- Long tail keywords are hyperspecific to a topic, product or page and typically have low search volume and competition.
- Long tail keywords are easier to rank for and tend to have higher conversion rates.
- You can consistently rank for long tail keywords with the right content strategy that targets all stages of the funnel.
- Uncover a wide variety of relevant long tail keywords using tools like Google Search Console, SEMRush, Clearscope, Moz, KWFinder and AnswerThePublic.
Looking for an edge in the hypercompetitive world of SEO? If you want to rank for thousands of low-competition search terms that collectively drive massive traffic, then pay attention to long tail keywords.
They aren’t the most glamorous, highly-coveted terms. But don’t underestimate their power to deliver results. Long tail keywords are like the worker bees of the SEO world.
What’s more, if you combine them with your short tail keywords then you’ll dominate the purchase funnel with a powerful, sustainable organic search strategy.
What are long tail keywords, really?
Long tail keywords are unpopular keyword phrases with low search volume and high variation. In other words, each query is only searched a few times per month because they are either very specific keywords, or there are many different ways people can phrase their searches.
Long tail keywords are NOT “search phrases with three or more terms,” as many SEOs incorrectly state. The length of the query actually has nothing to do with their definition. However, many long tail keywords do have more than 3 words. But that’s correlation, not causation.
There are plenty of popular keywords with more than three words that are definitely not long tail keywords. Take “online reputation management services,” for example. That keyword has 1,300 monthly searches, while the shorter version, “reputation management services,” only has 880 monthly searches. See what I mean?
A quick look at the following chart from Ahrefs illustrates why we call these “long tail” keywords. The term actually comes from statistical distributions in which a high-frequency population is followed by a low-frequency population which gradually “tails off.”
Why long tail searches are valuable
The red and yellow portion in the above chart represents high search volume keywords. These are keywords like “shoes” and “laptop” and “car insurance,” etc. (each of these particular keywords has hundreds of thousands of monthly Google searches in the U.S.).
In fact, they represent 60% of overall search demand. But here’s the thing: they consist of only 0.16% of the total number of search terms. That’s A LOT of competition for a tiny share of the overall keyword pie.
The green to purple zone represents 40% of all search demand. More importantly, it comprises a full 99.84% of all keyword variations people search for. Our opportunity lies out in the “long tail” of the graph dominated by low-volume, low-competition keywords. That’s where we find search terms like “womens leather gladiator sandals,” “best gaming laptop deals,” and “car insurance quotes online.”
Let’s say your hard work paid off and you now rank on the first page of Google for 50 head keywords. That’s good. But why stop there?
There are so many long tail keywords to choose from that are far easier to rank for. Further, they often have higher conversion rates. Your brand can realistically increase targeted traffic from organic search by 100%, 200%, 300% or more if you effectively target long tail keywords.
Examples of long tail keywords
If you’re Nike and you’re feeling lucky, you might choose to target the keyword “shoes.” However, that term has a whopping 700,000+ Google searches per month. If you’re willing to go toe to toe (pun intended) with the following competitors, you could probably carve out some search engine space with enough time, resources and effort:
But even for Nike, breaking into this pack is a heady task. Nike sells specific types of athletic shoes, in addition to gear and athletic wear — which means it answers to a different search intent from Zappo’s, which sells nothing but shoes (from sneakers to stilettos), or from Macy’s and Nordstrom, which also sell many different types of shoes.
Nike could target “tennis shoes,” which has 52,000 Google searches per month, but that’s still quite a bit of competition. While targeting this keyword is something Nike should do, it’s also targeting a wider demographic of searches.
If Nike targeted the slightly longer-tail keyword, “womens tennis shoes” (5,300 Google searches per month), it would be in a more competitively advantageous position.
But what if they also included the color? Although, “womens white tennis shoes” may have only 600 monthly Google searches, it would be much easier to rank #1. Plus, Nike could also target “womens black tennis shoes,” “womens orange tennis shoes,” “womens red tennis shoes,” etc. Nike could rack up some highly qualified search traffic with less effort by targeting more granular keywords.
Imagine how much traffic you’d have if hundreds of your product pages and user-focused blog posts ranked #1 or #2. Long tail keywords can deliver staggering cumulative results when powered by the right SEO company.
Long tail keywords for SEO
The benefits of long tail keywords include:
- Lower search volume
- Less competition
- Lower CPC
- Higher conversion rate
Let’s look at each of those points in more depth.
Lower volume means less competition
The lower the search volume, the lower the competition. You might think this is because these words are less “enticing” to your competitors, but that’s only part of the story. Remember, lower-volume words make up 99.84% of all searches; so at the end of the day, it’s a sheer numbers game. There’s just more room to maneuver over in the long tail, so it’s easier for every brand to stake out their own share.
Less competition means it’s easier to rank in the SERPs
If you’re fixated on only a small set of head terms, obsessively tracking their migration from position 14 to position 12 (or position 32 to 31, etc.) without a complementary focus on long tail keywords, you’re missing the boat on an ocean of search opportunity.
