It’s a really common mistake that a lot of people run into when they first start out with SEO.
Falling into the mindset that simply targeting keywords with high search volumes will automatically lead to high traffic.
You’d think that getting return from your SEO would simply be a matter of trying to be where a heap of people are searching. That then leads to you getting a heap of impressions and in turn a heap of conversions.
It’s a nice theory but turns out it’s not so great in practice.
People’s search habits are a little more complicated than what you might first give them credit for.
That’s why it’s so important to develop your understanding of and know the difference between Short Tail and Long Tail Keywords.
Short Tail vs Long Tail
The difference between Short Tail Keywords and Long Tail Keywords is pretty simple.
A Short Tail Keyword is a search term that is short and snappy. Maybe only one or two words long. They tend to be fairly general and their length makes them less specific than searches with more words.
For instance. A Short Tail Keyword search for someone trying to optimise their website might be as simple as “SEO.”
While a Long Tail Keyword would be a search that is entered into a search engine that is more targeted. It might be up to 4 words or longer and because of this specificity the results that it returns are going to be more finely tuned.
For instance, “SEO for Mobile Optimisation” is a Long Tail search that is going to yield results about SEO that are more finely related to a certain subject.
Long Tail Keywords are the foundation of an effective SEO strategy and they account for 70% of all web searches.
The Tale Behind Tails
The terms Long Tail and Short Tail aren’t thrown around for no reason.
They have their origins from a concept in statistics when describing a distribution of data. It can be visualised in a graph like this.
In this graph the “head” or “short tail” is white. While the Long Tail can be seen in red.
No matter the subject, whether someone is searching for a plumber, a hairdresser or a bite to eat, the keyword phrases that appear in the “Short Tail” are going to be generic and unspecific. And as a result not necessarily helpful in getting you the answers you need.
On the flip side, the “Long Tail” phrases that relate to that subject are going to be extremely targeted and more helpful in overcoming specific problems.
You can break it down further with this graphic.
A Real World Example
Imagine this. There’s a woman named Janice. She’s living in Sydney enjoying a late night chocolate and Netflix binge on the couch with her beloved Bulldog, Chester.
Oh, Chester! Who’s a good boy?
Janice dashes off to the bathroom for all of 2 minutes but the damage is done.
She returns to the couch to find Chester guiltily standing over the tattered remnants of the freshly devoured packet of the best 90% Cocoa Dark Chocolate that Guatemala has to offer.
Those big, guilty, bulldog eyes are staring back at her shocked expression.
Who can blame Chester? It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is permission.
Quick! Chester needs his stomach pumped or else it’s the end for him. Time is critical and the situation demands action.
What should Janice search for to save Chester’s life?
She does a Short Tail search to find a “vet” and it returns to her a heap of unhelpful results. A Wikipedia listing and a guide on how to study Veterinary Science in NSW.
That might be helpful if Chester could wait 8 years for Janice to complete her training and then apply the knowledge she learnt to save him from the fast acting, deadly effects of the chocolate coursing through him, but he needs help now!
Not specific enough, Janice! Use Long Tail Keywords!
“24 Hour Emergency Vet Near Me”
That’s the ticket!
An emergency vet open till late. Chester, you dumb dog. You’re going to be okay.
As far fetched as this scenario might be, it illustrates the value the targeting Long Tail Keywords can offer to your business.
While Short Tail keywords see a very high amount of traffic, the traffic they do see is generally from people who are maybe only just dipping their toes into the subject and aren’t exactly sure yet of what they want. They tend to have no intent to act on that search and will go on to refine their search in the future as they come to better understand what it is they want.
These refined searches are Long Tail searches.
It’s from Long Tail searches that you see the most meaningful impressions that lead to conversions being made.
This is especially true for small business and companies that are only just starting to grow their web presence.
Just Because You’re Late to the Game Doesn’t Mean you Can’t Win.
Let’s do another experiment.
Imagine you’re a starting up your own made-to-order custom sneaker brand. You’ve called them Freak Sneaks. Why Freak Sneaks? Because they’re so freaking good, of course.
