Short tail keywords or “head” keywords can be some of the most competitive in online search.
Long tail keywords help you target a user’s specific needs and have far less competition than short tail keywords. Less competition means your chances of ranking are higher.
However, highly competitive, general, short tail keywords are equally, if not more, important–especially long term.
Although you should always focus on long tail keywords (due to the relative ease to rank), short tail keywords are equally important to factor into your content. If you don’t use a good amount of short tail keywords in your content, you won’t rank as high.
If you’re new to short tail keywords, this guide to short tail keywords will help. Keep reading to learn what short tail keywords are and how to use them to rank higher in the search engines for competitive terms.
Table of Contents
What are short tail keywords?
Short tail keywords are short, broad phrases consisting of no more than three words. For example, the following are short tail keywords:
- Warm socks
- Ankle socks
- No-show socks
- Tube socks
For comparison, the following are long tail keywords:
- Warm socks made of wool
- Black ankle socks for men
- 100% organic cotton no-show socks
- Novelty design tube socks
Notice that each long tail keyword phrase includes the short tail keyword phrase. As you use more long tail keywords that include short tail phrases, you’ll start ranking for those short tail phrases simultaneously.
Of course, your ability to rank on the first page of the SERPs quickly for any short tail keyword depends on your overall SEO strategy. However, working with a professional SEO agency can help you achieve your short tail ranking goals.
Short tail keywords get plenty of searches
Since short tail keywords are general, they get plenty of searches. When beginning to research or search for a product, many people begin by searching for short, general phrases. As they gather more information, their searches become more specific.
While short tail keywords have a higher search volume, they also have more competition. This makes sense because short tail keywords are general phrases. However, that doesn’t mean short tail keywords aren’t useful or valuable. In fact, short tail keywords are essential for SEO success.
Short tail keywords will help you rank in local search results
Say you sell all kinds of socks and a logged-in Google user searches for “wool socks.” If you have a local business listing with Google, depending on your level of optimization, your business listing might come up in the search results for that user. The user’s zip code acts as a filter that provides the user with relevant, local search results.
When that same user isn’t logged into Google, searching for “wool socks” won’t be likely to return your website in the search results. There will be too many web pages competing for that general phrase and no filters in place (like the user’s zip code and personalized results) to weed out the majority of those pages.
3 tips for using short tail keywords to rank in local SERPs
To maximize your page ranking potential for local search, use short tail keywords combined with other localized keywords, meta data, schema markup, and properly placed location data.
1. Identify your foundational short tail keywords
The first step is to create a list of short tail keywords related to your business. You may not need to do much research to get this list. For example, if you sell party supplies you can think of numerous short tail keywords off the top of your head. Keywords like:
- Party supplies
- Paper plates
- Plastic utensils
- Decorative napkins
- Decorative paper plates
- Party glassware
- Disposable party supplies
- Party streamers
- Party decorations
- And more
Once you have a general list of short tail keywords, type each keyword into Google to see what related keywords pop up. For example, after typing in ‘decorative napkins’ some search results show web pages containing phrases that include branded references. For instance: “Star Wars napkins” and “Toy Story napkins.” If you sell branded napkins, you can add branded keywords to your list.
Branded keywords are valuable for SEO. As with the branded napkin example, even short tail keywords can be niche-specific. Just be careful not to use trademarked terms in your PPC ad copy without permission. You can, however, bid on branded keywords.
2. Use Local modifiers
Add local modifiers to your keyword phrases to help search engines pinpoint your geographic location. This will make Google more likely to display your web pages to local logged-in users even when they don’t type in those modifiers.
For example, a logged-in user from New York searching for “computer repair” will be given search results known to be local to New York when possible. The business listings will be local along with the organic search results.
If you run a computer repair business in New York, your web pages need to use local modifiers to tell search engines you’re located in New York. Those modifiers would look something like this:
Short tail keyword: computer repair
Short tail keyword with local modifiers:
- Computer repair in Brooklyn, NY
- New York City Computer repair
- Computer repair in 10018 NY
- Computer repair in Brooklyn, Astoria, Maspeth, Hoboken, and Woodside NY
If you decide to use keywords that include multiple cities and zip codes, make sure you do it properly. Google says blocks of text with cities and zip codes are spam, so make sure to insert geographical information sparingly and make it useful to visitors.
When you add the local modifiers, your short tail keywords become long tail keywords. However, here’s what makes local search special. Users don’t need to search for your entire long tail keyword to be provided with your web pages in the SERPs. Google uses the information on your web pages to determine your location and serves that content to users who simply search for “computer repair.”
