'Target long-tail keywords first' — this has been a proven SEO tip to Internet marketers who want to improve their site visibility and rankings. However, there is a bit of controversy to solve. Among hundreds to thousands of potential terms, how do you pick the best ones? Why spend time on those long-tails if hardly anyone is searching for them? And finally, does any of this even matter in the age of semantic search?
Briefly — yes, it still matters. Low competition together with clearly identified searcher intent makes long-tail keywords an unbeatable source of targeted traffic. In today's post, we'll share a simple framework on how to conduct long-tail keyword research, how to incorporate keywords wisely, and start growing rankings. But first…
What is a long-tail keyword?
There's a bunch of definitions for long-tail keywords on the web. To be brief, in this article let’s define long-tail keywords as follows:
Long-tail keywords are more specific, longer search phrases (typically, three and more words) that communicate searcher intent clearly. Because of their specificity, such keywords have lower search volume as compared to head keywords, but bring more convertible traffic.
Short-tail keywords are shorter phrases that have generic meaning, for example, "men's shoes". They are also sometimes referred to as head words. Whereas long-tail keyword phrases are longer, more specific search terms that better describe a particular thing or concept, for instance, "cheap gucci men's shoes".
A long-tail phrase is not about the number of words in it. Actually, the tail comes from the search demand curve where unpopular long queries make up a sloping 'tail'. It was businessman Chris Anderson who coined the phrase ‘long-tail’ in 2006. This way he described the phenomenon when demand distribution shifted from bestsellers to niche products that altogether were making a significant share in total sales. The same way, long-tail word combinations, searched by a much smaller number of people, altogether may comprise up to 40% of total monthly search volume. That's what makes them worth targeting.
High-volume keywords make up only a small number of the focus keywords but account for 65% of search traffic. Meanwhile, the long tail consisting of dozens of low-volume keywords comprises the lesser part of impressions and traffic. Still, the share is impressive, and in a few lines below we’ll show why it’s worth bidding on them, and how to rank your site for such keywords.
Long-tail keywords comprise ~ a third of search traffic
We've analyzed 24 million keywords from our database. The findings fit into the overall idea of long-tail distribution of keywords by search volume and traffic.
There are not so many concepts that are described with one word only. People tend to ask more specific queries, with three-, four- and five-word keywords being the most typical search terms.
From the below graph you can see that short-tail keywords comprise the largest part of search volume, leaving around 40% to three-word and longer keyword phrases (which can be roughly classified as long-tails).
Whereas the majority of keywords in the researched database, around 81 per cent of them, have the lowest search volume, with around 10 searches per month.
So, why is it worth doing keyword research for those specific terms that hardly anyone is looking for?
9 Reasons to use long-tail keywords in your SEO campaign.
Online newbies are often unfamiliar with the concept of long-tail keywords and do not realize the immense potential these keywords hold. So, let's summarize the main benefits of long tail keywords for SEO.
1. Long-tails can bring substantial traffic.
A single long-tail key term is not likely to get you tons of visitors. However, in aggregate they can work miracles. Think about a big bubble surrounded by hundreds of smaller bubbles.
So, the big bubble is your main short keywords, for example, hotels new york. Now, there are many ways to extend those nuclear head words into long-tail keywords: think of booking a hotel in NYC that are cheap, on discount, in the city center, for two, for honeymoon, etc. And, together, all these alternatives may account for up to 40% percent of your overall traffic!
2. Long-tail keywords already include your head keywords.
Another reason why it never hurts to bid on long tail keywords is that, mostly, they already include your shorter head keyword. In the below example, the long-tail keyword contains two shorter keywords that might be a signal for more generic searches as well. This sort of allows you to kill two birds with one stone.
3. Long-tails bring better targeted traffic.
When the police ask someone to describe a robber, they hope to get as many details as possible, since this will help them catch the right person. Same goes for search engines: the better a phrase describes what you are looking for, the higher the chances that you will find the product or service you need. Thus, visitors who end up on your site after typing in long-tail keywords are likely to be just the audience you are targeting.
For example, you might discover some popular long-tail variations by which people are looking for something on your website. So, create additional pages specifically for these popular yet detailed searches, like women's yellow raincoat, spring collection 2020, hiking gear discounts, etc.
4. Long-tails increase conversion rates.
Users who search for more specific terms are further in their buying cycle than searchers who type in broad terms. Normally, long-tail keywords bring in visitors who convert into paying customers 2.5 times more than short-tails do. So, investing in long tail keywords is often a dead sure ROI (Return On Investment) and a winning "quality over quantity" strategy.
