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What Is a Search Query? It’s Not As Simple As It Used To Be

We all know by now that the first step in SEO is keyword research — without a keyword to focus on, there’s no optimizing to be done. From the end-user’s perspective, what you call a keyword, s/he calls a ‘search query’ — it’s what s/he just typed into Google to try to get some information.

A few years ago, that was that. A search query was a bunch of words in a particular order. Today, however, a search query is a much richer entity than that, because today every search query comes with a host of secondary information. Tim Anthony at Moz calls this “implicit information”. It includes items like:

  • What OS is the query coming from?
  • Is the query coming from a mobile device, laptop, or desktop?
  • From what location is the query coming?
  • What browser are you using for the search?
  • …and at least fifty more pieces of information about your query, including things like your search history.

With personalized search results taking the context of every single query into account, you may very well get completely different Google results if you search for “vegetarian restaurant” at home vs. while you’re on your smartphone on the bus — because one assumes an informational search, while the other assumes you want to eat right now, and gives you results based more on geography than on things like review results.

So what?
Five or six years ago, when the term “local internet marketing” became all the rage, it was because suddenly Mom-n-Pop’s Shrimp Shack suddenly had a chance in hell of ranking for the term “Seafood restaurant” — so long as it came with a qualifier like “Sault Ste Marie”. Today, the qualifier is unnecessary; so long as your search is coming from an IP address is Sault Ste Marie, you’ll get the relevant results.

But more than that, there’s an opportunity here for SEOs to manipulate the signals even further. I can see a day not far off when we sell ‘SEO for Chrome’, having deduced somehow what factors improve your ranking when a search comes from Chrome vs. Opera vs. Firefox and so on.

That day isn’t now — at least, not as far as I can see — but as we build a more structured understanding of these implicit search signals, the day will come. I just hope I’m sharp enough to notice it’s arrival and be on the cutting edge when people start paying for specific signals. “I want my SEO for laptops running Firefox moving at a car’s pace through downtown Detroit, please.”

That’ll be the day.

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