Mueller: Avoid Targeting Vague Keywords Livestream Episode Discusses 'Head Term' Problems

author image Written by: Wade Morris           Categories - In The News, SEO

Finding the right keyword can be a challenge. One frustrated website publisher asked a representative from Google why his site was performing poorly on SERPs, and learned that his keyword selection needed work.

Specifically, a viewer brought forward the topic on a livestream with Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller. The viewer asked why a site they believed would classify as ‘poor quality’ ranked higher than their site on a particular search term: “programming.”

Mueller explained that the search term itself is part of the problem.

Head terms vs. Long tail phrases

Search terms can often be classified as ‘head terms’ or ‘long tail phrases.’

A head term is a search query that produces a large amount of search volume. These tend to be vague or short, with little context.

A long tail phrase, meanwhile, is a search query that produces a smaller, more refined set of results. These phrases are typically wordier than head terms.

For example, ‘coffee’ could be a head term, while ‘coffee shops open late near me’ could be a long tail phrase.

In the viewer’s case, the search query being used – “programming” – would classify as a head term. This, Mueller explains, is part of why the viewer had trouble. Head terms are hard to use to target specific intentions of the viewer.

“A query like ‘programming’ is so ambiguous that there is no absolute right or wrong when it comes to ranking something there,” Mueller explained. “I would assume that the results that you see there are going to be kind of mixed, and it’s going to be hard to just say, ‘I’m going to create a piece of content on the topic of programming,’ and Google will rank it number one.”

Mueller then recommends targeting keywords that are less vague or ambiguous to hone in on what viewers are actually looking for.

“Focus on something that doesn’t have as much competition or doesn’t have as much other content out there already,” he said.

“You can kind of build up some experience over time and understand how things work, how users actually react to your content, which kind of content works well for search, and which kind of content works well for users.”

Wade Morris

Wade brings an energetic approach to writing – he is always on the hunt for stories and angles that matter. With years of experience in journalism and marketing environments, Wade has written about everything from politics to education. Now, he writes about SEO and digital marketing trends.