Keyword Marketing

Keywords vs. Search Queries: What's the Difference?

By Elisa Gabbert May 25, 2011 Posted In: Keyword Marketing Comments: 22

In casual conversation, the terms "keyword" and "search query" are often used interchangeably, but there is actually a difference. So what is the difference between a keyword and a search query?

A keyword is sort of like the Platonic ideal of a search query – it's an abstraction that we extrapolate from multiple search queries.

A search query, the actual word or string of words that a search engine user types into the search box, is the real-world application of a keyword – it may be misspelled, out of order or have other words tacked on to it, or conversely it might be identical to the keyword.

As search marketers, what we target are keywords.

  • In SEO, we target these abstractions by optimizing on-page content (using the keywords in URLs, title tags, body copy, image file names, meta descriptions and so on), by building inbound links with keywords in the anchor text, etc.
  • In PPC, we target keywords by bidding on them and using them in our ads and landing pages.

Search queries, on the other hand, are the real-world terms that people use to find those pages through paid and organic search.

So, for example, you might bid on the keyword "skinny jeans." By looking at your search query report in AdWords, you can see all the queries that visitors typed in to trigger your ad – assuming you're using broad match, these queries might include the exact keyword as well as endless variations like "jeans skinny," "womens skinny jeans," "dark wash skinny jeans," "skinny jeans size 0" and so on.

keywords vs. search queries

If some of those search queries fall into a clear, repeating pattern (for example, "women's skinny jeans"), you might go on to create an ad group and corresponding ads for that search query, at which point the search query would become one of your keywords.

Search queries are a larger set than keywords, and by looking at search queries we can find new keywords to target in our search marketing campaigns. (Search query mining is also a good way to find negative keywords).

Any questions?


If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment.


Wednesday May 25, 2011

Kristi Hines (not verified) Said:

Simple yet effective way to describe the difference! BTW, I included this blog on my 79 Link Building Resources post! Always great content! :)

Wednesday May 25, 2011

Elisa Gabbert Said:

Thanks so much for including us in your post, Kristi!

Wednesday May 25, 2011

Connie McKnight (not verified) Said:

Elisa, Loved your graphic. Although most people are aware of the importance of having your post keyword rich, I don't think they totally understand how it relates to someone searching. Your explanation, along with the graphic should make it clear for anyone reading your post. A further explanation on search query mining would be nice. Connie

Wednesday May 25, 2011

Daily Digest for May 25th | A Blog by John A. Lee (not verified) Said:

[...] @WordStream: NEW: Keywords vs. Search Queries: What’s the Difference? [...]

Thursday May 26, 2011

Paul (not verified) Said:

"A keyword is sort of like the Platonic ideal of a search query – it's an abstraction that we extrapolate from multiple search queries." Well... not exactly the English of my neighborhood, but I think I get your your drift :)

Thursday May 26, 2011

Elisa Gabbert Said:

Sorry, Paul, did I get a little too philosophical there? :)

Friday May 27, 2011

Gabriella - The Stepford Wife (not verified) Said:

Simple and easy to grasp - the post was great!

Friday May 27, 2011

Larry Kim Said:

 Glad that was helpful Gabriella!

Friday May 27, 2011

PPC Weekly Roundup — Link Building Edition (not verified) Said:

[...] we’re on the subject of keywords, Elisa Gabbert at WordStream helps us to understand the difference between a keyword and a search query, and PPCHero’s Bethany Bey (who was gracious enough to grant us a PPC expert interview about [...]

Monday May 30, 2011

Toby (not verified) Said:

Great post as usual and certainly covers the differences very weel I'd never thought about it in those terms spot on

Monday June 06, 2011

Maneet Puri (not verified) Said:

Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing.

Tuesday August 16, 2011

online advertising (not verified) Said:

I never knew the difference of keywords and search queries before. now, I am able to understand why keyword has been the term used by most SEO companies in optimizing the websites. This one's a great post. Thanks a lot.

Wednesday August 31, 2011

Steve (not verified) Said:

Elisa, Great post! I was looking for an article to teach my friend the difference between search words and keywords and this was perfect. I think it's hard to teach other people SEO. They have to realize it's not as easy as pacman to play. You need to know exactly what you're doing do get really good at SEO. Steve

Monday September 19, 2011

Annie Key (not verified) Said:

I love the explanation and I clearly understand how search query and keyword differs and connected with each other. Thanks for posting!

Tuesday January 10, 2012

Hotell Arlanda (not verified) Said:

I focus on keywords but I have no idea about the importance of search queries. Maybe I should also pay attention on the negative keywords to know more. Thanks for the interesting insights on keywords and search queries. And thanks for putting the graph, which explained a lot.

Tuesday June 18, 2013

Patrick Dey (not verified) Said:

Interesting blog post, Elisa. Will return to your blog for more. Here are some observations about keyword vs. search queries.

  • A search query is the instance of a keyword
  • A single keyword can have many associated search queries
  • A seed keyword can be used to find long tail keywords
  • All keywords are search queries, but not all search queries are keywords
  • A keyword often has both broad match and phrase match search queries
Both keywords and search queries have SEO significance. Competition on keywords is usually higher than on search queries.

Wednesday July 17, 2013

SEO Raviraj (not verified) Said:

Elisa just given basic thing and it will help to choose keyword... Also Patrick all observations is acceptable.

Monday October 21, 2013

Anonymous (not verified) Said:

Hi  Elisa,

That post is really interesting, for someone that target traffic and search to know about Keywords and queries, especially since webmaster tools of google present its report of search queries with some search term users that are sometimes very far from the focused keywords , and let a beginner in web marketing suspect the skills of his SEO consultant  or even think that may be he was hacked, also i want to mention that i have searched for such topic to know about queries and keywords and i haven't really found any pertinent answer until i have meet yours.


Thank you for that useful post,


Hicham / Forestborj

Wednesday February 12, 2014

Shashikant Tiwari (not verified) Said:

I was confused before reading this post. Thanks for informative post.

Thursday February 13, 2014

shar (not verified) Said:

Hi ty for article. Do queries have any part in ranking our site?

Tuesday April 29, 2014

Adrei (not verified) Said:

its worth reading! as a new in SEO terms i like more information coming from you blog. i bookmark It :)

Leave a Comment

Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.
Free Keyword Tool

Get thousands of relevent keyword suggestions - more,
faster, free!

Free Keyword Niche Finder

Discover profitable pockets of keywords for your

Free Negative Keyword Suggestion Tool

Identify wasted spend before it happens and increase
your paid search ROI.

Contact Us | Company | Support | Site Map | Trademarks | Privacy Policy © 2007-2014 WordStream, Inc. All rights reserved.