Freak Sneaks. Trademark and copyright pending…
You’ve got a ton of great ideas and a great product that you make on a super small scale.
It’s time to take Freak Sneaks to the next level and you feel one of the best ways of doing that is to get your kicks online and available through e-commerce.
Savvy idea. You’ve set up your store, got your payment and shipping system all sorted. Now you just need to figure out how to make your sneakers available through search.
You’re going to need to figure out which keywords you’re going to target in your SEO strategy to bring you high value impressions that are going to convert to customers and sales once they click onto your site.
What’s the best way to do that?
Keyword research of course.
Common logic would make you think that if you wanted to sell some sneakers then the best way would be to appear when people search for the term “sneakers.”
As a small business just starting out, in order to rate well against that keywords all you need to do is optimise the Headlines and Meta Tags of my site to mention sneakers and then maybe write a blog or two with the words sneaker and sneakers sprinkled through them.
Wham bam thank you ma’am. We are done here.
Did you see the websites that were coming up #1 in that search?
The Iconic. Hype DC. Glue Store.
There are massive retailers with an international presence.
These companies have been targeting these keywords since SEO was in its infancy. They’ve got over a decade of hard work and goodwill attached to those words and if you think you’ve got what it takes to knock them off their perch then you’re sorely mistaken.
In online advertising, short tail keywords are hyper competitive.
Advertisers everywhere are bidding to place ads and optimise their website content to be the most popular search result against those keywords because they receive such a high volume of traffic.
If you’re going to try and go up against these behemoths and their established sites that have been around for years building authority against these search terms, then you better have some deep pockets.
Winning those positions is going to take work and whole lot of coin.
What more, on top of the inherent cost, high volume traffic doesn’t necessarily equal good results!
Play it smart. Spend your money and time targeting search terms that you have a legitimate chance of ranking highly against and that will win you a higher quality audience.
These should be specific search terms that someone who was looking to make a potential purchase would be typing in, as opposed to someone who is just generally interested in sneakers.
You want people to find your page who are past the point of just browsing around and are ready to commit to an action. Someone who is out for a specific solution to a problem that they are having.
People with this kind of intent are more likely to ready to commit to making a purchase, sitting through a video or reading an entire article.
Now let’s go back to our example. You’re a young, fiery entrepreneur trying to market some custom sneakers and you’re in need of some Long Tail keywords to build your online marketing strategy around.
This is the process that you should follow to build a list your list of Long Tail Keywords that are worth their weight in gold.
1. Get in the Mindset of your Customer
This one might seem obvious but you’ll be surprised how many businesses fail to think about the viewpoint of their target client and then trying to appeal to those needs.
If you can get an idea of why you client might be in need of your product, and the problems that it might help them overcome then you can formulate a Long Tail keyword strategy around those insights.
Who is looking to buy Freak Sneaks? Why do they need a trendy, comfortable, fashion forward piece of footwear? Are they athletes? Do they want to run in them? Are they sick of being forced to choose between wearing Nike and Adidas? Is it important that their fashion is exclusively their own?
There’s a million questions you can ask with the answers being great diving off points to developing your marketing strategy.
2. Figure out your Point of Difference
This is advertising 101 here, people. You want to know what your product’s point of difference is and then pitch that as a way of making you stand out from the crowd.
When people go buying they want to know what they’re buying has an intrinsic advantage over all the other choices that are vying for their dollar, click or time.
You need to provide them with that advantage or reason.
Maybe you’re more convenient. You can come to them. If your product hand crafted? Is it limited run? Is it locally made? Is it made from a superior material or does it add a twist to the product experience that has never been seen before?
Only you can know what that difference is but you want to make sure that it plays into defining the keywords that you target.
If people are out specifically searching for these terms then you know that they are going to be highly interested in your product or service and that’s going to lead to sales, sales, sales.
3. Research Keywords and Build your List
Now that you’ve got your ideas together on how you might be able to position yourself for Long Tail search it’s time to fire up a Keyword Planner tool and decide which of your keyword ideas is going to be the most effective.
We’d recommend using AdWord Keyword Planner is free to use and fairly intuitive.
