Search engine optimisation (SEO) is an extensive process that is part of a broader approach—digital marketing. Given its intensity, you can expect that SEO has different sets of terminology that can be confusing when you’re learning the craft for the first time.

Today, we will talk about search query vs keyword.

You see, learning SEO or any part of digital marketing can be tedious, especially if you have only made yourself familiar with traditional marketing methods.

However, learning the difference between similar terminology in the field sets you up for a good start on making your business’ budget for online advertising worthwhile. After all, digital marketing is imperative in this digitally-driven, fast-paced world. 

Also, take note that there’s always room for improvement—even the most seasoned digital marketers can sometimes get confused or commit mistakes with the terms in SEO. 

One of the most usual problems comes from identifying the difference between keywords and search queries.

You may hear some digital marketers use the terms “search query” and “keywords” interchangeably, but always remember that the two terms are different.  

Learning when to use each term and identifying the correct difference between the two is vital in building and managing a competitive marketing campaign online. 

Now, let’s discover the difference between “search query” and “keyword”.

What is a “keyword”?

A keyword, also known as “target keyword” or “focus keyword”, is a term that best sets out the content of your blog post or any web page on your website. It contains a single word and can also come in multiple words (also known as a long-tail keyword). A keyword is any specific term that you want to rank for with a particular web page. 

Keywords are arguably the foundation of SEO because without them, you can’t gather a stronghold of organic traffic to your website, which you could have converted to real customers. 

For instance, you have an e-commerce store and your website is all about shoes. And, you sell multiple sorts and types of shoes. You publish a blog post about what to look for when buying durable and high-quality shoes, and you share reviews about the shoes you sell on your online store. 

Now, your new line of product, hiking shoes, came in and you want to create a specific category page about them. Before you do, ask yourself these questions:

  • Which words or terms would my target audience use on search engines to find my product?
  • How much are the average monthly search and the competition of the keywords I will target?
  • What kind of words or terms do I want to be found by my ideal customers?

First, you will probably think that people will use the keywords “hiking shoes”, “shoes for hiking”, and “hike shoes”,  and so you treat these terms as the most ideal focus keywords that you can use in your category page because these terms will best reflect the content on your web page. 

Now, the second thing you can do is identify how many people are searching for each particular keyword per month and how much is the competition (the rate of competitors who are also trying to rank for each keyword). These factors are commonly called search volume and paid difficulty, respectively. 

We recommend that you choose the keywords with high search volume, but with relatively low paid difficulty if you want to rank easier on a particular keyword. However, it does not mean that aiming for a keyword with high paid difficulty is wrong. After all, if your competitors are investing in paid searches, that means that the specific keywords have the potential to make you money.  

Also, you can use the free keyword research tools online, such as Ubersuggest and Google Keyword Planner, to identify approximate Google search statistics of each keyword you want to target.

What is a “search query”?

A search query, also known as a search term, is commonly a phrase or a question typed by someone into a search engine to search for something on the world wide web. So, it could mean that five people looking for the same thing might also type in five utterly different search queries but still get the web page they need. 

Now, you can use search queries to identify the search intent of each user and craft your web page content based on your findings. 

For instance, if you type in the keyword “airpod”, it often brings in vague results. You might get product pages for just typing the single keyword, and that’s okay if you did mean to buy an airpod online and compare product pages in one website to another. 

However, if you are looking to troubleshoot an airpod, depending on your specific problem, you might type in “how to fix an airpod”, “how to pair airpods”, or “how to troubleshoot my airpods”. These specific search queries will help you get the exact web pages that can give the precise information you need. Notice that the focus keyword here is airpod. 

You see, knowing the search queries in your niche can really help you connect to your target audience by giving them useful information through valuable content in your blog posts or web articles.

So, before you create a content to publish, look for the typical search queries about your products and services. You can do this by leveraging free online tools, such as Answer The Public and checking Google’s “People also ask” section.

What is the difference between the two? 

the difference between search query and keyword

Generally speaking, search query vs keyword can differ massively with who is using them. It goes like this:

  • Keywords are used by marketers.
  • Search queries are used by users or your target audience.

You see, most of your target audience won’t know what keywords are unless they are SEO experts themselves.

If you operate a small business, the chances are high that most of your ideal customers don’t know what keywords are. Your target audience is merely typing their search terms or search queries in hopes to get information about the products and services that will meet their needs. 

On the other hand, marketers sit in front of their laptops or desktops to come up with the best marketing or SEO strategy that involves keywords. They do it by researching keywords. 

Also, marketers don’t just hope that users will type in the focus keywords that they spread all throughout a certain website, but they also use smart tools to identify the right keywords to target and rank for on the search engine results pages (SERPs). 

This is how you start a successful SEO campaign—knowing the right keywords to target with the use of competent keyword research tools available online, whether free or paid. However, always remember that the real source of profitable information comes from knowing the search queries typed in by your target audience. 

Simply put:

Keyword: The term that you are targeting as a marketer.

Search Query: The term that a user actually types in search engines.

How should you use this information for your SEO or PPC campaigns? 

Apparently, this information about search query vs keyword is useful to improve your strategy on using keywords and help you nail your SEO campaign. 

So, spend some time digging into your target audience’s search queries and identify the keywords that you can focus on in your SEO and pay-per-click (PPC) strategies. 

For instance, if you see some search queries that have certain keywords you haven’t targeted yet, you can start creating pieces of content about these new keywords so that you can attract more traffic to your website. 

However, if you see unrelated search queries that include your target keywords for some reason, you can tag them as your negative keywords in your PPC campaigns, so you can avoid wasting money on irrelevant traffic from users who will most likely ignore your web pages, thereby ignoring your products or services. 

Now, a negative keyword, also known as a negative match,  can be beneficial by preventing your ad campaigns from being pulled up by a specific search term, which can be a single word or an entire phrase. So, your ads will not show up to users who are searching for irrelevant terms that might somehow use some of your focus keywords. 

For example, you’re focusing on the keyword “where to buy hiking shoes”, but someone typed in “where to sell hiking shoes”, the search engines might pull up your ad because they recognise the target keyword “hiking shoes”. 

Now, if you trade hiking shoes, then that’s great news! You might just transact with that user who clicks on your ad after it popped up when typing the search term. 

However, if you only sell hiking shoes, it can waste your time and money if you’re not careful enough to steer clear from users or audience who will never buy from your online store. 

So, take the time to add irrelevant search queries or keywords to your negative keywords list for your PPC campaigns. 

Also, always remember that it is crucial to identify your target audience, but it is equally essential to identify who they are not.


The discussion about search query vs keyword can be sometimes nuanced and confusing. Nevertheless, having a good grasp about each term is essential in making sure that you build top-notch SEO and search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns. 

Remember that learning how to differentiate ideal target keywords from the reality of search queries can help you refine your campaign strategies as well as help you succeed as a profitable online marketer

Now, if you don’t have time to become a digital marketer yourself, but need some help in determining the ideal keywords to target for your business, Ardor SEO is at your service!

Or even better, you can outsource your SEO to us, just sit back and relax!

You can leverage our extensive expertise in implementing effective PPC and SEO campaigns on a wide variety of industries. 

It’s time that your business gets more traction online and increase conversion!

Read next: SEO vs Google Ads: Which Is Better for Real Estate Agent?

About the author 

Kris Reid

Kris Reid, the Coolest Guy in SEO, is the CEO of Ardor SEO. His expertise lies in helping real estate professionals get more leads and customers to predictably grow their business. Get to know Kris and learn more about our team here.

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