Whatever your micro-conversion is, smart long tail keyword analysis can help you pick the terms that are geared towards that goal. These could be purchase intent keywords (think "buy funky socks in Toronto") or informational queries to win blog subscribers (think "why face masks are important"). Whichever kind you are looking for, it's easy to see if a long-tail keyword fits into your conversion strategy or not.
5. Long-tail queries are perfect for PPC.
Many Internet marketers agree that PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising should be mostly long-tail. And here is why. In PPC, you pay each time someone clicks on your ad. If you bid on non-specific, very broad terms you'll probably have many clicks, but with lower conversions. Thus, a lot of money will be wasted on ill-targeted traffic and will not bring real customers. However, if you bid on more specific long tail search phrases that better describe what you sell or offer, you are likely to attract just the right visitors to your site, and your PPC campaign will pay off sooner. In the end, a better exact match to queries will make advertising more cost-effective.
However, the value of long-tail keywords for PPC is not that straightforward. The keywords you are bidding on in Google Ads campaign still need to have search volume high enough. If Google considers the keyword too narrow, ads will not work for this query.
6. Long-tails help enter highly competitive niches.
Long-tail keywords are easier to rank for because such terms usually enjoy less competition. With barely any of your competitors targeting them, it's easier for you to step in.
However, there are often cases when low volume keywords enjoy high competition levels. It rather depends on the niche or the industry you deal with. In other words, choosing effective long-tail keywords goes hand in hand with finding an unoccupied niche or unanswered questions in your industry.
When you decide to bid on highly competitive low-search specific queries, it will take extra efforts to rank for them. In that case, you will probably need to combine your on-page optimization with link-building tactics.
7. Long-tail keywords beat personalization.
Nowadays search results are personalized according to a particular user's geographical location, language, and interests, in other words, web browsing history. People looking for one and the same keyword will get different results. Think of custom-tailored keywords that will help make your way through their filter bubbles. This especially refers to the names of locations in your search terms for seasonal or local campaigns.
8. Ideas come straight from Google.
Very often keyword ideas come straight from Google Search Console or some other web analytics tool you are already using. Besides, in the Console you already see how many people came to your site by looking up a particular term, whether they converted into customers or not. Yet another reason to put long-tail keywords on your keyword list!
9. Long focus keywords are easier to optimize for.
For long tail keywords, it is easier to perform on-page optimization. This is because, first of all, you don't need so many of them on the page. Second, a couple of long-tail keywords look more natural in your site copy than do scores of short-tail terms. This provides better user experience, and, again, helps conversions.
Okay, the question is: how to identify the best long-tail keywords appropriate for your SEO campaigns? These several steps below make a good long-tail keyword strategy. Follow them, and finding valuable long-tail keywords will become plain sailing.
1. Find the long-tail keywords you already rank with.
Many long-tail keyword ideas may come straight from Google Search Console or some other web analytics tool you are already using. In the Console you already see your traffic and click-through rate that these keywords have gained. That's the first-hand keyword finder to kick off your research with.
Step 1. Log into your Google Search Console account.
Step 2. Go to Performance > Search results, and select Queries.This will show you the list of terms you rank for, with the number of clicks, impressions for each, click-through-rate, and your average ranking position for each search term.
Step 3. Skip those keywords that you already rank #1 for. Filter them by Position to display keywords that hold position, for example, greater than 6.
Step 4. Look through the phrases with low search volume and a few clicks. You'll end up with a list of long-tail queries that you can improve your ranking for (with a little effort).
Can Google Keyword Planner tool be of any help? Mostly not for organic search optimization, since Google Ads provide commercial forecasts. However, check out what organic keywords are expected to draw traffic for paid searches. The tool still helps determine keyword popularity and its potential traffic.
2. Find long-tails with keyword suggestion tools.
The first idea how to find long-tail keywords is to exploit Google Suggest feature. When a user enters a search term on Google, the search engine puts forward guesses that partially overlap with the query and shows what most people want to find about this topic. Usually, there are 5-7 Google suggestions, sometimes even more. The user can click on any keyword from the autofill list and get the search results page. This works quickly and conveniently to find top long-tails for your head keyword.
Down the SERP, you can also check the People Also Ask box with a few popular questions related to your query. This can be a good source for optimizing your FAQ page with long-tails.
And at the bottom of the search result page, you can find the box with Searches related to [your search term] that might also give a clue to some popular long-tail variations.
But what if you need to check hundreds of head keywords? For this task, try an SEO tool that will bring you plenty of long tail keyword suggestions in a moment. The easiest way to do that is with the Rank Tracker keyword research tool.
Step 1. Launch Rank Tracker, enter the URL of your site and click Finish to create a project.
Step 2. Most likely you already have a seed keyword list — the broad terms that you are targeting with your site, your head keywords. Paste them in and hit Next (wih Expert options enabled) to add your preferred search engines.