If you haven’t used a Keyword Planner before, follow this URL – https://adwords.google.com/ – to set up your free account.
Once that’s all done, click on the spanner in the top menu bar and select “Keyword Planner” from the list of tools.
This will bring up a search bar that you can use to check how often certain keywords are searched for on the Google platform and the overall competition level associated with trying to come up against a search for that keyword.
A good starting point when first trying to build your Long Tail Keyword List with a tool like this is to start by searching for the Short Tail Keywords related to the topic and then checking to see what kinds of alternative are provided by the search tool.
If you find keyword combinations and phrases from this list that are four or more words long that relate to your product or service then chances are they’re a good example of a Long Tail keyword that you should be targeting.
Obviously not every suggestion is going to be a winner. You’ll need to think back to the insights that you previously gathered about your client, as well as your product, to decide if a suggested Keyword combination is going to be worth you targeting.
For example. As the owner of Freak Sneaks, you decide to start off by typing “sneakers” into the Keyword Planner. From there you need to evaluate whether certain Long Tail Keyword combinations that you come across in the results relate to your product, site and business.
As you can see, the suggestion, “pull on high top sneakers” would be a great example of a Long Tail Keyword to target.
There are 10-100 monthly searches made against the term and very little competition from other advertisers and businesses to rank against it.
What a winner! It’s a highly specific search term. People searching for it are after a very particular kind of shoe and in all likelihood they’re past the browsing stage and are out with the intent of buying that particular type of shoe.
If you were to rate highly against that keyword then you’ve opened yourself up to the possibility of potentially 100 people a month finding and connecting with your business.
That’s actually a lot of potential traffic. Especially for a small business.
If Freak Sneaks is making a range of pull-on high-top sneakers then obviously the people who enter this search term are going to be interested in his range and might even buy a pair of his shoes.
It’s a no brainer. You should target that keyword.
Even if you’re not making a line of pull-on high-top sneakers it might be worth targeting the keyword just to win you the traffic and exposure from folk who are generally interest in sneakers. They may love what you do and contact you in the future.
It’s a case by case thing. There’s benefits and risks however you go about it. The important thing is to know your strategy and maximise your choice of keywords to work to facilitate that strategy.
After you’ve exhausted this list of suggestions then it pays to search for keywords specifically related to your product and your business.
Freak Sneaks is a locally made, custom sneaker brand. Let’s try to target that.
If we search for the Keyword phrase “custom made sneakers” we’re going to be greeted by a new list of Keyword suggestions.
Again it’s a matter of filtering through your results and trying to find Long Tail Keywords that strike a balance between reasonable rates of traffic and low competition to appear against that search.
We can see that the Keyword phrase “custom made basketball shoes” has a good monthly search rate while having very little competition.
This Keyword combination describes exactly what Freak Sneaks does and it seems no one else has thought to invest time in trying appear against this search.
It should be very easy for Freak Sneaks to own this Long Tail Keyword and make it to the front page of people’s search results.
It also gives us more ideas on other ways to phrase our product. If people are searching for the term “basketball shoes” but there’s low competition for that term then maybe we should try and target that Keyword instead of just targeting “sneakers” exclusively.
Rinse and repeat this process till you have a list of Long Tail Keywords that you’re happy with and then move onto implementing them into your site strategy.
Alright. Now What?
What now? Use those Long Tail Keywords before anyone else thinks to!
You want to do everything you can, within your budget, to help you boost your site’s authority against your chosen Keywords.
Alter your site’s headlines and metadata to include your Keywords.
Rewrite your website copy.
Start a blog that speaks specifically to the Keyword topics that your audience is looking for.
If you can’t be bothered going through the hard yards to grow your authority against those terms naturally, and if you have the budget to do it, launch an AdWords campaign so advertising promoting your site appears at the top of those searches.
If you’ve laid the groundwork properly, your Long Tail Keywords should be extremely cheap to target through an AdWords campaign because you don’t have to worry about other people trying to outbid you for spots against those searches.
Be proactive in building your Long Tail Keyword list and you’ll start to see real return!
Be smart. Do your research. There’s nothing stopping you from being on the front page of Google.