For example, if you search for “running shoes,” Google returns over 5 BILLION results. That’s a lot of competition. Therefore, it’s going to be harder for you to compete against so much other content to rank high in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
If you search for “running shoes for flat feet”, Google returns roughly 55 million results – only 1% of the content volume that Google sees as relevant to “running shoes”, meaning it’s much easier to compete for “running shoes for flat feet.”
So instead of focusing on only high-competition keywords, why not also rank at the top for hundreds if not thousands of individual long tail keywords to make your website a much more dynamic and useful destination?
Less competition also means lower cost
If you complement your SEO strategy with a PPC strategy, you can often target long tail keywords at pennies per click. With organic traffic, you can still consider the opportunity cost. For example, you can often rank for a long tail keyword more quickly, and then move onto the next term.
As a result, you’ll be able to take advantage of hundreds of opportunities relatively quickly rather than pouring all your time and resources into a smaller set of highly-competitive keywords.
Long tail keywords have higher conversion rates
Although long tail keywords have lower search volume, they also have a strong upside. They’re far more likely to convert than short tail keywords because they’re more specific.
For example, let’s say Nike improves its organic ranking to #1 for the keyword “shoes.” Where does that leave the people who want casual flats or sandals? Most likely, not clicking through to Nike’s website; and if they do click through, they will not convert.
On the other hand, someone searching for “womens white tennis shoes” knows exactly what she wants, right down to the color and purpose. If you rank at the top of Google for that query, she’ll click through to your page. And if she does, there’s a much greater likelihood that she’ll make a purchase.
Long Tail Keywords Mimic How People Actually Search
Part of every SEO strategist’s job is to keep up with the changes in online user behavior over time. The way people search for products, services and information is no exception.
While there are still hundreds of thousands of searches for “shoes,” users now trust Google to deliver the exact results they’re looking for. The byproduct of this trust is more natural, specific language. People now treat the search engine like a conversational partner, prodding it with complete thoughts and questions. Voice search, which is predicted to make up half of all searches by 2020, makes this trend even more pronounced.
Build a framework to consistently rank for additional long tail keywords
So if long tail keywords are so great, why don’t more brands build them into their SEO strategy? That’s because long tail keywords are more work – they’re painstakingly incremental. Sure, you might be better off catching hundreds of small fish in the roomy side of the pond, but that’s a daunting task when you know that you could just catch that one big fish over in the crowded side.
There’s also the risk of doing it wrong. You can’t just create a separate page or blog post for each keyword, or you’ll end up with piles of thin content!
The solution is to design a process wherein you strategically, consistently and methodically capture those small fish. Part of this involves product/category optimization, and the other part involves your content strategy. Here’s how to get started:
Identify long tail keywords
Define a process to regularly identify new long tail keywords to target each stage of the purchase funnel.
The purchase funnel describes the different points of purchase intent experienced by different users:
In the “Awareness” phase, an individual researches what they want or need. They ask questions and want to learn about possible solutions (and they may not know yours exists). On the other hand, in the “Purchase” phase, people know exactly what they want and they’re ready to buy.
Users in each of these phases will search differently. Some people may want warm-weather running tips, while others might want to buy Nike Air Max 720s. Design a strategy that addresses each phase in turn with different long tail keywords, and periodically check for new long tail opportunities.
Organize your long tail keywords
Just as you defined long tail keywords for each stage of the purchase funnel, now you’ll define them for each of your audience personas. Nike doesn’t just target marathon runners; they also sell to the athleisure crowd.
An elite runner looking to improve performance will search differently than someone who wants comfy running shoes with ample cushioning. Furthermore, a sneaker collector will exhibit different search behavior than either of those individuals. Each persona you target should get its own share of your long tail keyword strategy.
Develop a framework to deploy content
If you launch new products, how will you build content that targets each stage of the conversion funnel? How will your product-focused content marketing differ from your informational or lifestyle-related content? Which parts of the website will you map them to?
How will you build content around what’s hot and in the news? And how will you stay on top of the topics that are important to your audience? Once you have your process defined, you’ll be able to consistently add new content aligned around your long tail keyword strategy.
And if you know fixed dates ahead of time, like a Q2 product release or your annual Black Friday sale, you can use these milestones as anchors for your content calendar.
Letting your long tail keywords act as fuel for your content buildout will help you uncover strategic, effective ways to have deeper conversations with your target audience. This can manifest in the topics you cover in your web pages, blog, newsletters, webinars, videos, podcasts, infographics, surveys, reports, interviews, SlideShares, PR campaigns, and on social media.
Develop and deploy content
Armed with your new library of long tail keywords, develop engaging content that’s in line with your content strategy.
For example, let’s say you’re a tech company like IBM and you want to target blockchain topics for your audience. You wouldn’t write one post or produce a single video about blockchain. Instead, you’d produce multiple pieces of content that collectively target keywords like “enterprise blockchain,” “blockchain in healthcare,” “what is blockchain technology,” “blockchain technology explained” and “how to invest in blockchain.”
Content like that can be designed around a topic cluster. Or, you might decide to build out a complete online resource center dedicated to that topic area. IBM, for example, provides this blockchain resource center for their audience. They also produce a video series devoted to blockchain, approaching the conversation from multiple mediums.
