Long tail keywords play a critical role in both paid and organic online search. For organic search, long tail keywords can help you target specific search intent.
For website content, like interior pages and blog posts, long tail keywords offer the opportunity to give users more specific content based on what they are searching for. In other words, long tail keywords are usually relevant keywords for users.
For a service or product, many have gone from searching for just the word “pizza” and are now implementing specific requests, such as “gluten-free pizza in Portland”. These longer search terms are considered long tail keywords. Where voice search is concerned, long tail terms are better phrased as questions, like “where can I find gluten-free pizza in Portland?”
Long-tail keywords arose as a strategy in partial response to this outlook, serving as keywords that were easy to rank for. Long tail keywords have a relatively low search volume compared to shorter, competitive keywords. However, as we enter a new era of search marketing, researching and optimizing for long-tail keywords has become somewhat obsolete.
Although latent semantic indexing is not a direct replacement for long tail keywords, Google search returns results taking LSI into account to a large degree. First page search engine results often contain relevant keywords to the main keyword searched even when those words weren’t typed into the search bar.
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What Are Long-Tail Keywords?
There are different definitions for what constitutes a “long-tail” keyword, but the simplest is this: long-tail keywords are keyword phrases more than a few words long. Compared to head keywords that are usually short and direct, long tail keywords are more niche and specific.
There’s no strict definition for the minimum or maximum length, nor is there a definition for how they appear in context.
Generally, these long-tail keywords take the form of sentences, such as “the best steak house in southern California” rather than the simpler keyword phrase “steak house California.”
Long-tail keywords are advantageous over shorter keyword phrases because there’s much less competition clamoring for them. Since users tend to type in long tail queries, this makes it easier for your site to show up in search results in Google and other search engines.
While a phrase like “steak house California” might get thousands of regular searches, it’s also being sought after by thousands of businesses.
On the other hand, “the best steak house in southern California” might only get a few dozen regular searches, but it would be a much easier long tail keyword to rank for. Under these circumstances, most businesses would rather have a sure shot at visibility for a few dozen searchers than a small possibility after months of hard work for a few thousand searchers.
How do businesses find long tail keywords? To use long-tail keyword phrases properly, most businesses conduct research through keyword research tools, brainstorming about the potential long-tail phrases their customers might search for and comparing them against each other in terms of search volume and competition. Then, these keyword phrases would be carefully and precisely implanted into recurring content, usually somewhere in the title. Within a short span of time, the business would rank for the keyword phrase in question, and new long-tail phrases would be supplemented in its place.
Focusing on long tail keywords has been a sound strategy for years, but the changing landscape of keywords – especially with Google search – has put a wrinkle in this otherwise valuable opportunity.
Identifying Long Tail Keywords
To identify the best long tail keywords for your industry – the most relevant ones with the highest search volume – start by perusing the data in your Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools. Next, use Google’s Adwords Keyword Tool (for a walk-through on how to use it, read “How to Perform Keyword Research with Google Adwords Keyword Tool”). You can also use Google Keyword Planner. Of all keyword research tools, you’ll probably be using Google’s the most.
In addition, Moz recommends regular monitoring of forum content, customer service correspondence, and social media to find more long tail keyword ideas. I personally love Ahrefs’ Keyword explorer tool which allows you to search by specific short and long tail phrases to find search volumes, difficulty for ranking and overall commercial value:
The Short and Long Tail Keyword Problem
Keywords are waning in importance and keyword research is changing. While keyword research used to be one of the most important aspects of an SEO strategy, it’s taking a backseat to semantics.
Are long tail keywords important? Yes, but they’re just not being used the way they once were. Specific long tail keywords are being used to match search intent rather than to match search queries.
In the past, a seed keyword was the foundation for long tail keywords. The seed keyword could be a broad keyword or more specific, but businesses would derive specific long tail keywords from the main keyword and then shape them to match organic search queries.
Users are still relying on specific phrases and their related keywords in order to accomplish their searches, but the way Google views and analyzes keywords has been rebuilt from the ground up, and that change has compromised the traditional methods of long-tail keyword research and implementation.
