Traditional keywords are remnants of an obsolete strategy. In older days of SEO, it was possible to pick out a handful of short keywords and keyword phrases, stuff them into as much content and as many links as you could, and eventually rank for them. This is because Google’s algorithms once favored quantity as much as quality, and compared user queries to existing web content in one-to-one comparisons.
Today, Google uses a system of semantic search, which means it analyzes the intent behind a user query, then searches the web for potential answers. Combined with the fact that SEO is a much more competitive space for short keywords, long-tail keyword phrases are the best way to go when writing content and building an SEO campaign. Unfortunately, it’s hard to come up with new long-tail keyword ideas that attract significant traffic.
There are many strategies you can use to overcome this and generate dozens of new ideas in relatively short order.
Successful search marketing is about getting more visibility on the web, and that requires a careful balance between points: finding opportunities that have the greatest visibility and finding opportunities that require the least amount of effort (or spending). For conventional SEO, that means having a profile of keywords that give you a nice blend of highly searched-for terms and terms that are easy to rank for.
Long-tail keywords arose as a strategy in partial response to this outlook, serving as keywords that were easy to rank for. However, as we enter a new era of search marketing, researching and optimizing for long-tail keywords has become somewhat obsolete.
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. 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. 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 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.
To use long-tail keyword phrases properly, most businesses conduct research, 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.
This has been a sound strategy for years, but the changing landscape of keywords has put a wrinkle in the otherwise valuable opportunity.
Keywords are waning in importance. Users are still relying on specific phrases 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.
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.
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 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.
The traditional long-tail keyword approach relied on the search engine looking 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.
While the traditional use of long-tail keyword phrases is dying, long-tail phrases themselves are still important. 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. 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.
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.
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 rank building.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Remember, the long-tail keyword strategy isn’t totally extinct—it has just evolved into something simpler. You no longer have to worry about precise phrase inclusion or hitting a target number of keyword phrases. Instead, your focus belongs on your main priority—your users. Write the content that your users need, and the content that 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.
When it comes to finding long-tail keyword niches for link building and SEO, our team provides direct link building expertise to our clients as well as white label link building support to other SEO agencies. Contact us for more detail!