Long tail SEO is a lesser-known, yet incredibly powerful technique for building up organic search traffic for your business. Numerous studies suggest that long tail keywords are easier to rank for, bring in more combined traffic, and convert more visitors to customers, as compared to "head" keywords. In this article we're going to discover in detail what long tail SEO is and whether you should use this technique as a part of your keyword strategy.
What Is Long Tail SEO?
To answer this question, let's first dig deeper into different keyword targeting strategies.
When researching keywords, most SEOs consider the following three core keyword qualities (you should consider them too!):
Search volume – the average number of times people have searched for a given keyword during a specified period. Naturally, the larger the search volume a keyword has, the more visitors you can potentially bring to your website by targeting this keyword.
Competition – how easy/hard it is to outrank competitors with a given keyword.
Relevance – the more relevant to your specific product, service, or website topic a keyword is, the more likely it is that visitors who've found your website with this keyword will actually convert to paying customers.
Early SEO adopters (at the beginning of the Internet) were focused on targeting keywords that have high search volume. There wasn't much competition those days, making it relatively easy to get into the Top 10 of the search engine results page (SERP) virtually with any keyword.
Relevance wasn't of a much concern either due to large traffic volumes. For example, when you're in the Top 10 with a keyword that has over 100,000 searches per month, and your website's CTR (click-through-rate) for this keyword is only around 3%, you still get as much as 3,000 visits per month (100,000*3%). And if you are in the Top 3 with this same keyword, your website's CTR may rise up to 30%, meaning you will be receiving around 30,000 visitors per month from a single keyword! Chances are that some of the visitors will actually find what they are looking for on your website and become your customers.
But things have changed since those days. According to Netcraft's March 2016 Web Server Survey the total number of sites across the Internet has reached more than a billion (1,003,887,790). Compare this to only 603,367 sites that have been registered in the late 1996:
Such a dramatic raise of the Internet space has increased competition between products, services, websites and online marketers fighting for the most popular keywords.
In parallel, there was another process going on behind the scenes – the evolution of search engine algorithms. In the late 90s you could buy a few links and get into the Top 10 just like that. Today, this may be considered as SPAM and will do more harm to your website rather than move it up towards the Top 10.
These two processes have changed strategies and techniques used by SEOs. Nowadays, it is merely impossible for SMBs (small-to-medium business) to get their new websites into the Top 10 of Google search with highly competitive (high search volume) keywords where giant corporates' websites reside.
SEOs started focusing more on the other two keyword qualities described earlier – relevancy and competition. And that is how the long tail SEO has been born:
Long tail SEO is a technique of targeting highly specific niche search terms (long tail keywords) that usually consist of 3+ words and are much easier to rank for due low competition.
The downside here is that individual long tail keywords usually have much lower search volume in contrast to so-called "head" keywords that consist of 1-2 words. But the beauty of the long tail SEO strategy is that it can be successfully applied by businesses of any size and virtually in any market niche. Here is why:
High Ranking Potential
It is far easier to rank well for a multi-word keyword phrase, which is highly specific to your niche, than for a generic 1- or 2-word phrase.
Let's assume you're running a New York-based firm that offers air conditioning repair services. In the late 90s you could relatively easy get into the Top 10 with a generic keyword, like "air conditioning", which has as much as 33,100 monthly searches on average.
Today, when you search Google with this keyword, you get about 502,000,000 web-pages, all of which are more or less relevant to the search term:
To get into the Top 10 with this keyword, you will have to outrank all those 502,000,000 webpages along with such giants as Home Depot, Lennox, Lowe's, Best Buy, Carrier, Walmart, LG Electronics, YORK and others. You could hire a SEO professional, spend a lot of resources and still not get into the Top 3 results after a few months of investments.
Since your firm specializes in repair services and operates in NYC only, a much wiser approach would be to target a more specific search term, such as "air conditioning repair nyc". It has less traffic volume potential (210 monthly searches on average), but by far less competition.
Google returns about 10,800,000 webpages when your search for "air conditioning repair nyc", which is around 50 times less compared to the number of results you get when searching for the generic keyword "air conditioning". More importantly, there are no those giant corporate websites nowhere near the first Top 20 search results.
But does this mean that you have to limit your organic search traffic to those 210 monthly searches? Not for sure – just read on further:
The Long Tail of Search Traffic
In October 2004 Chris Anderson, an editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine, published his famous article – "The Long Tail". According to Anderson:
"The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of “hits” (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail.
…Those millions of niches are the Long Tail, which had been largely neglected until recently in favor of the Short Head of hits."
When this theory is applied to SEO, it turns out that there is only a limited number of generic "head" keywords that have high number of monthly searches, while there are millions or even billions of long tail keyword variations. Although each individual long tail keyword has a small number of monthly searches, when you sum up searches coming from a few hundred of long tail phrases, they may generate as much traffic as a "head" keyword, or even more.
When first discovered, it was a real breakthrough in the SEO world. Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO in 2005 said:
"The surprising thing about The Long Tail is just how long the tail is, and how many businesses haven't been served by traditional advertising sales."