In the past, you could perform keyword research using a seed keyword to find long tail keywords with the highest search volume and use those on your site. Businesses would find main keywords and use them to define long tail keywords that match search terms typed into Google search. However, Google no longer provides access to real search data and as such, even Google Keyword Planner data is just an approximation. Keyword suggestions from tools like this used to hold more power.
Starting with the Hummingbird update in 2013, Google has been making steady changes to its algorithm to incorporate a function known as “semantic search.” In the old way of searching,
Google would break down user queries into shorter segments known as keywords and keyword phrases. It would then compare those keywords to keywords as they exist on the web, searching for sites that used those verbatim phrases the greatest number of times and in the most relevant places. Website owners would use tools to find keyword suggestions based on real search data.
Semantic search changed everything. Rather than analyzing user queries based on the keywords that make them up, Google’s algorithm is now sophisticated enough to analyze the search intent behind each user query. In essence, when you search for “the best steak house in southern California,” Google isn’t examining your phrase and finding matching instances of that phrase throughout the web. Instead, it’s analyzing the fact that you are looking for the greatest steak restaurants in southern California, and attempting to give you the most relevant results.
Optimizing for semantic search is critical for mobile users, since most mobile users rely on voice search. When using this form of search, people are more likely to ask a question rather than make a statement, so it’s now critical to have some of your long tail keywords in the form of questions. Even though long tail keywords aren’t getting a high level of attention from Google search, they still help search engines determine a user’s search intent. By this token, it makes more sense to choose long tail keywords based on relevance rather than trying to match long tail terms to specific long tail queries.
How do you uncover long tail keywords? Don’t worry about whether your keyword has a lower search volume or high search volume. Focus on relevance and search intent.
The traditional long-tail keyword approach relied on the search engine using seed keywords to look for instances of an exact phrase. For example, even if you include the phrase “the best steak house in southern California” all over your site and blog, Google may still not consider you a candidate for the best steak house in California if it knows your business is located in Nevada, or if negative customer reviews have compromised your candidacy for being the “best.”
As a result, long-tail keyword research is meaningless—finding long-tail phrases that are commonly searched for and using them word-for-word on your site will no longer get you the results you’re accustomed to. The value of long tail keywords lies in whether or not the phrases are searched for and relevant to a user’s search intent.
Long-Tail Keywords Are Still Important
While the traditional use of long-tail keyword phrases is dying, long-tail phrases themselves are still important and should be included in your SEO strategy. Instead of using your long-tail research to uncover phrases to use in your content directly, you can use your research to uncover topics that need to be addressed.
For example, if you see a high volume of search queries for “how to build panpipes out of PVC pipe,” a long-tail keyword phrase, you would no longer need to worry about including that exact keyword phrase two to three times in the body of your blog posts. Instead, you would need to make sure you write the best, most detailed, most accurate article about building panpipes from PVC pipe on the web. Doing so, and building your overall domain authority over time, will increase the likelihood of you ranking for such a phrase.
Essentially, you’ll be using long-tail keyword research as a platform for uncovering subjects to write about. Any related keywords will likely become part of your content naturally. It’s still a good idea to keep your titles accurate to your subject matter, but the exact phrasing of your keywords doesn’t matter nearly as much as it used to.
Long Tail Content Strategy
Besides acting as additional fodder for blog post ideas, long tail keywords should be a crucial part of any SEO professional’s content writing strategy. They provide more specific information that both users and the search engines notice.
For instance, a website with several different long tail keyword variations related to their industry and offerings is seen as much more reputable than a blog or website that repeats the same generic industry keyword phrase over and over. This is also known as LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) keywords, which adds credibility and relevancy to your article in the eyes of search engines, resulting in better rankings for more keywords.
Long tail keywords are also part of natural speech and search for information, which search engines have worked toward implementing into their search algorithms. This is a big factor in the future of long tail keyword search, as search engines evolve to accommodate vocalized input (think Apple’s Siri).
