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What Are Transactional Keywords?

SEO Basics, Thought Leadership
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When I teach business leaders about SEO, I always take the time to look at their companies’ websites. It’s a rare day when I find thought leadership marketing being practiced on their sites. Typically, if a company is engaged in creating content for their website, it’s standard content marketing: where articles are well-written but don’t really inspire anyone to take action. But that’s not even the biggest problem; the real issue is that the titles of the articles lack commercially valuable keywords, rendering the articles useless for SEO.

Simply put, Google decides whether your article should show up for a given search term based on whether that article has the search term in its title; so if you publish articles with clever titles but no search terms, you’re going to get zero visitors from the web!

Let’s look at an example. A company I spoke with last week specializes in thermal products – the little devices in everything from refrigerators to iPods that ensure that temperatures stay optimal. They recently published a blog article with the following title:

Thermal Management Powers Our Lives

The gist of the article is that OEMs need to be thinking more carefully about thermal management components because they play such a major role in the quality of the product – a worthy subject. However, the article will never get any traffic from Google because its title doesn’t contain a commercially-valuable keyword that a potential customer would search.

To determine what such a keyword would look like, we need to begin by knowing our target audience. Let’s assume it’s “Part Procurement Specialists at OEMs.” Essentially, the people in charge of acquiring the parts that the OEM uses to build its products. Now, what would such a person type into Google? In this case, if they’re looking for thermal management parts, that might be a good place to start: “thermal management parts.” This is just my hunch, but I have an easy way to see what people actually search: Google’s Autofill function. Essentially, by typing any word or phrase into the search box on, I am met with a list of suggestions that come directly from Google. So if I go to the search box and type in “thermal management p” and then wait to see if “parts” comes up, here is what I am met with:


Autofill has taught me that people don’t commonly search for “parts”; they search for “products.” And if I do further research and use the Adwords Keyword Planner, which suggests keywords based on an initial keyword that you input, I learn that most of the time they simply look for a specific thermal management product like a heat pipe or a heat sink. But let’s return to our initial hunch and assume that someone is looking for thermal management products in general – they want to find a new distributor. They’re probably going to type in “thermal management products distributor.” In checking that term out on Google’s autofill function, I see it is a term people use.

Now, let’s go back to our pleasant-but-ineffective title, “Thermal Management Powers Our Lives.” Can we change it so that it includes a valuable keyword that would attract a person in charge of procuring thermal management products at an OEM? Off the top of my head, I might go with something like:

A Great Product Starts with the Right Thermal Management Products Distributor

While the original title was all about how the world goes round based on thermal management products, and this title is more about how products are powered largely by quality thermal management parts, the gist is the same. The new title isn’t too much of a loss in readability from the old one, and it’s far more commercially valuable. To put it another way, this title might be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in new, SEO-driven thermal product sales over the next year, and the other one is worth nothing. Seems like a good switch to me.

The ideal article title will always be a mixture of readability and keyword-richness; of “My title is interesting” and “Google knows to send me customers.”

This is the basic process of creating a great article title. But there’s a nuance in here that you might have caught and you might not have. And that’s the concept of transactional keywords.

Transactional Keywords are What Make B2B Blogging Translate Into Revenue

A transactional keyword is a part of a keyword phrase that indicates that the searcher is potentially interested in spending money. In the example above, where our targeted keyword is “thermal management products distributor,” the first phrase – “thermal management” – is simply the root. It’s the theme of the phrase. It’s not the valuable part.

The valuable part, the one that indicates that the searcher is looking to buy, is in the last two words: “products” and “distributor.”

Think of it this way: If someone types “thermal management” into Google, are we sure they want to buy something? Or might they be looking up the phrase to understand what it is? I think you’ll agree it’s ambiguous. But if someone types “thermal management products,” we can agree that person is more likely a buyer. And if someone types “thermal management products distributor”, we can be nearly certain they are seeking out a company to buy thermal management products from. So, on a scale of ‘Not Commercially Valuable’ to ‘Very Commercially Valuable’, the phrase “thermal management products” is a 7/10. The person is a likely buyer. And the phrase “thermal management products distributor” is a 10/10. It is what I call a bullseye keyword. Notwithstanding the possibility that the person who typed it in is a competitor (or the lowly CEO of a thought leadership marketing company), they are almost definitely a potential customer. That’s why we target it.

The point I’m making is that there are certain words that are transactional in nature. In this case, “parts” is one, and “distributor” is another. In every industry, there are various transactional keywords: the keywords that you really want to target because they are the ones that true buyers type into Google. They’re the low-hanging fruit.

If you’re Stubhub, a transactional keyword would be “tickets.” You don’t want people who type in “Taylor Swift.” But you start to get interested if they type in “Taylor Swift concert.” “Concert” is reasonably transactional. But you really get interested if they type in “taylor swift concert tickets.” “Tickets” is incredibly transactional.

If you’re an alcohol rehab treatment center, a transactional keyword would be “treatment.” Another is “center.” Another is “program.” You don’t care about the people who type in “alcohol.” You start to care when they type in “alcohol rehab” (since “rehab” often implies a treatment program). You get pretty interested when they type in “alcohol rehab treatment” (nonsensical as it is, it’s someone realizing they need help), and you’re very interested when they type in “alcohol rehab treatment program.”

I’m sure you get the point by now. There are root keywords that establish the theme of the search, and there are transactional keywords of varying strength, which indicate an interest in purchasing. Below is a list of transactional keywords from all over the spectrum.  You’ll notice that the first 2 columns are “harder” transactional keywords, i.e. they are very close to the moment of purchase. The ones in the columns to the right – superlative keywords, help-related, and research-related – are a bit further away from the moment of purchase, but still close enough that I consider them transactional.

B2B Transactional Keywords

ServiceProductSuperlativeHelp RelatedResearch
servicesproductstopratingshow much
solutionssystemsrare how to hire
technology   risks
designer   benefits
installer   pros and cons
builder   vs
creator   problems

I hope you find this list useful. If you have any questions about thought leadership marketing, SEO, or the art of B2B blogging for lead generation, you can reach us here.

Evan Bailyn

Evan Bailyn is a best-selling author and award-winning speaker on the subjects of SEO and thought leadership. Contact Evan here.