So, how long is the tail? Or, how much traffic is actually hidden in the tail? According to Hitwise's study published by Bill Tancer and then re-published with some great additional insights on the MOZ's blog, long tail keywords comprise up to 70% of all search traffic:
For a New York-based air conditioning repair firm from our example above, such long tail keyword variations may include:
These all are real keywords I've found in just 2-3 minutes along with their avg. monthly search numbers reported by Google. I'm sure, if you conduct a comprehensive keyword research for you niche, you'll be able to find a lot more. The aim is to find as many highly relevant search terms as possible to build a decent keyword portfolio and then target them on your website by publishing blog post, articles, white papers, case studies and landing pages.
Here is a real-world case study. Thanks to applying the long tail SEO strategy, one of the largest and most famous tutorial resources for WordPress – WPBeginner, has managed to increase their organic search traffic by 20% in just two months!
Ultimately High Conversion Rate
This is yet another advantage of the long tail SEO. In fact, when your final aim is to sell a product or service, you should consider keyword conversion as the most important characteristic in your SEO (or PPC) strategy. Why?
Regardless of whether it is organic or paid search traffic, keywords that drive a lot of visitors to your website are not necessarily the same keywords that actually bring sales.
Going back to our NY-based firm example, you can't predict what exactly people are looking for when they hit "air conditioning" in Google. Do they want to buy an air conditioner? Or, are they looking for some info about air conditioner types? This keyword is just too generic and doesn't give you enough details about searchers' intent.
In contrast, when someone is searching for a specific phrase – "air conditioning repair nyc", it is quite clear what's the intent. You just need to catch the searcher by outranking your competitors with this phrase. Visitors coming from such specific search terms will far more likely convert into your customers than visitors coming from generic keywords.
Here is another case. One of the early adopters of HitTail and the long tail SEO strategy – Gary Beal, managed to double CTR (click-through rates) and lower his million-dollar AdWords campaigns' cost by around $90,000 when he replaced generic keywords with highly specific long tail search phrases.
"Head" VS "Long Tail" SEO Strategy
So, what strategy fits your business better? The following table will help you find the answer:
|Head Keywords||Long Tail Keywords|
|Definition||Generic, 1- 2-word phrases that have broad meaning||Specific, 3+ word phrases that are highly relevant to certain niches|
(There are only a limited number of head keywords available in each market)
(There are hundreds of long tail phrase variations available virtually in every niche)
(Each individual head keyword can potentially bring 1k+ visits to your website per month)
(Long tail search terms usually have much lower traffic volume potential. Generally, you have to target dozens of long tail keywords to cover the number of visits you could get from a single head keyword)
(Due to broad meaning, head keywords often bring irrelevant traffic)
(Long tail keywords bring you potential customers who are searching exactly for the products, services or information you offer)
> If your website is new, most of the time it will be extremely hard for you to outrank competitors with head keywords. Due to how search engine algorithms work, you could spend months on targeting a single head keyword and still not climb up to the Top 10. There are exceptions though, depending on your market.
A good idea for you would be to start with long tail SEO strategy. You need to outline the most relevant niche keywords and target them on your website by publishing blog posts, articles and landing pages. Your aim is to create and publish content of high quality that covers topics relevant to your chosen keywords.
> If your website is already an authority in your niche (e.g. has stable traffic and Top 10 positions with a number of keywords) it is a good idea to combine the head and long tail SEO strategies. You can target head keywords to drive large volumes of more or less relevant traffic to your website. And you can target long tail keywords to get even more traffic and grow sales thanks to high conversion rates.
When you combine these two strategies, you can target sets of relevant head and long tail keywords on a single web-page. Generally, it is a good idea to target 1 head keyword, plus 2-3 complementary (or overlapped) keyword phrases on a single web-page. For example:
"air conditioning repair" – head keyword, 22,200 monthly searches on average
"air conditioning repair nyc" – long tail keyword, 210 monthly searches on average
"local air conditioning repair" – long tail keyword, 110 monthly searches on average
How to Find Long Tail Keywords?
This is a topic for a whole new article, which will come shortly. For now, I will just list two useful tools that should be quite enough to start with:
HitTail – this tool was designed from the ground up specifically for generating long tail keyword ideas. It has two core features:
- Keyword Ideas – generates long tail keyword variations and their search volume estimates based on your entered term or phrase.
- Hot Keywords – generates keyword suggestions based on your website’s existing traffic, giving you keywords highly specific to your niche.
Google Keyword Planner – originally made for managing AdWords PPC campaigns, this tool generates keyword ideas based on seed phrases that you enter. You may need an AdWords account to be able to use this tool.
As a recap, we've prepared an infographic that visualizes most of the aspects covered in this article:
<a href="https://www.hittail.com/blog/the-hidden-value-of-long-tail-seo"><img src="https://www.hittail.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/hidden-value-of-long-tail-seo-1000.png" alt="The Hidden Value of Long Tail SEO" width="1000" border="0" /></a>
What strategy have you found work best for your SEO? Or, what strategy are you going to stick with after reading this article? How long is the tail of your search traffic?
I'd be happy to hear your thoughts in the comments!