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Search Queries and Keywords: What's the Difference

Understanding the difference between search queries and keywords is key to creating working SEO strategies.

Marketers use the terms "search query" and "keyword" interchangeably, without any malicious intent, but it is necessary to clarify how these two terms differ from each other.

After all, not understanding the difference between queries and keys can lead to ineffective strategies for promoting sites in the organic search of Yandex and Google.

Personally, especially recently, I had to explain to copywriters several times how keywords differ from search queries, and why it is not very correct to write "key entry" or "key query" (although useful, in terms of semantics coverage).

Therefore, today we will look at the key aspects of search queries and keywords, starting with the definition (and then I will simply throw off the link to this post).

And the sponsor of the blog this month is the Rookee service. When you need comprehensive search engine promotion, contextual advertising on autopilot or building a reputation on the web - Rookee comes to the rescue!

What are search queries?

Search queries are what people are looking for.

When you ask something (query) from Alice or type something (query) in a Google search and click the "find" button – this is called a search query.

The term "search query" refers only to the literal text used to initiate a search. And the information that the user wants to get is called the "search intent" (intent).

What are keywords?

Keywords, on the other hand, are the backbone of search campaigns.

These are the words or phrases on which a paid search or organic marketing campaign is built.

Keywords are the exact terms or phrases by which you want your site to appear in Yandex or Google.

And what's the difference?

The difference between keywords and search queries has to do with whether you're talking about the actions of a user or a marketer.

Users don't know about keywords and don't care about them. They just want an answer to their request.

Marketers? Well, you and I care a lot about search queries.

Understanding what an audience is typing into Google or Yandex, and how it relates to content or advertising, is essential to creating marketing campaigns that bring results in the form of traffic and money.

This is where understanding user intent comes into play. After all, users search for the same content in different ways.

The exact word order in the query may differ, or the user may add some modifier to his query, but in general the search engine will understand that the meaning of the keyword is the same.

Below is a diagram that helps you see the difference between keywords and search queries.

This example shows how many different search queries can lead users to the same main keyword.

You can now continue to use these terms interchangeably. But remember that the difference between search queries and keywords can change your perception of marketing strategy.

How to Use Search Queries to Pump Keywords

First place in Google or Yandex for the right keyword can mean a lot of money for your business. And the search queries that your audience makes can help you with this.

Below, I'll demonstrate a three-step process that uses real search queries to pump keyword performance.

To do this, we will use exclusively free SEO tools (you can do all the same with any other software to which you are accustomed):

  • Google Analytics;
  • Google Search Console;
  • Google Search.

1. Search for high-value pages

The first step is to identify the pages on the site that best fit your business goals.

Open Analytics. Go to the reports: Life cycle – Traffic sources – Traffic attraction.

You and I will need to make a few changes to the default settings. At the top of the page, click Add Comparison.

Here you should set the condition that not all visitors are evaluated, but only those who came from organic search. To do this, select: Enable – Source/channel for the first user – google / organic.

The "All users" item can be deleted, for convenience.

Next, you and I will need a second condition to view the landing pages. In the table below the graph, click on the blue plus, select "Page/Screen" and "Landing Page".

From the resulting table, you need to extract data that corresponds to our business goal. Scroll to the right and click on the "Conversions" subheading to sort the table by them.

This will sort the landing pages receiving traffic from Google organics in ascending order, based on the number of conversions attributed to each of them.

Depending on your website traffic and business objectives, you may want to focus on achieving some specific goals. For example: adding a product to the cart, buying or clicking on a phone number.

This information suggests which web pages on the site are most effective for achieving a specific business goal.

I see specific product pages, categories, and white papers that have led to sales or phone calls.

Now you can download the file in the upper right corner, if we have a large list.

Either way, we have access to the exact URLs, and we'll use them in the second step.

2. Find your most valuable search queries

The most effective way to research keywords is to figure out what search queries are being used by people who are interacting with your website in a certain way.

To do this, you need to research not keywords, but queries. Ready to roll up your sleeves and get valuable search queries? Proceed!

Open Google Search Console. Select the project to be analyzed from the drop-down menu in the upper left corner, then click on "Search Results" in the "Performance" tab.

The default settings will automatically set the search type to Web, and the default date range will be the last three months.

Depending on the volume and seasonality of your site, this may be perfectly acceptable. Adjust the settings as needed.

Click on the "New" plus sign icon and select "Page...". In the URL field, enter one of the high-value page URLs you received earlier, and then click Apply.

In the table below, go to the "Queries" tab and see the main search queries for which the audience searched for our high-value page over the past three months.

The spreadsheet is automatically sorted by clicks, meaning the user found your page in Google's search results and clicked on it.

Some of the requests will be similar. Others may show different search intents. Write down between two and five search queries of greatest interest (clicks) relevant to your business.

At this point, you have a list of search queries that users typed into Google and then interacted with your website in a highly valuable way for businesses.

3. Expand horizons with Google AutoComplete hints

Continuing with the example with cryptocurrencies, let's take the search query "cryptocurrency to buy". It's time to find out which variations or related terms users can also search for.

For this method to work, you need to change several settings. Sign out of your Google Account or open a browser window in Incognito mode so your search history doesn't affect your results.

We will need a SERP as our potential audience sees it. Therefore, if your website visitors live in another city or country, you will need to use a VPN (or one of the specialized SEO plugins, for example, "CleverGeo").

Now open a Google search and enter one of the search queries you received in the second step. But don't press "Enter". You should see something like this:

As you type, Google tries to predict what you're looking for based on the popularity of users' search queries. This is called Google AutoComplete Suggestions.

This feature has the great advantage of effectively detecting long-tail keywords (or keyword phrases) that are most often searched online. Such phrases usually consist of at least three words and convey a clear need of the client.

Let's look at an example of how to use autocomplete for one of the high-value keywords found in the second step. Type it into Google and write down all relevant queries for your audience or business.

Try to go alphabetically: put a space, after the found key, and enter the letter "a". See how this changes the tooltips. Then do the same with the letter "b" and so on.

Try adding an underscore at the beginning, middle, or end of a keyword phrase.

It is also useful to add a certain modifier to the query ("how", "when", "where", "why", indicating the demographic group, niche, etc.) to clarify the intention.

Example of clarifying user intent

Then visit the serps for each of the queries. Pay attention to paid advertising and special elements (sorcerers). This will help you find additional valuable keyword phrases and give a clue about the user's intent.


Understanding the difference between search queries and keywords is key to creating working strategies when promoting sites in search, both organic and paid.

Search queries refer to the text your audience is searching for, while keywords are terms you invest in.

By understanding the relationship between these two entities, you can take a fresh look at the keyword research process. And use the potential that is right under your nose.

Using your best customers' search queries to identify keywords to invest in is what smart marketing is all about.