SEO School #3: Long Tail Keywords

Untitled designYou can hear this advice everywhere:

To truly avail of the benefits of SEO you must target the right keywords.

And it’s true but…

I bet when you consider phrases potential customers would use to find your store, you immediately think of short keywords that clearly describe your products’ category, i.e.:

  • “Running shoes”,
  • “CB radios”,
  • “T-shirts”.

But in spite of their popularity and high search volume, most of these keywords offer very low probability of conversion.

There are however other, less popular phrases that can in fact bring highly converting visitors to your site.

You may have heard of them already though as long tail keywords. And in this post we’ll explore what they are, how to pick the best ones and how to use them to drive quality traffic to your store.

So what are Long Tail Keywords?

Long tail keywords are longer phrases, typically including 3 words or more, that searchers are more likely to use when they’re ready to buy.

Long tail keywords are also highly specific. Instead of focusing only on general category they describe a searcher’s intent, for instance:

  • “Bicycle store in Seattle”,
  • “Marketing agency London”,
  • “Apartment in London for 5 people”.

To better understand how they work, let’s look at their role in a typical buying cycle. Typically, it includes 5 stages:

  1. Need Recognition – at first a person realizes that she has a problem. Her running shoes are worn out or she needs to book accommodation for that last minute trip to the UK’s capital.
  2. Information/Solution Research – With the problem at hand, she begins to gather information about possible solutions. She’ll research various running shoes models or browse hotels in London. At this stage she’s more likely to use generic keywords, ie. Running shoes or Hotels in London.
  3. Evaluation – At this stage she’ll begin comparing different options available to her. This is the first stage at which she might start using long tail keywords.
  4. Purchase Decision. Having made the buying decision, she’ll begin searching for a place to buy – a store selling specific runners or a hotel close to where she needs to be in London. In this stage she’ll definitely be using long tail keywords when searching.
  5. Post-Purchase Evaluation (often also referred to as buyer’s remorse) – the final stage occurs after a customer has purchased an item. A customer might begin to wonder if she’d made the right choice. That’s often the moment when she might decide to return an item or cancel her booking.

As you can see, even though long tail keywords would be typically used by less searchers, they present a much higher commercial value than generic ones.

Why, because searchers using long tail keywords are actually looking to buy.

But Why Long Tail?

I admit, the name Long Tail can be confusing.

But take a look at the graph below illustrating how different keyword types relate to competition and the probability of conversion:


(Image courtesy of Neil Patel, taken from this amazing post)

The top of the graph (the “1-word phrases”) shows the so called Head terms. These keywords typically contain a single word describing a product category, i.e. “t-shirts”.

Next come Body terms that extend the head phrase with additional information.

And then at the end is the tail, the Long Tail Keywords. And why Long? Because it can go almost into infinity. Many of these keywords are complex phrases only a handful of people would use. But in spite of their low search volume, they offer a high probability of conversion.

But why focus on long tail keywords?

You already know that long tail keywords can covert at much higher rate than head terms, for instance.

But that’s not the only reason to focus on them.

You see, given their uniqueness, they are also much easier to rank for.

Just take a look at the example below.

Here’s the competition level for the phrase “Running shoes”:


Now compare it with competition level for the phrase “Best running shoes for flat feet”:


Yes, its search volume is incomparably smaller but, so is the competition.

Granted, this is the Adwords competition but you can safely assume that it’s not much different with organic results.

How to identify long tail keywords for your store

Google Suggest

I’m sure that’s something you didn’t realize:

Google has been showing you popular long tail keywords all along.

For one, every time you start typing a search query, the search engine begins to show relevant key phrase suggestions, most of which are in fact long tail keywords:


Google Related Keywords

At the bottom of the search results page, Google also often lists other most used long tail keywords in search.

What’s important about these two lists is that they’re based on most-popular phrases real people have searched for. And thus they’re the most relevant to your target audience.


Forums, Reviews and Other Places Where People Discuss Products Using Natural Language

The key to long tail keywords is that they’re based on actual, natural language people use when describing products. Not everyone will construct a logically sounding search query. Long tail keywords are often grammatically or structurally incorrect (i.e. “Best running shoes flat feet”). But they make sense in speech and many people would emulate the way they think or talk about a product when searching for it.

And thus, monitoring how your audience describes the products you sell could offer a great insight into phrases they might use to search for them.

Keyword research tools

Lastly, professional keyword research tools like Google Keyword Planner offer a set of tools to find long tail keywords.

We have already published two articles on the subject:

Go check them both for a step-by-step walkthrough of the keyword research process.

Ranking for Long tail keywords

With a list of long tail keywords at hand, it’s time to optimize your site to rank for them.

And you have two options for that:

You can create a dedicated page to target a specific long tail keyword (or a number of them).

This option is ideal for keywords with considerable search volume, like “Best running shoes for flat feet” in our example above.

When you’re targeting keywords with little traffic however, you can also:

Sprinkle them on existing page.

Simply rewrite your copy to include these phrases or words included in them.

In such case, place different head keyword variations and modifiers throughout your content to increase its likelihood of ranking for those terms.

Now whenever someone searches for a long tail phrase including those words and phrases, there is a chance that the search engine will return your site among top search results, providing other SEO elements like site authority are in place.