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

February 15, 2023
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The digital marketing industry has rapidly developed in recent years, and even the most experienced marketers have to keep learning and upgrading their skills. Even if you've been in the field for years, the simplest things could throw you off, like knowing the difference between keywords and search queries. Marketers might refer to these two concepts interchangeably, but they have different roles. 

A marketer needs to know the difference between these two because both of them affect campaigns. Here are things you should know about search queries, keywords, and how to improve your content strategy using both.

What Is a Keyword?

Keywords are phrases based on your products and services that you incorporate in your content. They make your articles "visible" to search engines and enable you to rank on search engine results pages. For instance, if you run an accountancy practice, your keywords could include the phrases "accountancy practice manager" or "accounting services for small business," among others. You can incorporate these keywords in articles, website copy, headers, and images you use. Marketers can use keyword research tools like Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerGoogle Keyword, and more.

What Is a Search Query?

Search queries are what users type into Google and other search engines. These phrases are unique to each user and are dependent on things like thought processes and speech patterns. If you ask ten people to search for a chicken and mushroom crepe recipe, for instance, you could have ten different queries. Some people might type "crepe recipes using chicken and mushroom," others might use "chicken & mushroom crepe recipe," and others might type "recipe chicken mushroom crepe."

Typically, marketers are the ones who use keywords, while users are the ones who type search queries. A marketer would use keywords in PPC or SEO campaigns, but a user only relies on queries to locate information. Marketers try to understand search queries to see which keywords they should include in their digital strategies.

Using Search Queries to Inform Keyword Research

Since you want both the search engine algorithms and human readers to consider your text as relevant, you want your keywords to align with your customers' search queries. You can see which search queries matter to your marketing strategy on Google Search Console. 

If you go to Search Traffic and then navigate to Search Analytics, you will see the queries people use to describe your offerings. This list can help you generate more keywords to use. You can get even more insights by looking at your site's rankings for these keywords. If you see that you attract traffic for a query you don't prioritize, you can write specifically for that keyword to boost your results. Improving your rankings for related keywords will help you attract more traffic overall.

Besides the queries that bring traffic to your website, you can also find related phrases using Google Autosuggest, or Google's People Also Ask feature. When you start typing a phrase into the search bar, you will see recommendations from Google. For example, if you type the phrase "chicken & mushroom crepe," this might come out:

Google search recommendations showing results for chicken & mushroom crepe

This feature helps users find more specific results for their queries. It also helps marketers improve their work; it gives them more ideas for articles, features, and future campaigns. Getting a browser extension like Keywords Everywhere will also help you generate even more phrases:

Search engine results page for chicken & mushroom crepe with Keywords Everywhere extension

At some point, your previous searches will start influencing your Autosuggest results. Prevent this from happening by logging out of your Google account, using Incognito or InPrivate mode, and turning off your Web & App Activity.

Improving Your Keyword Strategy Using Search Queries

When you take the time to research search queries that your target audience uses, you will have enough insights for your SEO and PPC keyword strategies. If you identify productive search queries that use keywords you don't target, for example, you can attract more traffic to your site by writing content incorporating those phrases.

You can also define negative keywords for your PPC strategy. For instance, if you provide accounting services for small businesses but do not offer self-assessment tax accounting, you can put "personal tax accountant," "self-assessment tax accounting," and related phrases as negative keywords. That way, your ads won't show to people whose browsing histories suggest that they're in the market for a personal tax accountant. 

However, note that there is no systematic way for you to prevent organic traffic to your website. If people in need of personal tax accountants land on your blog, that counts as a visit, even if they decide not to sign up for your email newsletter, subscribe to your services, or do any of the things you include in your CTA. You could target people better by using the right keywords in titles and meta descriptions and ensuring that your site structure, URLs, business listings, and all other aspects of on-page SEO link directly to topics for which you are trying to rank.


One of the most critical aspects of digital marketing is finding the right keywords to target. Find out which phrases bring the most traffic to your business by examining your website's analytics. People's thought processes vary, so the way you think of your business wouldn't be how your customers think of it. Ensure that everything you write aligns with their point of view by paying attention to search queries.

Hone in on what truly matters for your business' success when you team up with Ranked. We provide simple and affordable SEO writing services that help companies grow and scale their business sustainably. Get started now; book a call with our team or activate your account today!