In the SEO world, there are two types of keywords: short-tail and long-tail.
When most people think of keywords for their websites, their minds immediately conjure up short-tail keywords. After all, people searching for “car repair,” “garage doors,” or “shoes” will be looking for your business, right?
While short-tail keywords are valuable as part of your overall SEO strategy, to really dig deep and find the qualified leads (the people looking for your exact product or service), you have to have a robust long-tail keyword list and strategy for incorporating those keywords into your website.
What Are Long-Tail Keywords?
The original derivation of Long-Tail was from an article published in Wired in 2004 which demonstrated that multi-word keywords sat at the “tail end” of the search volume curve, and thus the origin of the term “long tail”. Long Tail Keywords (or phrases) aren’t necessarily attached to the number of words in the query, as some suggest, but are actually at the long tail end of a visualized curve distribution for keyword search volume.
Generally, Long-tail keywords are phrases that include modifying adjectives and adverbs. SEOs define these types of adjectives and adverbs as “keyword modifiers”. These modifiers weed out people searching for other products or services, helping you narrow searcher intent.
If you were paying close attention, you’ll notice a mistake. The image is from Brian Dean, and shows short tail and long tail as being word count related, but as I just said, long tail is not about word count as much as it’s about the actual volume of searches.
The reason I bring this up is to show that well-versed SEOs and marketers get this concept wrong, so the distinction is important to understand.
So then, lets define our short tails. Short-tail keywords are the most basic, broad categories for keywords. They’re typically only one or two words, and give no real direction or specificity to show the user’s intent.
Some example of short-tail keywords include:
- Used cars
- Dance lessons
- Checking account
In other words, short-tail keywords are nouns that capture large swaths of businesses within a given industry.
Using those short-tail keywords above, we can add some more specific language to help narrow down the search results and get to searcher intent:
- Pizza delivery near midtown Manhattan
- Used Toyota minivan for sale
- Ballet lessons for preschoolers
- Interest-bearing online checking account
- Blue plus-size women’s winter coat
- Car accident lawyer near Denver
See how those keywords are more focused? This helps match the right searchers with the right websites, helping you make faster sales.
If someone’s searching “used Toyota minivan for sale,” for example, and you don’t sell used Toyota minivans, they’re not going to land on your website if they type in that search term.
I’ll also add that I personally use the idea of mid-tail to better distinguish search queries. As the term itself indicates, mid-tail exists between short and long tail keywords.
And to touch on the word count search curve debate one last time, here’s a very helpful image from ahrefs.
What does it mean? It means that if you are targeting easy wins through long-tailed queries that with hyper-specific intent, then word count alone is not a sufficient enough definition for your long-tails, as some long tails have massively higher volume than its short tail counterpart.
Why Are Long-Tail Keywords Important?
The main reason why long-tail keywords are important for your business’s SEO strategy is simple: They help connect you with the most qualified, ready buyers looking for your exact offerings.
Because they’re more specific, long-tail keywords are far more profitable in the long run than short-tail keywords, and not only are long tails generally better for conversions, but they are generally less difficult than short tail keywords.
Personally, I believe that a series of related long-tail keywords can be incredibly powerful. If you can consistently build pages with relevant content and provide internal linking, the effort creates super relevancy and will raise all related keywords. This idea is similar to the pillar content idea, but without a hyper-focus on the internal linking structure.
The primary goal is to create super relevancy. Another HUGE perk of long tails, is the fact that you save a ton of money and time with off-page SEO, as you don’t need nearly the same amount of backlinks as the short tail keywords.
I don’t know about you, but I love the idea of not buying links and not engaging in boring manual outreach campaigns.
The Issue with Short Tail Keywords
The search volume on short-tail keywords is incredibly high because they’re used by all websites that sell that product or service, as well as a variety of other types of sites – news sites, review sites, general shopping sites, etc. In many cases, the search volumes on short-tail keywords range in the millions or even billions.
While this seems like a great opportunity – Lots of people are searching for my keyword! – it’s a double-edged sword.
Keywords with high search volumes also are accompanied by high difficulty for ranking, as well as being monopolized by major, internationally known brands.
From our above list, for example, think about the word “pizza.” What brands spring to mind? It’s not likely to be the small shop down the street from you, but instead the big guys who can pay to advertise and who have been around for years.
And if you type “pizza” into a search engine, you’ll find all kinds of websites that reference pizza, from people selling pizza-shaped stationery or earrings to people giving you advice on how to get pizza stains out of clothing. Not exactly helpful if you’re hungry, right?
But, if you type “pizza delivery near midtown Manhattan” into the search engine because you’re hungry and just happen to be located in midtown Manhattan, you’re going to get far more helpful, relevant results. One of the businesses whose websites pop up in the search results is going to get your business because they were there when you put out a call.
Long Tail Keywords Attract Highly Targeted Traffic
Long-tail keywords benefit your business by bringing in the right customers at the right time.
Think about it this way: You use a short-tail keyword that brings in 100 searchers per month, but only one of those searchers actually becomes a customer.
Your long-tail keyword, however, only brings in 10 searchers per month, but all 10 of those searchers are looking for your exact offering and become customers. That means your conversion rate for the long-tail keyword is 10 times higher than for the short-tail keyword.
Rather than going with the fishing net method of SEO, taking a broad keyword with a high search volume and hoping to catch a few users, long-tail keywords are like a well-baited fishing hook. You cast it out into a smaller pond with fewer fish, but the ones you do get are very interested in what you have to offer.
Because the search volumes and competition for long-tail keywords are lower, it’s often much easier to rank your website for these terms than for short-tail keywords.
