It has been some time since I have written about SEO topics, and today, I’d like to touch on a recently important phenomenon: long-tail keywords. Once you understand what they are and master their application, long-tail keywords are going to bring you longer term and sustainable search ranking benefits compared to conventional keywords.
So let’s dive in!
What are long-tail keywords?
First of all, we need to clarify the term ‘long tail‘. In statistics, the long tail is the pattern of distribution that takes place when the main share of occurrences takes place farther away from the centre, forming a ‘long tail’ behind it.
On a broader level, author Chris Anderson explains in his New York Times bestseller “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More” what this means in business terms. Take for example the big clothing chains such as Zara or H&M which accounts for the highest sales numbers.
However, the majority of the sales occurrences happen on the low sales end, where people go for niche clothing.
Anderson is advocating the businesses should not compete on the selling the most, but target those niche segments that actually for the majority of the market.
In SEO, long-tail keywords are search phrases with longer word counts, normally three to six words. They are longer than common, more generic search terms which are shorter, comprising one or two words.
It basically works on the same principle as explained by Anderson: why compete on the common keywords? Focus on using longer, more everyday phrases and also produce more of these to help you with your ranking.
- “Italian recipes” is a conventional keyword. There are millions of recipe websites that compete on this term.
- “Italian pasta recipes” is a medium range keyword, it already narrows it down to pasta.
- “Italian homemade pasta recipes” could be a long-tail keyword, because it narrows it down even further.
- “How to make Italian pasta at home” is definitely a long-tail keyword, because it not only narrows down the range, it also uses language in the way people search.
Long keywords are not necessarily long-tail keywords
Now you see the reasoning:
Long-tail keywords are long, because they are search terms using language that people not familiar with the official terms would normally use. And that’s the majority of people.
For example, the term “factory reset” is a specific keyword.
Most people who do not know the term, would search for “How to reset my phone“.
But there are people who challenge the idea using the length as the definition of long-tail keywords, and that all long search terms are long-tail keywords, such as the guys at Onecrawl.com. I think they are right: the word “long” in “long-tail keywords” does not mean the length of the keywords. There are many search terms that are long and are really competitive: “Running shoes” is a common and generic keyword, but so is “buy running shoes online”.
So in actual fact, long-tail keywords are less competitive search terms, that normally use a more human and natural way of expressing the same idea as their generic, competitive counterparts, they sometimes refer to a more niche subset of the common terms, and they are usually long but that is not the point.
Benefits of long-tail keywords
Now that you know what are long-tail keywords, here are the benefits of using them:
1. Up your search ranking
Going back to the business idea that Chris Anderson floated: sell more of less. If we use the term “Italian recipes“, you are competing with millions of websites.
But you know you will come up top using the long-tail keywords for a specific content on “Make Neapolitan pizza at home“.
Now that you have one top ranking content, go on to create other related specific content using long-tail keywords: “Make Sicilian pasta at home“, “Make your own Tagliatelle” etc.
Many top ranking pages will reap you in the reach, as compared to other sites that are competing on the more conventional and common keywords.
2. Cheaper when you pay
If you do opt for SEA, do your research in Google Adwords first before you embark on your promoted content. What you want to look out for is lower cost per click:
“Social media marketing”: CPC €12.13
“Online marketing”: CPC €13.50
“Digital marketing”: CPC €15.75
“Digital marketing agency”: CPC €17.89
Look for a possible long-tail keyword for your content that you want to advertise, then check to see how much it costs, and then produce your content. In the above example, if you are a digital marketing agency, using the keyword of “social media marketing” is the cheapest and you get to focus on a niche area to get your customers.
How do you find long-tail keywords?
1. Use keyword search
There are a few:
2. Check your search console
The Google Search Console is so vital in understanding the search terms people use to come to your website. By studying these search terms, you can understand how your users search and therefore identify the long-tail keywords that brought them to your website.
3. Study your competitors
It makes sense to first check what keywords your competitors are using, instead of looking for your own long-tail keywords. They may be competing only on head keywords, or they may also be looking at long-tail keywords. Try to compete with them on those long-tail keywords and check after some time whether this has helped increase your search ranking.
Using long-tail keywords elsewhere
As I have mentioned before, marketing, communications, public relations, advocacy, public affairs… are all artificial divides. SEO and SEA are not remits of digital marketing, they are the most commonly employed there but you can certainly deploy your skills in long-tail keywords in all the above areas.
Let me know your thoughts about using long-tail keywords!