More Targeted (Long Tail) Traffic = Higher Conversion Rate
Another reason why long tail keywords help content and overall search marketing strategy is the more a specific a query is that brings a user to your website, the more likely they are going to convert into a paying customer. For example, if a rug distributor is one of the only online sites offering “purple geometric 5×7 rugs” at $100 or less, and includes optimized content around that type of search, a user looking for that specific item is much for likely to purchase a rug there than one that simply searches “buy rugs online.”
screenshot taken from Wordstream’s free Keyword Suggestion tool
The more targeted traffic based on your keywords is, the better the conversion rate. Publishing long tail-optimized product descriptions, content pages, and blog posts will bring more highly qualified potential customers to a company’s website. In addition, long tail keywords usually have less competition than core keywords.
Related Content Tie-Ins
Blog posts are the easiest way to add new long tail-optimized content to websites on a regular basis. While content pages can be refreshed from time to time, blog posts can consistently offer a way to introduce new website content without constantly re-writing pages that are already finished or already optimized.
To tie-in blog posts to other areas of the company website, include links in the text or at the end of the post. Many CMS platforms, like WordPress, also have Related Content plugins that automatically pull in related blog posts at the end of a post.
All links to internal product or service pages should be natural and not overly cheesy or out of place. If there isn’t a good place to put a link within the post, include a call-to-action at the end of the post, such as, “To browse the available geometric rugs we sell, please visit the Geometric Rugs product category.” This should link to the search results or category page for Geometric Rugs. E-commerce sites that have static search result or category pages make this easy.
Run Experimental Searches
Google likes to be helpful to searchers, and it does this by attempting to better understand them. Using information it’s aggregated from millions of searches, Google offers a convenient “related searches” section at the bottom of each SERP. For the searcher, this prompts a series of related and further elaborating searches, but for the search marketer, this is offers some key insights. For example, if you search for one of your own products, you can look at the “related searches” to see what else your customers typically search for—and these are typically presented in the form of long-tail keyword phrases.
UberSuggest is a great tool for harnessing this power. It extracts information from Google’s auto-suggest feature, giving you hundreds or even thousands of different long-tail keyword ideas based on a single initial keyword entry. Take your pick.
See What’s Popular on Your Site
Another great strategy to find new keyword ideas is to take a look at what’s worked so far on your current site. This assumes, of course, that you’ve already written and syndicated some great content. Head over to Google Analytics and take a look at some of the most popular pages and blog posts of your site. Do the same thing with your social profiles. Are there any themes that people really seem to respond to? Are there any new ways you could present these themes?
You can also figure out how people are finding you using Webmaster Tools. Under the “Search Traffic” tab on the left-hand side, select “Search Queries.” Here, you’ll find a list of keywords for which you’re currently ranking on the first page. If you reset the parameters to include a much longer list of keywords, you’ll also find keywords and phrases for which you are on page two or three—these keywords are a prime opportunity for increasing your rank for competitive keywords.
Check Out the Competition
Similarly, you can look at your closest competition for inspiration in coming up with new topics and long-tail keyword phrases. See what types of articles they’re posting on their blogs and which ones seem to be the most popular among their target audience. Do they answer a specific type of question? Think about how you can answer this question in a new way, or how you can answer a similar question. Remember, it’s a bad idea to copy anything your competitors have already done, but there’s nothing wrong with using their content as a jumping-off point for your own.
Google Trends and Social Listening Software
Google Trends is a handy tool to see what people are searching for and how those search patterns have changed. This is especially useful if your company offers a niche product line—here, you’ll be able to tell which keywords have risen and fallen in popularity, along with other related keywords which may have defied the norm. Use this in conjunction with social listening software, which will be able to tell you what types of topics are currently trending on blogs and social media. Use these bits of information to come up with topics that belong to your niche but also relate to current trends.
Browse Boards and Forums
Oftentimes, the best long-tail keyword phrases are common user questions that need answered. It’s easy to write posts around these topics, and they tend to get a lot of traffic. The problem usually lies in trying to figure out what types of questions your customers have. By browsing blogs and forums, you’ll have a direct route to these questions being asked in real time. Look for threads pertaining to questions you know how to answer and take action—you can even use these threads as link building opportunities in the short term.
