Curve of clarity: Picking the right keywords

By Matt Cornock

Choosing the right words to fill your webpage, or keywords for your ad campaigns can sometimes be hit or miss. Using the ‘curve of clarity’ as an idea, you should be able to choose appropriate keywords to maximise seo efficiency and also the readability and relevance of your site.

Key principles

  1. Words in common usage have high numbers of search engine results.
  2. Words which are specialist have lower numbers of search engine results.
  3. Marketese words, or words which mean one thing but are given a different meaning for marketing, business lingo or general jargon, have high search engine results when searching those terms, but low search engine presence when searching for the term those words actually mean in plain English. (See also: Plain English to help SEO and note that marketese increases bounce rates)


  1. cat: 905,000,000 results.
  2. abyssinian: 985,000 results.
  3. lap warmer: 62,800 results.

Curve of Clarity

 The curve of clarity has an arbitary scale, but you’ll get the general idea:

Curve of clarity: Bell curve, probability curve shape. Y-axis is clarity/success. X-axis is complexity of word.

The shape is a bell curve, with the y-axis representing ‘clarity’. This can be translated as a success rate of users finding your site on a search engine page, relevant to their needs, when using a keyword with a specified ‘complexity’ (x-axis). This complexity is defined by having the most common and basic words (the, a, cat, dog, etc.) as lowest complexity and higher complexity defined by specialist words (latin translation, chemical names) or marketese (an abstract word which has no relation to its plain English meaning). The shaded area, just left of the middle represents the ideal complexity you’re looking for:

  • The word is complex enough that searches are relevant to what the user is looking for (e.g. natural filtering off of words with multiple meanings due to the language).
  • The word is not so complex that it is too abstract to be searched in the first place.

Consider the following graph of number of pages in a search result:

Curve of Clarity: Search results have a reverse S shape curve. Most results for low complexity words, minimal results for high complexity and a band in the middle of most use.

 It is the middle band which focuses on natural refinement through the right level of complexity of keyword, or keyword combination which produces the more relevant results for the user.

Finding the right point on the curve

When chosing keywords for a Google AdWords campaign think about the natural language a user might use. For example, if you sell gold plated tooth brush holders you market as ‘dental healthcare storage’ made by a brand called ‘LuxBrush’, use words like ‘luxury bathroom accessories’ and ‘toothbrush holder’ instead of adding ‘LuxBrush’ or ‘dental healthcare storage’ to your keywords.

Conversely, if you sell TVs, you’ll need to add specifics like the dimensions, any special features (in plain English) etc to distinguish your offerings from the many others. A web search for ‘TV’ is not likely to bring up your web page. However, if your product was wall-mounted and had pretty lights on the back and someone searched ‘wall TV with background light’ then you may just get their interest. If the TV was marketed as ‘Illumovision’, then you’d need to advertise and promote the brand before it even came close to being searched for.


Sensibly picking keywords in your copy and in your advertising keywords will help tap into a niche market. This means when people search inadvertantly looking for something and you offer it, your search result will be more appealing and more successful.

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