Updated on October 22, 2020, to include new information and insights.
Long-tail keywords play a huge role in SEO and digital marketing. But what are they, and how do you know long-tail from a short-tail keyword? This post will cover everything you need to know about long-tail keywords, from how to find them and why they are important, with a few tips on how to optimize for them.
What Are Long-Tail Keywords?
When I first heard about long-tail keywords, I assumed the term came from the number of words that make a query; however, this is not always the case. A long-tail keyword comes from search volume and specificity of a keyword, rather than the length. Long-tail keywords are search queries that typically get less search traffic but higher conversion value.
A long-tail keyword starts with a “head” or main keyword for the topic, that can split off into millions of variants, creating the long-tail keyword. These are especially common for niche markets and products.
Finding Long-Tail Keywords
When it comes to long-tail keywords, the definition still seems pretty vague. You might sit and think, “the more specific a product, the harder to find, and the fewer people that are searching for them.”
Although fewer people are searching for these specific queries, the users that are will get more out of the results than a broad term. But how do you know a short-tail keyword from a long one? In the example below, I will walk you through a situation and how to find long-tail keywords on a topic.
Example of a Long-Tail vs. a Short-Tail Keyword
Imagine being invited to a last-minute potluck. If you had more time to prep, you would make your grandma’s famous lasagna; however, you’re tight on time, and all you have is a slow cooker, cheese, and a few other ingredients. To find a recipe, there are many queries you could do.
First, you will probably start with a broad term to see all possible results and inspiration. The keyword “cheese” has over 195,000 searches a month, so you decide to give this keyword a try.
This keyword returns the definition, image, and even a local search to find cheese near you. Since you already have cheese (and know what it is), this keyword serves no use for your intent, even though it has a high search volume.
After you decide cheese isn’t going to bring you what you are looking for at this moment, you decide to get more specific and search for “cheese dip.” This keyword has a volume of 10,000, which means it is a popular term. If others are searching for this query, and since it is more specific, this keyword must work better for you than “cheese” did.
Here, Google assumes that your search intent is to find recipes and not pictures or the definition of cheese dip. The addition of the word “dip” narrows down the work and effort on your end and only provides results that will serve you best. But once you visit the top result for cheese dip, you run into a problem: the cheese dip recipe that populates requires using a stovetop, not a crockpot.
You already have your mind set on a crockpot method. And even though you found a recipe, it doesn’t mean your search is satisfied. To narrow it down even further, you decide to add some keywords that can distinguish your results from the rest. You choose to include “crockpot” and “best” to ensure only results with those two keywords get included.
From this example, here are your keywords ranked by search volume (SV) from short-tail to long-tail:
- Short-tail keyword: cheese (SV: 195K)
- Long-tail keyword: cheese dip (SV: 10K)
- Longest-tail keyword: best crockpot cheese dip. (SV: 40)
Although “best crockpot cheese dip” only has a search volume of 40, you are left with the cream of the crop results that provide exactly what you need for this situation.
Why Do Long-Tail Keywords Matter?
Let’s go back to the search volume for each query. At first, it seems like you should dismiss keywords that do not gain a lot of traffic, but when you add them all up, they can generate as much volume as the initial head term. According to one study, Long-tail terms comprise 70% of all search queries; and have a conversion rate of 36%, while only 11.5% of users convert on the top 10% of landing pages. By going after those super specific, lower-volume keywords, you are making a presence in a niche market and taking advantage of most keywords that make up all total queries.
Although “cheese” may seem like the best query due to its high search volume, there is one other factor to consider when researching keywords: keyword difficulty. In order to determine the keyword difficulty of a search term, there are many tools that work a bit differently. Our favorite tool, Ahrefs, takes a page’s content, searcher intent, links from other sites, and Domain Authority into account in order to calculate a page’s chances of ranking for a specific keyword. The lower the keyword difficulty, the lower the competition.
Adding words such as ingredients, cooking method, and even words like “best” or “easy” allows Google to do additional scanning and only include results with these needs in mind. Therefore, the best option for your search intent is “best crockpot cheese dip” because it is going to serve more specific results and require less third party backlinks in order to show up in front of the user, which is one of the factors Ahrefs uses to compute a page’s likelihood to rank. Typically, the quantity and quality of sites that link to your site, the higher it tends to rank. When you aim for long-tail keywords, your site will be able to compete without needing as many interlinking opportunities from outside sources.
Long-tail keywords matter because they convert better. After all, the people searching for them know just what they want. And by targeting those keywords with your content, you can give them what they are looking for. As a result, all those long-tail phrases generate more revenue.
Long-tail keywords can also help you create new content for your site. If you have a blog with content that does not rank very well for significant keywords, research the variations of that topic to brainstorm what people may be looking for that belongs under that umbrella topic. Long-tail keywords can allow you to write content that will cut through the competition so you can rank within your niche.
To recap, long-tail keywords are important because they:
- Fill user intent
- Cut through competition
- Get conversions, not just traffic
- Can help you ideate new content
To make sure you optimize for long-tail keywords, complete keyword research, have a deep understanding of your company, products, and site, capitalize on internal linking, and make sure your website is visible to crawlers.
Getting a high ranking for ‘best crockpot cheese dip’ is far less sexy than ranking #3 for ‘cheese.’ But they work, because folks who search for them are more likely to buy/become leads, and because the vast majority of searches are long-tail.