Keywords: The Dandelion Theory

Stop Trying to Rank for Keywords! Use the Dandelion Theory Instead


Richard Jacobs is an attorney marketing specialist and author of 2 books… Secrets of Attorney Marketing Law School Dares Not Teach and But I Only Had 2 Beers! Truth Talk From Over 25 DUI Lawyers.

While his focus is primarily on attorney marketing, Rich has done SEO and PPC for clients in a number of different industries. And it’s from noticing some common trends with keywords in a diverse group of industries, he came up with his “Dandelion Keyword Theory.”rich picture  for web resolution

This Theory represents a shift in the way many think about keywords and conversions. And it’s a shift that many, whether they like it or not, will HAVE to make to compete in the ever shifting, and highly competitive, world of SEO and PPC.

In this interview, Rich shares his theory with us and how it affects SEO, PPC and conversions…

You’ve developed an interesting way of looking at keywords that impacts both PPC and SEO. Before we get into the specifics, can you give us a little background on your Dandelion Keyword Theory—what it is and how you came up with it?

Literally everyone has the same belief system about keywords—that the top of Google is the Promised Land where you’ll get tons of traffic and business, and that there are a few, limited keywords that everyone types into Google that are responsible for all the business in a market.

This couldn’t be more untrue. Before I explain why, let me first make this caveat: If you’re in a heavily branded market: (ex: PX90 workout system, iPhone 5) then this will not apply as much, but WILL STILL APPLY and be effective.

What I’m about to tell you is NOT theory. I’ve seen it with my own eyes on my own websites and in the backend (using Google Analytics) of well over 400 other websites in different industries.

Most people type in long tail sentences (aka keywords), NOT the short tail keywords everyone fantasizes about.

I’ve seen this in organic search, pay per click, Google Maps, Yahoo!, Bing, and everywhere in between.

Tell me: Which would you rather have—20% of the total pie or 80%? 20% of searches (and this number is inflated because everyone and their mother checks their rankings on only a few keywords) are short tail, “dream” phrases like:

buy iPhone 5s
los angeles DUI lawyer
auto insurance quotes

80% of the searches (and, don’t forget, this includes pay per click, maps, organic search and all methods) are things like:

battery life of the iphone 5s for movie downloads
got pulled over in downtown la, blew a .12 will i go to jail
car insurance for 2006 nissan altima cheap rate

How can you target these searches?

Normally, you CAN’T, except by accident.

Luckily, with G(od)oogle’s help, you can BEGIN to target these long tail phrases, using:

  • Broad- or phrase-match pay-per-click keyword bidding
  • Theme-related content creation on websites (and varied anchor text)
  • Understanding the structure of how your website, pay per click, organic search, and the web itself, works

We’ll get into this in far more detail, but you must banish from your mind the idea of a “keyword” or “keyphrase.”

A keyword is like a brick. Definite boundaries, dimensions—solid and unchangeable.

A REAL keyword is a dandelion—the core of which is the actual keyword; the white fluffy halo surrounding it the actual theme of hundreds, if not thousands of permutations that actually make up that keyword’s search volume.

Example: red shoes  (the brick or core)

What would people search on FOR REAL that contains this keyword core?

high heel red shoes with toe support
open toe red shoes petite women
leather shoes available in dark red or burgundy

..and on and on and on.

Google themselves assert (as of 3+ years ago) “approximately 50% of all searches have never been typed in before.”

Just think about what that means.

Let me give you a bigger picture example.

I ran the website for 3+ years. In 2012, the site attracted 400,000+ organic searches, of which 340,000+ were DIFFERENT SEARCH TERMS.

Amazing: searchers typed in 340,000 different search terms.

How can this be, and just in the DUI (drunk driving) niche?

Now think about how misguided it is to target 20 or 30 keywords and think that that’s going to get you any results?

It won’t. It can’t. It goes against how people search and how the internet works.

Let’s talk about the specific implications of this for SEO first. A lot of business owners and SEOs are in a bit of a panic lately as Google continues to change their algorithms and hides more and more of the keyword data available to website owners. How can thinking of keywords as dandelions help these people in their SEO efforts?

When you let go of trying to rank for a few keywords, and think instead of themes and dandelions, you no longer fear not being on Page 1 of Google for any particular keyword.

Even though the jerks at Goo-gull have taken away organic keyword data, you can still see which pages of your website traffic is going to, how long they stay, and where they go once they leave a certain page of your site.

What does this data tell you?

Let’s say you sell products for nursing moms (bottles, breast pumps, diapers, etc.) and you now feel blind as to how to SEO your website.

Let’s say you have found that Medela brand (a real brand) products do well on your website. In looking at your Medela-specific landing pages, you can see how much traffic is going there, how long it’s staying, and you can now begin to think about Medela products based on theme instead of specific keywords.

So instead of just going for specific keywords like “Medela Breast Pump,” you can now build content around this brand name and write articles on:

  • the different types of Medela breast pumps
  • how each one works
  • the pros and cons of each vs. other brands
  • make an “open the box” video or two
  • and give user experiences with these products

What if you’re a DUI attorney instead (like some of my clients)—how do you respond to Gew-gull’s latest keyword blindfold?

