What if I told you that there’s a way to get hyper-targeted organic traffic that’s actually easier than driving a ton of random pageviews?
We’re all familiar with the race to the top of Google for high-volume keywords, but throughout that race, long tail keywords can get overlooked. If you ask me, this makes no sense because long tail keywords make up 70% of all searches.
You don’t want to miss out on 70% the potential traffic, do you?
In this SEO guide, I’m going to run through everything you need to know about long tail keywords, including:
- What is a long tail keyword?
- Why should you bother targeting them?
- How to automatically find a ton of long tail keywords
- How to optimize your content to include them
- Is it better to target head keywords?
But let’s get started with a definition.
What are long tail keywords?
To make this distinction, you need to first define head keywords.
A head keyword is usually a high traffic, high difficulty term that constitutes an entire topic. While they’re searched for often, they’re not always 100% specific to what you’re promoting with your content.
Head keyword: content marketing (volume: 14,800 / difficulty: 90)
Long tail keyword: content marketing agency (volume: 720 / difficulty: 34)
Long Tail Keywords Definition: long tail keywords are 3+ word terms that narrow down the focus of the search results and bring up more specific results. They’re also often lower difficulty and lower volume.
By targeting a head keyword, it’s often that you’ll incidentally rank for a ton of long tail terms, too. See the results here for our AdSense revenue guide:
Now you’ve had a crash-course introduction, let’s run through the benefits of targeting the long tail.
Why should you bother targeting them?
To understand the benefit of long tail keywords, you need to understand the concept of intent. Put yourself in the shoes of the searcher for a moment while you think about the customer journey. A section of it might look something like this:
- The prospect becomes aware of their need, and searches head keywords to find out more.
- The prospect becomes aware of a potential solution, and searches a long tail keyword with the intent to buy it.
This is a dumbed-down explanation, but it sums up the idea of intent nicely.
Basically, considering the intent of a keyword is considering the mindset of someone who would search the keyword.
Someone looking for ‘adsense’ is probably looking for a definition while someone looking for ‘how to increase adsense earnings’ has the intent to click on your article, and buy your service if that’s something you offer.
Through the long tail specificity of their search, they’re expressing their intent to buy exactly what you’re selling (or at least read exactly what you’re writing).
For this reason, it’s worth targeting long tail keywords because the traffic that they bring in will be far more likely to convert. The searchers are no longer in the ‘discovery’ mindset. They’re ready to move into buying mode, and even though the volume won’t be as high, it’s well worth it.
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An added bonus for PPC campaigns is that long tail keywords are often much cheaper per click, and have a more targeted audience. Check this out:
Here you can see the cost-per-click for different levels of intent and for head (‘heat energy’) vs long tail (‘what is heat energy’). While this is an extreme example, it pretty much applies across the board and bear in mind that lower volume terms generate less, more targeted traffic meaning you get more quality leads for your money.
And remember how I mentioned long tail keywords make up 70% of all searches? Here’s a visual of that:
How can you find long tail keywords?
“Ok, ok! I’m sold”, I hear you say. “How do I find these high-converting gold mines?”. Well, like it always is with keyword research, it’s a mix between a manual and automated process.
Manually: Researching suggested terms, reading posts on Quora, reddit, and forums. Getting together a list of head keywords and commonly mentioned phrases.
A quick manual method is to Google the topic you have in mind and check the related terms. Sometimes, a couple of the related terms aren’t just the same query you typed with a new word tacked on, but something totally new:
Another goldmine is reddit. I headed over to /r/brewing to find out what people are talking about. If I was blogging about beer brewing, these people are my target audience. I’ve highlighted some viable keywords:
Finally, search for keywords in Quora. People are answering questions that you could answer with your ads or content:
Note: Quora is actually a fantastic source of inspiration for blog posts, too. You can usually just grab the questions as a title and use the content in the answer plus your own original research to create winning content.
Now, put your head keywords and general topic ideas in a spreadsheet, then use one of these tools below…
As well as being a complete platform for managing organic and paid SEO campaigns, SEMrush has a quality keyword research feature. For finding long tail versions of a particular head keyword you’ve researched, use the Phrase Match report.
Look at these great long tail keywords I found in just a few clicks:
You can also use the Related Keywords report to find semantically similar terms. For example, instead of ‘google chrome extensions’, I also get offered ‘google chrome add ons’.
This kind of functionality is vital to finding those untapped long tail goldmines because all your visitors might not call the same thing by the same name.
Long tail Pro
As the name hints, Long Tail Pro is a dedicated tool for finding long tail keywords. What I mean by this is that it works in a way that understands the process I’ve been talking about so far.
To use the tool, you add any number of seed (head) keywords, and then it will generate a filterable list of long tail terms using a proprietary algorithm that does an excellent job at finding semantically relevant keywords, not just exact phrase matches.
Check out the results here:
You’ll notice that you get some results here you wouldn’t have ever come up with on your own because they aren’t simply spin-offs of the seed, but totally new and related terms.