Step 3. If you don’t have any seed keywords, simply hit Finish (without expert options enabled), and the keyword tool will collect the major keywords for your website.
Where to find those long-tail keywords? Go to the Keyword Research module, this is exactly the place where we will mine more long tail keywords from Google.
First, check for Ranking Keywords: enter your page URL, configure search method (you can search the whole domain or exact URL) and settings (desktop or mobile, preferred search engines as well), and hit Search. In a while, the software will show up hundreds of Google keywords the page is already ranking for.
You can change the settings to research keywords coming from mobile devices. That can bring a strikingly different set of keywords if you target a mobile audience. For example, the wide-spread use of smartphones changed the way mobile searchers formulate their queries: when deciding to buy some ordinary stuff, people started to look through “reviews” more, searching for the “best” alternatives, or whatever else “should I” choose.
Now, let's try Google Autocomplete and Related Searches. These are brilliant sources of the long-tail gems you're after in a few clicks. Pick the Autocomplete Tools submodule, paste your list of seed keywords, and let the tool do its job.
When it's done, you'll have up to several hundred new terms you could target.
Repeat this process for other research methods, such as the Autocomplete tool for Bing, Amazon, YouTube — the researched keywords will be pretty different.
Next, try the Related Questions method to discover question keywords.
The number of full questions asked on the web are growing exponentially with the spread of smartphones and voice assistants. Not only because the centennial generation doesn't feel awkward talking to robots. But also because search engines have been constantly improving their technologies to recognize human speech and serve relevant results, which users appreciate. The truth is, the more kids have phones at their disposal, the longer queries become. Yet another reason to investigate your long-tail keywords as well to optimize for voice search.
Finally, TF-IDF Explorer allows finding topical long-tail keywords that your top-ranking competitors often use, but you probably missed out. The keyword tool will provide a list of popular keyword phrases, their basic search stats, and how frequently your competitors use them.
When it's done, you'll have several hundred (or even thousand) new terms you could target. Check the Sandbox to see all the terms you've just researched (by default, in your workspace you'll only see the results from the last search you made). The keyword tool automatically creates folders according to SEO topics of the researched keywords: you can add, move and rename them manually as you like.
3. Choose the most profitable keywords.
Now, examine the terms you found to spot those that are a good fit for your content. Think of the keywords you could use on some of your existing pages, and the ones that you can create new pages for. Browse through all the terms that have been found by clicking on All keywords on the left, or look through the topical groups Rank Tracker has automatically created for your keywords.
Sort keywords by the length.
To reduce the amount of manual work, filter your main keywords by some common criteria, for instance, you still can apply the word count filter. Add a new filtering condition to the current workspace that will help you sort out your researched data. Click on the funnel icon and add a new filter: Select the following filter conditions: Length -> more than -> 3
This filter will limit the view to the keyphrases of more than 3 words. Depending on how deep into the long tail you want to dive you may set the number of words higher. Click OK, and the filter will be applied to your workspace.
Select keywords with proper intent.
Filter out negative keywords by vocabulary. For example, if you are selling some unique fashionable design, you are unlikely to want a customer who searches for cheap, popular, free items of the kind, so just exclude these terms from your keywords. The same way you can exclude competitors' brand name searches, unnecessary locations, activities, or services that your website is not expected to cater for.
The beauty of long-tails is that they create insights into what your audience is looking for. Thus long-tails help create better focused landing pages.
Here are just a few ideas of long-tail keywords with purchase intent:
- Long-tails with evident purchase intent, like “buy”, “order”, “trial”, “discount”, etc.
- Branded keywords for product landing pages.
- Mixed intent keywords containing “compare”, “review”, “best”, “top”.
Apply metrics to estimate effectiveness.
The keyword tool estimates Keyword Effectiveness Index that is indicative of how hard it will be for you to rank for the focus keyword. Press Update KEI to check how many people are searching for these terms every month and how many websites compete for them. The green circle signals that the word is likely to bring you more traffic faster.
When deciding which long-tail keyword to target, you can also apply the Keyword Difficulty metric. The keyword tool analyzes top ranking pages for every term together with off-page factors for each ranking page, such as the number of backlinks and InLink Rank. The higher keyword difficulty is, the harder it'll be to outrank your competitors.
When you have this data, you can manage your results by the 'Number of searches' column and check which of them are worth optimizing for. Sort and filter your long-tail keywords by Keyword Efficiency Index and Keyword Difficulty. You will surely identify the sweet spot that is worth optimizing for.
Tag and map your focus keywords for easy navigation.
In Rank Tracker, you can add a tag to your filtered lists to make navigating through your entries easier. Write some evident tags like 'transactional', 'purchase' etc.
How do you know this is just the right long-tail keyword you need?