The same way. Let’s say you analyze your website over the past few months and see the following pages are the most searched/landed on:


What I’d suggest here is to build content around the theme of these pages (and ALSO seek backlinks that point to these pages, using anchor text (link text related to the theme of each page).

Example: On the DUI and jail page, talk about:

  • what the expected jail time is
  • how likely you’re going to get it if convicted
  • what the possible jail time is for 1st time DUI vs. 2nd or 3rd offenses
  • how much of a bail bond will you have to pay (if any) once arrested, etc.

Example: Solicit relevant backlinks that point to the DUI and jail page with anchor text such as:  “jail consequences of a dui conviction.”

In summary, not only should you look at keywords as a core keyword with a dandelion halo of thematically related keywords surrounding it, you should look at your entire WEBSITE ITSELF in a similar way, but using a different metaphor…

Look at your website as the roots of a gigantic tree—a system of hundreds of roots, terminating in root hairs (root hairs being individual pages of your website) and the soil surrounding the roots as the keyword theme that people search, using Google/Yahoo/Bing.

In order to attract the searches you’re looking for, you first must establish and grow an expansive root system (have varied content on many pages of your website and group the content using themes).

Then Google will be your website’s friend, NOT its enemy.

Why? Because once you understand how Google works, and you structure your website and your content this way, Google will do the job it does best:

Matching themed keyword searches to the particular pages of your website that have content that matches the theme of those searches.

Just as nutrients from the soil (or water) enters a tree through a particular root hair, Google searchers will enter your website through a particular PAGE that is most closely matched to what they typed into Google.

That’s a great way to look at keywords when it comes to SEO. Now what about PPC? How does your Dandelion Theory affect the way you set up and manage PPC campaigns?

The single biggest surprise that Dandelion KW theory has in store for you, PPC-wise is this:

If you’re bidding on a phrase, broad- or modified-broad-match keyword… you’re NOT bidding on that keyword at all—you’re bidding on the theme-related cloud of keywords around it.

Go ahead and look at the search terms report in your pay-per-click account—I dare you. Now tell me where 70%+ of all your clicks and CONVERSIONS are coming from—I daresay it’s a 3d halo of terms surrounding each keyword you’re bidding on.

That’s literally the meaning of broad-match and phrase-match, ala Gew-gull.

Picture phrase match as a dandelion barbell—you’ve got the stem/bar keyword you’re actually bidding on, with big, fluffy, white, diffuse ends of keyword clouds.

What does broad match look like? Exactly like a dandelion—you have a root keyword core, and a white, fluffy halo of related terms around it.

Now here’s a refinement of what broad- and phrase-match keywords look like:

The more words in a broad-match keyword, the tighter the halo of keyword cloud around the core terms.

The more words in a phrase-match keyword, the smaller the barbell ends. Take a phrase-match keyword and, as you add more words, it approximates an exact-match keyword. If you consider a 1-word phrase-match keyword, it’s almost like a broad-match keyword—a dandelion.

So what should you be doing in your AdWords account to take advantage of this phenomenon?

Look for what’s ACTUALLY getting impression share and clicks (or not clicks) and add more keywords, but add them in a compact, root form instead of long tail phrases.

Exemple: Let’s say you sell insurance. The keywords you ACTUALLY bid on were:

best auto insurance
term insurance
renter insurance
(all broad match)

And the following showed up in your search query report:

best auto insurance for teenage drivers
term life insurance over 10 years
does renters insurance cover me when i move

…should you add these specific keywords? No—go broader first. Try these thematically related keywords:

+auto +insurance +teenager
+auto insurance +under +21
+term +insurance +long +term
+renters +insurance +coverage
+renters +insurance +moving

This way, you’re still going broad, and your new keywords are more thematically close to what’s actually showing up in your AdWords account, but they’re not limiting you too much to a few keywords—you can now start moving outwards in 3D to capture more searches.

Eventually, you’ll run out of related themes, but at that point, you can start honing your keyword universe by using negative keywords (both negative phrase and possibly even negative broad)—aka “anti-dandelions” to refine your keyword universe.

Putting SEO and PPC together now, basically what you’re saying is that just focusing on core keywords is a mistake because most the conversions that a business can get are going to be located in the fluffy halo of the dandelion (ie. the long tail), yes?

Right. Focusing on a few keywords is a mistake for countless reasons:

  • Real people do NOT type in a few keywords into Google—they type in hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of variations. (You’re missing out big time if your focus is on the elephant’s trunk and not the whole elephant!)
  • Dandelion Fluff makes up at least 70% of any given market’s impressions, clicks and conversions. If your market is HEAVILY brand dependent, it will be less. (if I offered you an apple pie, would you like a tiny sliver or the whole pie?)
  • Long tail dominates in: organic search (Google, Yahoo and Bing), pay per click (Google, Yahoo, Bing), Maps listings, mobile, EVERYWHERE. (To think otherwise is wrong. You, as a “sophisticated” searcher, do not search anything like normal people do, who use long, crazy sentences and poorly formed ideas to search.)
  • You’ll never know the boundaries, hills and valleys of your market unless you know all the themes in it. Focusing on a few keywords ignores the semantic reality of your market—both jargon, street terms, laymen’s terms, expert’s terms, and more.

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