'Target long-tail search phrases first' — this has been a proven SEO tip to Internet marketers who want to improve their site 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 keywords 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. The one that we'll stick to in this article is:
Long-tail keywords are more specific, longer search phrases (three and more words) that communicate searcher intent clearly. Because of their specificity, such keywords typically (but not necessarily) have lower search volume and 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. While 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'. Although these word combinations are searched by a much smaller number of people, altogether they comprise up to 40% of total monthly search volume. That's what makes them worth targeting.
There is no distinct point at which a keyword phrase becomes long-tail — it's all relative. 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 for an online teaching platform.
Queries #1, 4, and 6 seem clear, but with its 'how to' questioning, they are rather investigational and not necessarily implying that the searcher is ready to commit the action. Such queries will fit into an instructional blog post and can be used to target 'Subscribe' actions.
Query #2 implies a certain action, however, it is a bit vague, it might be either investigational or transactional.
Whereas entries #5 and 7 communicate the clear intent to start an online teaching course, they are the most appropriate for attracting purchase actions.
Entry #3 is the most indistinct, it can come from both teachers and students, and needs more specification, so it is definitely out of our target list.
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.
10 Reasons to use long-tail keywords in your SEO campaign
1. Less competition
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. For example, you own a small inn in New York City. How do you compete on Google with all those Trumps, Hiltons, Marriot Marquis' and Sheratons out there?
Let us consider the following keyphrases and how many matches are found on the web:
hotels new york — 1,690,000,000
cozy hotel new york — 99,200,000
hotel new york midtown — 31,000,000
As we see, the longer the phrase, the fewer sites match it, i.e. the less competitive it is. So, you don't worry about ranking #1 for hotels new york, since this term has 1,690,000,000 websites bidding on it. What you do is you optimize your site for, let's say, cozy hotel new york, which doesn't sound so different, but it makes all the difference for you, since there are only 99,200,000 sites competing for it on Google, thus, your chances are higher.
2. Substantial traffic
A single long-tail key term is not likely to get you tons of visitors. However, all together 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!
3. Long-tail keywords already include your head words
Another reason why it never hurts to bid on long tail keywords is that, mostly, they already include your shorter nuclear terms. In the below example, the long-tail keyword encompasses 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.
4. 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 keywords: 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 people you are targeting.
For example, you might discover some popular word combinations 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.
5. Higher conversion rates
Users who search for more specific terms are normally further in their buying cycle than searchers who type in generic terms. Normally, long-tail keywords bring in visitors who convert better. 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.
6. Great for highly competitive niches
In some fields competition is so fierce that, when you get to the top of the SERPs, you are afraid to look down, because there you will see the swarming mass of competitors, ready to overthrow you at any moment. A good way to feel more safe about your traffic would be to look for alternative keywords to optimize for, that is, long tail search terms.
7. 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 general terms you'll probably have many clicks, but with lower conversions. Thus, a lot of money will be wasted on ill-targeted traffic. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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 or not. Yet another reason to put long-tail keywords on your keyword list!
10. 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? Let's consider this in several easy steps below.
1. Investigate your own long-tail keywords
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.
So, log into your Google Search Console account. Go to Performance> Search results, and select Clicks, Impressions, and Position to be displayed. This will show you the list of terms you rank for, with the number of site visits, search volume for each, and your ranking for each.
Eliminate those keywords that you already rank #1 for. You'll end up with the list of terms 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. Use 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 thing. 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.
But what if you need to check hundreds of head words? 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. Launch Rank Tracker, start by creating a project for your website. Most likely you already have a seed keyword list — the more generic terms that you are targeting with your site. Paste them in and check your basic rankings.
Further, go to the Keyword Research module, this is exactly the place where we will mine more long tail keywords from Google. Check for Ranking Keywords: enter your site link, configure search method and settings, hit Search. In a while, the software will show up hundreds of Google keywords the page is already ranking for.
Let's try Google Autocomplete and Related Searches. These are brilliant sources of the long-tail gems you're after. Click the submodules, 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 picture might be pretty different.
When you're done, check the Sandbox to see all the terms you've just researched (by default, you'll only see the results from the last search you made).
3. Pick the best alternatives
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 semantic groups Rank Tracker has automatically created for your keywords.
Sort keywords by the length
To reduce the amount of manual work, filter your main targets 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, etc. that your website is not expected to cater for.
Apply metrics to estimate effectiveness
Besides, you can additionally refer to the Keyword Effectiveness Index that is indicative of how hard it will be for you to rank for them. '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 you have this data, you can manage your results by the 'Number of searches' column and check which of them are worth optimizing for.
Tag and map your 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.
Whenever you find terms that are a good long-tail fit for your website, select them and hit the Move To Rank Tracking command.
These keywords will then appear in the Target Keywords module, where your Rank Tracking and Keyword Map dashboards are.
In this module, you can map 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 entire list of long tail keywords associated with each landing page in your keyword map — it will make optimizing the pages at the next step quicker and easier.
4. Optimize your pages
By now, you should have a pretty extensive list of items 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 employ, 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.
Make high-quality content
Put more effort to produce high-quality content where 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 groups of synonyms and related terms — only one variation will typically be enough.
Optimize on-page SEO elements
As you edit your content, 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.
Observe 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.
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.
What long-tail keywords should bring
These are the simple tips you can use to successfully target long-tail traffic. Hopefully, they'll help you win lots of targeted visitors to your site and become one of those exemplary case studies for long-tail keyword targeting.
And now, over to you! Have you got some success stories about long-tail keywords to share? Which tactics and hacks do you like to find long-tail terms for your pages? Please share them in the comments below!
By: Tatiana Tsyulia