If you were trying to rank outside of Google’s local search results, users would need to actually search for your long tail phrases for Google to return specific results. The difference is that Google’s local search algorithm accounts for a user’s location even when that location isn’t included in a search.
3. Optimize your Google My Business listing
When you optimize your Google My Business listing, be sure to include your targeted short tail keywords. Include your long tail keywords also, but remember that local search results will be presented to users based on their geographical location, so it’s okay to use multiple short tail keywords on their own.
Short tail keywords can help you rank through LSI
Short tail keywords provide context for latent semantic indexing (LSI). Google and other popular search engines use LSI to determine the context of a web page. When the context is right, search engines will return those web pages in the SERPs even if they don’t contain the exact words typed by the user.
Web pages are ranked on factors beyond exact match keywords and phrases. Often, web pages show up in the top of the search results just by using synonyms to a user’s search. For example, a user searching for “doctors near me” will get search results from web pages that don’t mention the word ‘doctor’ even once. Search engines will rank pages that use synonyms like ‘physician’ or ‘healthcare provider.’
3 Tips for using short tail keywords for LSI
1. Brainstorm a list of synonyms
Make a list of synonyms used in your industry. For example, if you sell shoes, you’ll end up with words like shoes, sneakers, loafers, cleats, slippers, clogs, boots, flip-flops, sandals, tennis shoes, high-tops, high heels, footgear, pumps, gym shoes, moccasins, etc.
2. Include synonyms in your web copy
Once you have a list of synonyms, add those synonyms to your existing web copy while avoiding keyword stuffing. Don’t use all of your synonyms on each page. Rather, find pages where including the synonym would be natural and appropriate.
Once you’ve added your synonyms to existing web pages, start creating new content specifically created to use those synonyms. For instance, you may want to create an entire guide for choosing the right running shoes. You could write another article for choosing the right rock-climbing shoe.
Other ideas for content include writing about the history of each type of shoe, a guide to figure out the best type of shoe for your daily activities, and shoe reviews.
3. Brainstorm a list of related subjects
What’s related to your industry? For example, going back to the shoe example, if you sell athletic shoes, the following topics are related to your industry:
- 5k and 10k races
- Mountain climbing
- Sports like basketball and track
If you sell work boots, the following topics are related to your industry:
- Toe injuries on construction sites
- The cost of foot injuries to employers, including workers’ comp claims
- Safety precautions for dangerous jobs
- Safety precautions in the food service industry (steel-toed boots protect from falling knives and hot liquid)
Each related topic will have plenty of generic, short tail keywords to use in your copy. With a list of related topics, you’ll have plenty of ideas for new articles. Publishing those new articles and getting backlinks to those pages will help your site rank in the search engines.
Short tail keywords are a great starting point for keyword research
Keyword research is the backbone of search engine optimization (SEO). You can rank your website for any keyword you want, but high rankings are useless if nobody searches for those keywords.
Short tail keywords make a great starting point for conducting keyword research in order to find high-converting, low competition long tail keywords. For example, say you’re running a digital marketing firm and you want to find long tail keywords to target as many unique segments of your market as possible. You can start with short tail keywords like ‘digital marketing services’ and ‘marketing strategies’ to create a list of longer, more specific keywords.
Starting with ‘digital marketing services’ will give you long tail phrases like:
- Digital marketing services for attorneys
- Digital marketing services for real estate investors
- Digital marketing services for small business owners
- Affordable digital marketing services
Starting with ‘marketing strategies’ will give you long tail phrases like:
- Profitable digital marketing strategies
- DIY Digital marketing strategies
- Effective digital marketing strategies
- Digital marketing strategies on a budget
These are just several examples of how you can take a short tail keyword and turn it into a list of long tail keywords. When you optimize for the long tail keywords that came from short tail keywords, you get the benefit of ranking for both.
Are short tail keywords better than long tail keywords?
You might be wondering if short tail keywords are better than long tail keywords. Short tail keywords get more searches and can generate more traffic. However, they’re best when used in combination with long tail keywords.
Relying on short tail keywords alone isn’t a good SEO strategy. It takes time and money to rank for common phrases with a high search volume and most short tail keywords will have fierce competition from large corporations. Most of those corporations have million-dollar budgets, which is why you won’t see anyone outrank sites like cars.com, Carmax, and Auto Trader for short tail keywords like ‘cars, ‘vehicles,’ and ‘trucks.’
To get the best results from your SEO efforts, focus on both long tail and short tail keywords. Use short tail keywords when optimizing content to generate local search traffic. Use long tail keywords that encompass your short tail keywords to take full advantage of search algorithms. Remember that long tail keywords that contain short tail keywords will give you a double advantage.
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