Keyword research is a long-standing pillar of online marketing and SEO. Finding the right keywords for your business and then targeting these through new or existing content is one of the most essential ways in which organisations get seen online.
But with increasing competition – as more and more web pages are created every day – trying to rank effectively can prove challenging for smaller or newer businesses, who can find it impossible to break into the vital top 10 spots.
This is where long tail keywords can form an integral part of your SEO strategy – helping to find a more even playing field and precision-target the exact audience you’re looking for.
But what are long tail keywords and how can you use them to build your audience?
Here’s an overview of the different types of keywords around:
Imagine these as the little seeds you start to create your longer form keywords from. They’re effectively the broadest description of the topic you’re trying to cover – something like ‘SEO’ or ‘design agency’. Seed keywords, also known as ‘head keywords’ or ‘main keywords’, are usually only one or two words long.
But wait a moment, why wouldn’t you be aiming to rank for these?
Seed keywords seem like a great goal to shoot for – after all, who wouldn’t want to own the highest ranked page for ‘shoes’ or ‘music’? The problem is that they’re often next-to-impossible for anyone but the biggest companies to rank highly for.
This is because the competition for these keywords is huge, and typically only the most established websites – in terms of site authority, brand trust and advertising – have a realistic chance of ranking for them.
Keep seed keywords as a side-goal – if you’re working in a niche area then they could potentially be an achievable long-term goal – but for realistic shorter-term goals you need something a bit more nuanced.
That’s where long tail keywords come in…
Long tail keywords
Long tail keywords are your key to nailing down a really specific search query and then providing high quality content to match it.
If you add a quantifier to your seed keyword, you can come up with something much more specific. Think something like ‘women’s navy-blue stiletto shoes’ or a question such as ‘what is the best music streaming service?’.
This is your long tail keyword.
Aren’t long tail keywords just a poor second place?
Not at all! The beauty of long tail keywords is in how specifically they can match what you’re offering – and that means that the web traffic you’re pulling in is the right traffic.
‘Any old traffic – and lots of it’ should never be the aim of your website. If people visit your site who aren’t interested in the specific products or services you offer, they tend to quickly leave again. This not only leaves you no benefit from that traffic in terms of leads, but it also affects your bounce rate (how many people leave a page) which can have a negative effect on your ranking. So, having lots of inappropriate traffic can actually be a bad thing for your site.
Long-tail keywords are a great way of ensuring that you’re pulling in traffic from people who are genuinely interested to read what you’re offering – and this is the traffic you’re aiming to build.
Long-tail searches are also on the rise, with around 70% of all web searches based around long tail search queries. This is partly down to the increase in voice search using technology such as Alexa and Siri.
Because the keywords are so specific, there’s much less competition for each one – you’re only up against people offering a similar product or service, rather than every website in your industry. So even the smaller websites have a chance to rank well in search engine results, given well-chosen long tail keywords and carefully optimised sites.
One of the other main benefits is that the user is likely to be much further along the marketing funnel when they use long tail keywords, and so the chances of them converting on your site are greater. Estimates are that around 36% of long tail keyword searches will lead to a conversion.
If you think about it – a user searching for ‘music’ may have a whole variety of intents. It could be to find some music to listen to, buy an mp3 download, find out about music history or look for information on upcoming events – and many more. The chances of the first page meeting their needs are slim as the search engines really don’t have a lot to go off.
But if they search for “what is the best music streaming service?” – that’s a search with a really clear intent to do something – to look for reviews and recommendations, with the likelihood of downloading or buying a product as part of that process.
How long tail can help you match user intent
User intent is a big part of recent developments in search engine algorithms. Search engines such as Google want to provide the most appropriate and helpful resources for what a user is searching for, and therefore making sure the keywords you’ve chosen and the content you’ve created match will help you to more accurately meet these needs and therefore rank better.
Traditionally, keywords have been grouped into three broad categories – transactional, informational and navigational – or ‘Do-Know-Go’ as Google names them.
Transactional long tail keywords could include words such as ‘buy’, ‘download’, ‘book tickets’ etc.
Informational keywords can include quantifiers such as ‘how to’ or ‘where can I’ and so on.
Navigational keywords are more straightforward – the user likely already knows the brand name or website they’re looking for, and types in something known to get them there.
Whether your page is aimed at forming a transaction or offering educational content, reflecting this in your choices of long tail keywords will help ensure it more accurately reflects the user intent and provides helpful content for the website visitor.
If your page provides high-quality content to match the intent of the keywords you’ve set it up for, you’re on the right track to ranking well and pulling in conversion-ready web traffic.
Where’s the best place to use long tail keywords?
Because long tail keywords match specific search queries, the pages they work well on are often providing quite detailed pieces of content. Pages such as blog posts answering a certain query, or a product page about one specific product tend to be a good fit.
But there are also opportunities to experiment with long tail keywords on your main static pages. You might decide to target a long tail keyword on one of your services, case studies or about pages, if that’s a good fit for your business. The long tail keyword created could include your business location and a specific descriptor of what you provide, to match a search query.
There are certain ‘hotspots’ on your page where you should be using your keywords, in order to help search engines recognise what your page is about. These include in the title tag (ideally as near to the start as possible), in metadata, alt text and the body text of the page. Find out more about how to use keywords effectively here.
Long tail keywords can produce vast opportunities for all organisations, but especially smaller or newer businesses who may be struggling to compete with a new website. Build them into your long-term SEO strategy and as you create content focussing on them they will play a vital role in building your website traffic and audience reach. 6