That means that any efforts you put into boosting your rankings for long-tail keywords are going to give you faster results, letting you climb higher in the SERPs than you would for a short-tail keyword. You’ll have a much better chance of showing up on the first page of Google, gaining visibility and bringing in more traffic. It’s good to keep this in mind when you’re forecasting your potential SEO outcomes for your boss or client!
Creating Great Content from Long Tail Keywords
Another benefit to long-tail keywords is that they present great opportunities for adding content to your website.
Using the dance classes example from above, if you think of all the variations of “dance classes” your studio offers, you’ve got all sorts of opportunities for new website pages and blog posts. You could create pages about the various styles of dance you teach, the different age and skill levels, whether you train dancers to compete or just to perform, etc.
Google loves websites that offer fresh, relevant, well-written content to its users. Creating content around your long-tail keywords, the keywords that people are searching for, is going to look great to the search engines and, by default, help your rankings.
How Do I Find the Best Long-Tail Keywords for My Website?
Now that you understand the value of long-tail keywords for your business, it’s time to do your research and find the best long-tail keywords for your business.
Here are 4 things you need to do to find the best long-tail keywords to bring your website more traffic and improve conversion rates:
1. Start with a List
Get out a pen and a pad of paper (yes, really!) and block off some time on your calendar. In this phase, you’ll be thinking about your business’s offerings and how that can translate to long-tail keywords.
Sit down with your pen and paper and just start writing everything about your products and services you can think of. If you’re a retail establishment, list out every type and variation of product you offer.
Do you offer widgets in 10 colors, three sizes, and five shapes? List out every single combination of size, shape, and color you offer.
Does your pizza joint carry 12 toppings and four different pizza sizes? Every one of those sizes and toppings, as well as every combination of them, is a potential long-tail keyword.
Don’t worry about getting every single possible combination down on paper. You can always add others as you go along, but the most popular or profitable combinations are likely to be the ones that will pop into your head first.
The goal is to capture every color, every size, every shape, and every adjective and adverb you can think of: Sexy women’s clothing, women’s clothing, red women’s clothing, skinny women’s clothing, plus size women’s clothing, red plus size women’s clothing, sexy red pluz size women’s clothing, etc. etc.
Find Variations and Add Context
If you offer a service, think about all your different offerings and your target market. For a roofer, that can mean including keywords about roofing replacement and roofing repair; the different types, colors, and brands of shingles you offer; and even different segments of the population (new homeowners, seniors, etc.).
This list is going to be long, but don’t worry; you’ll pare it back as you go along and you can always save the keywords that don’t quite make the first round of cuts for use in content once you get practiced at incorporating long-tail keywords.
2. Check Your Competition
Because it’s impossible that you could have found all the potential long-tail keywords that could be valuable for your business, you need to see what your competition is doing and use that to your advantage.
If you’re not entirely sure which sites to include for competitor research, I’d hop on over to Raven Tools’ Research Central.
Once you’ve selected the competition, you can research the competitor’s target keywords by using the new Keyword Finder feature in Raven Tools (about to be released to the public).
If your competitor is also going for “interest-bearing online checking account,” for example, you can see what they’re doing and figure out how to make your content even better to overtake their position in the SERPs.
Once you analyze the URL, you’ll be able to see all the keywords that your competitor is already ranking for, and what position their site is showing up in when a user searches.
You can even see the specific pages that rank for certain keywords, so you can study them and figure out how to make your content better than theirs.
Add any relevant keywords to your growing list.
3. Gather and Interpret Data
This is where the rubber meets the road and you’re really going to test just how many people you could hook in with your long-tail keywords. The Keyword Finder will spit out CPC and search volume for a keyword.
If you’ve compiled a list of keywords to analyze outside of the keyword finder, copy and paste your selected keywords into the Raven Tools Rank Tracker to check on the organic search volume and cost per click for your keywords.
Remove any keywords that have search volume values of zero; if no one’s searching for your term, you’re not going to make any money off it.
As a note, before you delete your keyword for having 0 search volume, I’ll say that you should run your keyword through Quora and other forums to make sure that the keyword truly is not important.
Don’t worry too much about the keywords with low search volumes (10-100 is low in my book). Even if there aren’t a lot of people searching for a keyword, those searches can still translate into sales. And if someone’s searching a very specific long-tail keyword, the likelihood that they’re ready to buy is pretty high, provided that the long-tail has buying intent.
4. Rank & Prioritize
Now that you’ve got a list of keywords that you know have some potential monetary value behind them, it’s time to figure out which ones you’re going to focus your strategy on first.
Open up a spreadsheet in Google Sheets or another program and list out all your keywords in one column, then their average search volume in the next column. This will take a while, but it will make sorting so much easier.
Once all your keywords and search volumes are in the spreadsheet, sort the search volume column from highest to lowest.
The keywords at the top of the list have the highest search volumes and are likely to bring you the most traffic. These are the ones you should focus your content creation strategies on first, moving down the line as you expand your site more.
Long-Tail Keywords: The Big Money-Makers for Your Website
Keywords are essential for your website’s success. Dialing in the right ones to meet the needs and intent of people searching for your products and services can be a task, but it’s one well worth undertaking.
While short-tail keywords are easy to build into your site, it’s the long-tail keywords that are going to be the most profitable for your website.
They may bring in fewer searchers, but you’re more likely to capture someone at the moment they’re ready to buy, meaning you’ll make an easy sale.
Taking some time to really think about what your business offers, seeing what your competitors are doing, and getting the data to back up your choices can make all the difference between finding great, high-converting long-tail keywords and just creating content because you think people will like it.
So, get cracking on those long-tail keywords and reap the rewards of all your hard work!
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