Q: I really like your book but I am unable to find specific guidance on something that I think is really important – optimizing for exact phrase searches – “search phrase here” versus search phrase here. What’s your recommendation and why? It seems more or less impossible to have a realistic shot at high rankings without exact phrase optimization. On the other hand, how many people really search with exact phrases (I don’t but maybe I should!)?
A: While our gut is telling us that only a small percentage of searches are performed with quotes, we don’t know of any published research on this. Your question made us curious, so we took a look at our own sites (using Google Analytics), and found that between 1 and 3% of entry keywords contained quotes.
It is certainly possible that your audience has a greater-than-average tendency to use quotes. We would think that certain types of content, like musical lyrics, might have a higher than normal proportion of searches in quotes.
However, we suspect that even if folks are searching using quotes, there’s no single particular phrase that you will be able to focus on. Since searchers are moving further and further toward the long tail of search, there are going to be more & more variations in what they’re searching for. As far back as 2004 Google reported that 50% of its search queries each day were unique (used only once that day). What this tells us is that we must not get too fixated on a single incarnation of a phrase. Instead, we should be thinking about clusters of variations on a phrase, and even synonyms, all used naturally on a page. (Which is nice because it allows for more natural language than trying to say the exact same thing several times on a page!). One of the best descriptions of this is by Matt Cutts, the famed Google engineer, as he describes creating an article and incorporating keywords.
Our advice: stick to using quotes in your data gathering (if at all), and focus your optimization efforts on several variations of your top keyword choices.