The specific format you choose for the content should match the user experience you want for each target persona and conversion funnel stage. If someone is at the top of the funnel, then a topic cluster format, which lets you center your content on the passions, questions or pain points of your target persona, would be useful. If they’re at the bottom of the funnel in the “purchase” phase, on the other hand, then interactive tools, calculators, reviews, comparison charts, etc. might be the last piece of the puzzle they need before they make the purchase.
Operationalize content production
Once you’ve tackled the “What” and “Why” behind your content strategy, it’s time to tackle the “How.” You’ll need to coordinate the different groups at your company that have a stake in the content strategy. That could include everyone from your marketing directors and content managers, to the product managers, to the people building out the product releases, to the people producing content for the blog, to your videographers and photographers.
An online content calendar will be your best friend in this process. You can fill in key dates first and then use those production webs to inform the amount of time and resources required for execution. Design an editorial flow and assign responsible parties. The result is a methodical, repeatable and scalable process.
How to research long tail keywords
Want to uncover the best keywords for your brand? In the following process, I’ll show you how to find and use long tail keywords to drive significant traffic.
Scrape them from Google
Google offers a treasure trove of long tail keywords if you know where to look. Check their autocomplete suggestions as well as “People also ask” and “Related Searches.” This is an easy way to discover exactly how people search for a given topic. These related keywords could inspire anything from a blog series to a topic cluster.
Pull topics from YouTube
YouTube’s autocomplete tool is another goldmine of topic ideas, since people search differently on YouTube. These results will help inform the type of video content you’ll produce. Consider how-to’s, tutorials, what’s hot, industry news, Q&As and product reviews. It can also directly inform additional avenues for written content, too.
Long tail keyword metrics
What sort of search volume should you target with long tail keywords? To be honest, the exact number depends upon your space. However, try to aim for the highest-volume, lowest-competition keywords you can find.
Don’t get discouraged if you end up with a pile of keywords with less than 50 searches per month. Those small numbers will add up.
Remember, 15% of all Google searches have never been seen before. Therefore, you might find valuable long tail keywords that supposedly have no volume at all, but in fact do. To be sure, check Google Search Console (GSC) to see if those terms drive impressions and clicks for your site.
Of course, the perfect long tail keywords won’t just drop from the sky. So here are some of my favorite online tools that can help generate content ideas and reveal valuable keyword metrics.
Long tail keyword research tools
These tools include everything from long tail keyword generators to free tools to paid platforms.
Great for idea generation and data as it relates to your site. Why not track the keywords that already drive traffic to your domain? Compare the number of impressions each term has to the industry search volumes listed in SEO tools. You may uncover hidden opportunities to build more content around unknown topics that already have traction with your audience. Best of all, GSC is a free tool!
Great for idea generation and “take it with a grain of salt” data. Pay special attention to the ad group ideas, which are often topic clusters in their own right. Pay less attention to the search volume because it relates to PPC (Google Adwords) searches only. That means it will be more geared toward high-conversion, short-tail searches. As a result, many of your long tail keywords may show a search volume of 0, which is often inaccurate.
Great for idea generation. You’ll get a look at not just what people search for over time, but what they’ve been searching for lately. That makes Trends a powerful way to stay on top of the information and news your audience cares about.
Great for highly reliable data (search volume, competition, ranking difficulty). You can also use it to identify the content gaps on your site and reveal your competitors’ content strategies. With Ahrefs, you can search for keyword search volumes specific to Google, Bing, YouTube, Amazon, and other platforms.
Great for highly reliable data (search volume, competition, difficulty), idea generation, and competitor keyword research.
Great for data that takes a deep dive into the relevance and usefulness of content to a query. The tool provides you with a holistic view of the words to include in your content to achieve higher relevance scores.
Great for highly reliable data (search volume, competition, difficulty). It’s also useful for idea generation on the micro-level, but not the topic-level. For example, it can reveal higher-volume alternatives for keywords. However, it usually can’t spark a whole new topic idea.
Great for idea generation. Soovle is autocomplete on steroids, providing you with the autocomplete results from not just Google but also Bing, Yahoo, Wikipedia, Answers.com, Amazon, and YouTube.
Great for keyword data and identification of niche keywords. Although the tool was developed for affiliate marketers, the keyword data can be useful to any marketing team.
Great for idea generation. This one’s another long tail keyword generating tool that leverages search engine autocomplete features. It pulls data from Google, YouTube, Amazon, Bing, Amazon, eBay, the Google Play store, Instagram, and Twitter. Its social and app-related data can help inform content in a variety of mediums.
Great for keyword generation and ideation. It uses autocomplete and the questions people ask to generate lists of new keyword ideas.
Great for idea generation. Enter your query and the platform connects it to a web of ideas. It adds words like “who,” “what,” and “where” to the query and returns the questions people ask about the topic. Then it will do the same thing with comparative words like “or” and “vs.” Just for good measure, it throws in an alphabetical list of autocomplete searches. With this tool, a single keyword can become the hub of a vast long tail topic cluster.