The seed ‘acne treatment’ brings up results about cream, scars, severe acne, spots, and vitamins. These are things you’d otherwise have to find out on your own with quite a bit of research.
As far as specifically generating long tail keywords goes, Long Tail Pro lives up to its name as the best dedicated tool on the market for the job.
Like SEMrush, Ahrefs is a full SEO platform with far more than just keyword research abilities.
In fact, the Keywords Explorer feature only recently came out of beta, so while it hasn’t had the development time time of LTP it can bring great results for users who already use Ahrefs for other purposes, like monitoring backlinks and seeing which terms a URL ranks for.
A neat feature I like that instantly filters the keyword results to only include long tail terms is that you can set a minimum number of words you’d like the term to consist of. For example, when I type in ‘brew beer’, I can get great untapped keywords like these:
For the volume, some of these long tail keywords have pretty low difficulty and high intent, making them perfect choices.
And they didn’t take too long to find either. Using ‘brew beer’ as the head keyword, I set the minimum words to 4 and that’s the top set of results.
How to optimize content for long tail keywords
Let’s say you’ve found a long tail keyword and want to start creating content to rank for that term. Great! What now?
Well, the first thing to do is to choose one major target. As you’ve seen, by ranking for one keyword you scoop up a lot of long tail variants, too, so it isn’t like it’s the one chance you get to rank for a single term.
Here’s a quick checklist to follow adapted from this post to include only keyword placement:
- Put the keyword at the start of the headline (and title tag!)
- Use the only the keyword as the slug (the part of the URL after the domain — com/this-is-the-slug)
- Make sure your title is in a H1 tag
- Use the keyword throughout your H2 subheadings
- Use the keyword in the first 100 words
- Use a few variations of the keyword throughout the body of the article (you should have plenty from your research)
And, of course, you should always make sure your entire site is optimized to be SEO-friendly.
Is it better to target head keywords?
Before we get into this discussion, let’s summarize the information so far:
- Long tail keywords make up 70% of all searches
- They are often lower volume, lower difficulty and higher intent than head keywords
- By ranking for a head keyword, you often unintentionally rank for hundreds of long tail keywords, too
So with that last point in mind, it begs the question…
Is there any point targeting the long tail?
The answer… Yes! Definitely. And I’ll tell you why.
Head keywords are highly competitive
Targeting a head keyword is like equipping your finest cardboard sword and shield and stepping into the arena against the finest gladiator of Ancient Rome. In short, you haven’t got a chance. Let’s take a look at an example, and search ‘marketing’ (keyword difficulty 93) in Google.
Let’s see what we’ve got here…
- entrepreneur.com — Domain authority 91
- wikipedia.org — Domain authority 100
- marketingland.com (homepage, ranking for the domain) — Domain authority 85
- businessdictionary.com (definition of marketing) — Domain authority 78
The average amount of backlinks these 5 results have each is just over 14,000. Think you can handle it?!
Head keywords have lower intent
What’s the intent of someone searching ‘marketing’? Who knows. It’s probably to find out a definition, or to read some kind of encyclopedic article, which shows why Wikipedia and Business Dictionary rank highly.
Narrow it down, however, and target ‘marketing agency London’ (instead of just ‘marketing’) and the intent is much, much clearer. And you’re way more likely to rank for it.
In fact, the major problem with going after head keywords is that you’ll be putting a ton of work into driving the wrong kind of traffic. And, when you drive traffic that doesn’t stay long on your page, you’re telling Google that you don’t deserve to rank, and that’s all your work wasted.
A good rule of thumb is to Google the keyword you’re targeting before you target it, and ask yourself whether your article would be out of place in the results. If it would be, then don’t bother.
There are more long tail keywords than head keywords
It’s pretty simple: There are nowhere near as many head keywords out there as long tail.
And that means that at some point, you could theoretically run out of big meaty keywords to target, and find yourself thinking “phew! I’ve targeted ‘marketing’, I’ve targeted ‘SEO’, I’ve targeted ‘business’ … What’s next?”.
When you’re going after the long tail, you’re not only giving yourself more chances to put optimized content on your site, you’re creating more pages. It only makes sense that sites with more pages rank for more keywords and drive more traffic, especially if they’re ranking for juicy long tail keywords.
This is probably best described simply as covering your bases. Targeting both ‘green tea smoothie ideas’ and ‘green tea smoothie recipes’ in two separate posts and getting both of them ranking is a way to make sure you’re scooping up whichever search term variation that gets typed in.
Getting started with your long tail SEO strategy
What’s the next step you can take action on right now?
Well, I’ve given you a reason to do it, as well as the tools and methods you need to get started.
The only thing that’s left is to get going.
Pick a head keyword, find the low-hanging long tail fruit, and get targeting with content or ads that recognizes the intent behind the search term.
How have your results been with targeting long tail keywords? Let me know in the comments!