A customer recently asked me “Suppose I have a keyword consisting of 3 words, x y z. Is it true that then I automatically also rank for the keywords x and x y?

The answer is, it depends. As a good rule of thumb, Google never automatically gives you free passes when it comes to ranking. Ranking for a keyword is extremely difficult (in most cases) and takes a lot of time, hard work and patience.

The short answer (generally speaking) is no. Below I’ll explain how ranking for one keyword phrases doesn’t mean you will automatically rank for the words within it.

Why Keyword Ranking is Tricky

Keyword ranking is a tricky topic because it involves Google’s mysterious ranking algorithm.

Although the inner workings of Google’s ranking algorithm are not publicly known, there are many clues that Google’s Webmaster have given the SEO community that help guide us in the right direction.

Plainly speaking, if you rank for one keyword, this doesn’t mean you’ll rank for the words within your keyword because those are ultimately other keywords. The reason for this is because a keyword that contains 3 words is going to be less competitive than a keyword that is 1 or 2 words in length

Keywords that are 1 or 2 words in length are typically highly sought after are being targeted by many other websites (so they are hard to rank for).

If you happen to rank for a less competitive keyword that is 3 words in length, this does not automatically entitle you to rank for a more highly competitive term that is 1 or 2 words in length.

If you want to rank for these new keywords that are 1 or 2 words in length, this is a separate task entirely. To tackle this goal, you’ll need to target these new keywords on a separate page on your website.

Long-tail Keywords

To understand this concept we have to talk a little bit about long-tail keywords.

Long tail keywords are keywords that are 3+ words in length and target niche topics. They are more specific than ordinary keywords and use a lot of descriptive language. Long tail keywords can still have a decent search volume, but what matters here is that they are on the low to medium end of the competition scale. This means that not a lot of websites are trying to target this keyword either on their actual website.

keyword ranking how it worksLong-tail keywords are the complete opposite of broad keywords. In contrast, broad keywords are highly competitive and are usually made up of 1-2 words. An example of this would be “socks” or “wood socks.” These are highly sought after keyword phrases or terms that many websites are trying to target by writing content that matches this term.

These highly competitive terms usually have a huge search volume meaning thousands of people are searching for this exact term everyday. The more general a term is, the higher likelihood that it is more competitive and therefore much more harder to rank for.

Ranking for Keyword Phrases

Let’s suppose we have an online store where we sell socks called “Amy’s Socks”

Now let’s suppose that our homepage ranks for the keyword “Amy’s wool socks.”

Let’s also assume that for the sake of this example, there are 50 searches performed everyday for this term and the competition is low.

Let’s make some quick observations.

First of all, we notice that this keyword is brand specific because it has the name of the company in it.

Second of all, this is a long-tail keyword since it’s made up of 3 words and is specific. After-all, we’re not just talking about any kind of socks, we’re talking about Amy’s wool socks.

When Amy checks her Google Search Console, she checks to see what keywords she ranks for. She discovers that although she ranks for “Amy’s wool socks” she doesn’t rank for “wool socks” or “socks.” She also doesn’t rank for “Amy’s wool.”

Why is this happening? She wonders.


Ranking for one keyword such as “Amy’s Wool Socks” is a great start to developing pages on your website that are ranked for terms that are getting searched on Google. This can really help bring in some additional organic traffic to your site and help increase your sales.

Just keep in mind that if you rank for a long-tail keyword that is 3+ words in length, you don’t automatically rank for each individual word in that phrase.

Each keyword is unique. They have their own separate search volume data and competition level.

Each keyword is so unique that even adding the addition of an ’s’ at the end of a word can make it a totally different keyword.

“Bat” and “bats” are not the same word. The little tiny differences do count in the eyes of Google. When you type in “Bat” you’re going to get different results than if you were to type in “Bats.” The first might be a flying animal that sucks blood, while the latter will most likely be sports equipment.

Keyword Pairs are Unique

If you are ranking for the keyword ‘x y z’ and you want to rank for ‘x y’, or ‘y z’ the harsh reality is that these are entirely different keyword phrases. You’ll need to try and optimize your website to target these new keywords.

In the end, Google is going to award a high ranking to the website that matches the query. This means that the website should has a page on their website that contains highly relevant information about this search term.

The website should also have a high domain authority which can be achieved through building your backlinks. By high-quality building backlinks, you can prove to Google that your website is an expert in this field and is trusted by other websites that are high ranking.


If you rank for a long-tail keyword that contains words and phrases you would also like to rank for this is a great start! Keep doing what you’re doing in terms of optimization and monitor your progress along the way by checking your Google Search Console and Analytics.

By monitoring your progress, you can keep track of which keywords are performing well and which ones are not.

I hope this article helped shed some light on this tricky issue of how to rank for keyword pairs and phrases. The takeaway is to never give up and keep pushing forward, because it’s persistence (and discipline) that wins in the end!

I recommend reading our guide, “What are Keywords (A Total Beginners Guide)”

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