Talk to Your Followers
Sometimes, you get so busy trying to figure out what people want to read that you forget the fact that you can just ask them directly. Your followers are hungry for new content, and many of them already have an idea of what they would most like to read. Conduct a user survey or ask casual questions to uncover new long-tail keywords worth pursuing.
Once you come up with some ideal target keyword phrases, head over to Google’s Keyword Planner. Here, you’ll be able to run a report and see exactly how much traffic each of your ideas receives. Eliminate any that receive little to no attention, and focus your efforts on those that remain. You’ll be able to create some good long tail keywords this way.
Finding Long Tail Niches
Long-tail keyword strategies were all about finding words that nobody was competing for, and claiming them as your territory. It was an easy way to get a small amount of visibility, and when done enough, could generate a substantial amount of traffic to your site.
The new way of using long-tail keywords is fundamentally similar. Instead of finding long keywords that nobody is ranking for, you’ll be finding niche topics that nobody is writing about. Instead of striking the balance between keywords that carry a large search volume and keywords with minimal competition, you’ll be striking a balance between content that appeals to the greatest number of readers and content that hasn’t been covered in detail.
Real-World Examples for Ranking Long Tail Keywords
Another blog post strategy that can implement long tail keywords is to utilize real world examples, such as case studies, event outcomes, actual questions from customers, or consumer/blogger spotlight features.
Many consumers and businesses like sharing their success or pleasant experiences, and there are many places to find positive feedback that can be turned into a blog post. Have customer service representatives or account managers keep a running list of customers that have reported a positive experience and contact one or two each month for a running case study or customer experience blog feature.
Customers are more likely to talk about experiences when they know their company or website is getting exposure, so be sure to link to the individual or business’ website and include their logo or a photo. Regular features could include the same survey or series of questions to help get the best overall view of the experience. In addition, blog posts should also include a description of the problem with the accompanying solution. This summary, along with actual explanations from the customer, will usually be ripe with long tail keywords.
Finding those niche topics can be daunting, especially if you’re new to the world of content marketing, but there are several paths that can lead you to this goal. In addition to using traditional long-tail keyword research to find potential topics, one of the best ways to generate ideas is to simply ask your readers directly. Conduct surveys or focus groups with some of your most avid readers and most loyal customers to hear what they’d like to read in a blog, and what they’re currently missing from their regular material. These conversations can guide you in the right direction when it comes to seldom-written, highly-valued content opportunities.
Measuring Long Tail Keyword Inaccuracy
While long tail keywords provide a constant source of blog post and content ideas, it’s often difficult to measure their SEO ROI based on search engine rankings. This is because most long tail keywords for which you’re ranking are probably well off your radar. However, once you’ve identified a specific set of long tail keywords, it’s easy to track them in a ranking software.
But to measure the real value of long tail keywords, track customer funnels or paths taken to conversion, and measure customer feedback on content, click-through rate, and traffic for blog post pages.
How to Rank for Long & Short Tail Keywords
Remember, the long-tail keyword strategy isn’t totally extinct—it has just evolved into something simpler.
While you can rank for long-tail more quickly, you should also keep short-tail keywords in your long term SEO strategy by doing the following:
Write the content that your users need
Focus on keywords and topics your competitors aren’t already covering. In time, that will be sufficient to build your audience and capitalize on the search traffic that comes from those highly-specific, long-term keyword phrases.
Focus your first iteration on long tail questions and answers
Focus on answering a specific longer-tail question your target audience might be looking for, with an eye on the short tail for the page later.
Always target short tail phrases with your URL strings
For example, use SEO.co/long-tail-keywords/ instead of SEO.co/long-tail-keywords-search-engine-optimization/ Eventually, you’ll build on your long-tail foundational content with expanded resources on that page that will help you rank for short tail phrases.
As you keep testing, iterating, promoting (i.e. building links), you will start to see movements for your short tail, money keywords as well.
When it comes to finding long-tail keyword niches for link building and SEO, our team provides a white hat link building service to our clients as well as white label link building support to other SEO agencies.
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