If you look at the below list of keywords, you can pick them out by asking yourself, "Which of these terms have a clear, unambiguous, specific intent behind them?" Let's analyze a bit of keyword samples.
Entries #1,2 and 6 are the broadest, they can come from whoever and need more specification, so they can be somewhat useful for a blog post with informative purpose. #1 and 2 are out of the target list.
Queries #3 and 4 seem clear, but with their 'how to' questioning, they are rather investigational and not necessarily implying that the searcher is ready to commit a purchase action. Such queries will fit into an instructional blog post and can be used to target 'Subscribe' actions.
Entry #5 communicates the clear intent to build a mobile website, it is the most appropriate for attracting purchase/download actions on a landing page for a mobile site constructor.
Whenever you find terms that are a good long-tail fit for your website, select them and hit the Move Selected KeywordsTo Rank Tracking command.
These keywords will then appear in the Target Keywords module, where your Rank Tracking and Keyword Map dashboards are.
In Rank Tracking, you can once again do keyword difficulty check. Switch to Keyword & Rankings tab and in the lower workspace select Keyword Difficulty tab. There you will see pages ranking in top 10 for the selected long-tail keyword, alongside other important stats, such as InLink Rank, Domain InLink Rank, and how many sites are linking to the page. Based on this, you can estimate how much effort it will take to rank for the keyword.
In the Keyword Map module, you can assign a keyword to a page (or several terms or the whole group at once): right-click on them and hit the Assign Keywords To Landing Page button.
This way, you'll be able to easily see the distribution of long tail keywords over each landing page in your keyword map. It will make optimizing the pages at the next step quicker and easier: keyword mapping will help you manage SEO copywriting, track ranks of the landing pages and fix issues, like traffic drops or keyword cannibalization.
4. Optimize your pages with long-tail queries.
By now, you should have a pretty extensive list of keyword search terms mapped to each of your landing pages in Rank Tracker. It's time to get them work inside your content.
If you run a CMS to manage your site's content, open that and start editing. Whatever platform you use, you are likely to find lots of plugins to handle your optimization.
If you don't have any, the easiest way to make changes is with the WebSite Auditor SEO tool — its Content Editor dashboard lets you optimize and edit your pages in live view.
Paste the link you want to optimize (or create a totally new one), insert the keywords you wish to integrate into your content, wait for a moment while the software conducts page audit — and here you have a list of pro tips on how to optimize your page.
Incorporate long-tails to create high-quality content.
Put more effort to produce high-quality content where long-tail keywords fit in naturally. Optimizing your pages is not about stuffing as many Google keywords as possible into one single text. The search engine discovers how a keyword and surrounding context work together to mean the same thing. And the exact match is not that exact: Google autocorrects misspellings and is pretty good at figuring out synonyms and word order variations, as in the sample below.
Obviously, with a few dozen keywords in your keyword map, it wouldn't make a lot of sense to optimize the page for each. Instead, start small — by incorporating a few long-tail keywords into your content, ones with a distinct purpose — and see if your rankings improve for the synonyms as well over time. Look for similar long-tail keywords and related terms — only one variation will typically be enough.
Optimize on-page SEO elements.
As you do SEO copywriting, try to use the long-tail keywords in headings, subtitles, bullet points, alt text for images. If a part of your content directly addresses a certain query, it's a good idea to integrate it as this paragraph's heading. Or, if there isn't a part that addresses that but it can be included — throw it in!
If you're struggling with the headline, it's often helpful to go to Buzzsumo and type in your keyword (e.g., "start an online course") that you want to use in your headline. You'll typically get plenty of examples for inspiration that are also sorted by social media shares with the most popular posts showing first.
Long-tails go well with off-page SEO.
Additionally, don't forget about internal links — those are also great spots for your long-tail keywords. Put them in the anchor text when you insert a link to a page on another page, and make sure to keep the anchors diverse and natural in the meantime.
It is advised to link from pages ranking for long-tails to pages with broad, more popular keywords (for example, from product to category). This will help to build up the PageRank and make certain pages more prominent.
The same is true for the backlinks you can control. Whenever you link to a page from an external resource (be it a guest post or another website of yours), remember the long tails you researched for the page and use a variation of one of them for the backlink's anchor text.
External links have to be integrated into the content, so that it would be difficult to remove them without rewriting the text. Long-tail keywords serve this purpose very well.
What long-tail keywords should bring.
These are the basics for your long-tail keyword strategy to successfully target convertible traffic. If you implement long-tail keywords strategy properly on your pages, your site is guaranteed to increase visibility and expand to a larger, more convertible audience.
And now, over to you! Have you got some success stories about long-tail keywords to share? Which keyword research strategies and hacks do you like to find long-tail terms for your pages? Please share them in the comments below!