October 13, 2016: The advent of advanced search engine algorithms – including Hummingbird and Rankbrain – has made it necessary for content marketers to look beyond their traditional, keyword-centric content strategies toward “conversationally-oriented” words and phrases.  In this article, we’ll show you where you can begin mining such words and phrases.

Why conversational words and phrases matter in SEO


You may have to dig into offline repositories to come up with a truly comprehensive list of conversational words and phrases.

The challenge of creating content likely to show up on results pages used to be a comparatively simple exercise. First, the content marketer compiled a list of keywords likely to be used by in-market searchers, mapped these words and phrases to particular pages on the marketer’s site, and embarked on a program to create long-form (>500 word) articles corresponding to each keyword/keyword phrase.

This approach is still widely used, but it doesn’t work well today for several reasons, most notably because there are so many content marketers out there creating so many articles each day. The result is a “content glut” in which all of these (often nearly identical) template-driven articles all compete with each other, and disappointment for the content marketer, whose best efforts at placing these articles prominently on SERPs are frustrated by such white-hot competition.

A better, more strategic approach to this problem involves the creation of content likely to show up when people make very specific questions about products and services provided by the client.

For example, an HVAC client may find it impossible to organically compete for visibility when “fat head” queries such as “HVAC repair,” “HVAC upgrade,” or “HVAC installation” are entered. But if such a client dug deeper into specific questions about HVAC systems, for example, “what gauge of wiring must I use when installing HVAC,” and created content satisfying such questions, the likelihood of becoming visible in cases in which these specific words and phrases were used becomes quite good.

Where to find conversational queries about what you do or sell

Each specialized business niche will be associated with a unique list of conversational keywords. Sometimes, keyword research tools can reveal them, or queries recorded through Google Search Console, making their discovery easy. But sometimes you have to dig deeper – in fact, you might have to dig into offline repositories to come up with a truly comprehensive list of words and phrases.

Here are some good sources for discovering your own unique set of words and phrases you can craft content around. In many cases, you won’t have to hunt far to find them.

Your own product/service support literature. It’s rare that a product is sold that isn’t accompanies by a user manual compiled by the manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or integrator. While most people don’t like reading manuals because they’re boring and overly discursive, they’re often goldmines for the kind of granular information likely to be used in a query using conversational keywords.

Focus group transcripts. Do you have access to a focus group, or other research study, in which customers have been interviewed about how they use, view, or otherwise regard your product or service? Being able to study the real language used by “real people” can often provide powerful clues about how people will search for your products/services online.

Your ad campaigns and marketing collateral. You may have paid your ad agency many thousands of dollars to come up with a killer campaign. And while it’s unlikely that you can repurpose any ad copy directly, the marketing research used to back up the campaign may provide rich fodder for conversational keywords and phrases.

Social media and internet forums. The internet has always been a place for people to solve technical issues – often in real time – about an astounding range of products and services. Some are “official” places maintained by product developers (e.g. Microsoft, Adobe, etc.), many other more informal places exist whose main function is interactive service and support. These too can be rich repositories of specific words and phrases pertaining to products/services you supply. Make sure you check out Quora, as well as any specialized industry groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social network, and mine these areas for language likely to be used by searchers.

Your own customer support. Do you have access to the logs kept by your customer support/helpdesk team? Because your own people may be “in the front lines” dealing with customers every day, they’ll be an excellent position to know about the precise words and phrases used in complaint/service calls. In many instances, this language may be very close to that used by searchers interested in your products/services.

Two minor caveats

Creating content around very specialized queries and conversational keywords can sometimes be difficult. In some cases, it’s very difficult to write more than a couple of hundred words about very granular technical issues (e.g. “specific issues with affixing flexible grommet A to inflexible panel B”). If you find this happening, you’ll need to group such hyper-granular issues together in a larger article (“5 things to know about attaching flexible grommets to inflexible panels” or “Questions our customers often ask us about mounting flexible grommets on inflexible panels.”).

Also, don’t expect any hyper-specific, QA-oriented content articles you create to attract much traffic. (After all, there are only so many people installing grommets on panels each day). The approach outlined above requires a certain degree of patience, but if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded with a highly qualified, highly motivated source of traffic you can convert and/or upsell when they arrive on your landing pages.


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Discovering conversational keywords and phrases for Hummingbird and Rankbrain
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Discovering conversational keywords and phrases for Hummingbird and Rankbrain
These hyper-specific words, phrases, and conversational keywords can help you better compete in the long tail of search queries.