins in the marketplace. Split concentration is why you fail.
9. The twin tickets to YOUR success are: Marketing and Sales.
10. Greater sameness will never get you better results
(*I really like this line above* lol)
11. The road to YOUR success is defined by doing things in the order of their doing what other people do not want to do!
12. You can only see what you know. And what YOU know must be revealed to you by another person whom you connect with at the heart level.
13. The key to moving forward rapidly is based on the quality and quantity of YOUR pain: The pain of going backward, must exceed the pain of moving forward.

I hope these 13 mindsets thoughts above ads value to what I know is one of the most valuable SEO-book blogs on the net
Phillip Skinner

November 16, 2008 - 4:03pm

Thanks for the great comment Phillip! :)

November 16, 2008 - 5:41pm
November 16, 2008 - 6:30pm

Awesome article! I love the charts!

November 17, 2008 - 2:50pm

So when is somebody going to come out with a keyword tool that only reports long tail keywords? ;)

November 17, 2008 - 5:46pm

Well there are some already

  1. your server logs
  2. Wordtracker's question keywords
  3. search suggestion tools
  4. visual keyword tools like Quintura
  5. most general keyword tools can also help you find some portion of the longtail terms so long as you are creative with how you use them.
November 17, 2008 - 4:50pm

I believe you're right Aaron. This matches what I see.

My hunch is that Google will eventually (if it doesn't already) run queries through a classifier of some kind and then use different ranking algorithms for different queries.

Note that classification can work like Borges' Chinese Encyclopedia:

For instance, you could classify a query as being a long-tail, medium-tail or short-tail query, and you can also classify it as being in English or German and you can also classify it as being about medicine or automobiles, and you can classify it as being a transactional or informational query -- all at the same time.

Similarly, web sites can be classified, not just in terms of subject, but in terms of style: is a blog or a forum or an affiliate site or a site with a shopping cart? Is it wikipedia? Is it an old site or a new site? Almost certainly Google runs a number of classifiers against sites and uses this to populate feature vectors for web sites and web pages.

If the thinking behind universal search is followed to it's logical conclusion, query classification may lead to the selection of a "search template", and there may well be different ranking algorithms for the #1, #2 and other spots. (What is it about spot #6?)

October 24, 2009 - 10:42am

Great info article. Thankzzzzzz.

December 3, 2010 - 11:54pm

I must believe that in your text regarding keywords etc. that you are preaching to the choir because for non techies like myself, we have no idea what you are talking about with some of your terminology which has no basis in the non techie world. A simple explanation of the meaning of what those terms mean will help you communicate with all those who are reading your info and trying to learn but find a wall of obfuscating terminology. Think about it.

Tutoring muse
November 17, 2012 - 7:33pm

Wow! So right! I also need definitions!

December 4, 2010 - 12:49am

The graphics were mainly for illustrative purposes. You do not even need to have a deep understanding of the individual aspects (which honestly in many ways can be a bit mushy) to get the general purpose of the graphic.

The point of them was that for shorter keywords which are quite competitive the relevancy algorithms primarily rely on information from links, whereas for longtail uncompetitive keywords it is mostly down to on-page optimization.

April 7, 2011 - 1:46pm

Dear Aaron,

I'm new to all these terminologies, could you please provide examples of long tail keyword?

April 7, 2011 - 1:55pm

credit cards = head keyword
best credit cards = mid-tail keyword
best credit cards for people with bad credit = longtail keyword

Keep in mind that there is no exact definition of any of these terms that is 100% applicable in an obvious way across all markets. In some markets you need to own the head keywords or you don't have much a chance at serious profits. In other markets you can feed off the longtail and kill it while ignoring some of the overly-competitive head keywords. The key is to get in the game, track what is working, and listen to what the data is telling you to do.

Tutoring muse
November 17, 2012 - 7:48pm

Aaron, in both your responses, I picked up a bit of info but actually had more questions afterwards! What do you mean by 'feed off' and 'kill'? It's not that I don't get the metaphor, I need to know how it happens! Later on that response, you refer to getting in the game, tracking, and listening. What does all that mean!?!

Also, in your reply, 'the graphics', you use the terms 'information from links' and 'on page optimization'. I know that a link is but how does a link apply here, and what does the second term mean and how is it being used in your reply?

I'm sorry to be so ignorant, but I can assure you, I have the capability to understand if provided enough background. Please help! Thanks, Becky

November 20, 2012 - 6:45pm

feed off = live on / create a thriving business from
kill it = do awesome / make great ROI
getting in game / listening / tracking = creating a site + marketing it / installing analytics + observing response

with on-page SEO vs links I was highlighting the impact of content of the pages vs links into the pages ... keep in mind this post was also from 2008 & Google has likely folded in *a lot* of usage data into their algorithms since then too. there are a bunch more complicated penalties now too.

August 22, 2015 - 11:01am

yeh, Aaron i must say that you are really doing a create work to raise businesses up.
What i'm confused about is how is the link diversity works, is it links to other websites or within
my website? please throw light into this for me.

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