The Pros and Cons of Long-Tail Keywords


  • The majority of Google search terms are long-tail keywords. This makes them valuable SEO real estate.
  • “Long-tail” doesn’t refer to the length of the search term, but to where these keywords appear on the keyword demand curve.
  • Though long-tail keywords have lower search volume, they are also less competitive and can lead to a higher conversion rate.

Keywords are the bread and butter of SEO. It’s how Google searchers find content, and it’s how content writers signal to readers that their content is relevant. Any good content campaign starts with an extensive bout of keyword research. For most SEOs, that will include a good number of long-tail keywords.

In this blog, we’ll break down what exactly long-tail keywords are, the advantages and disadvantages they bring to your content, and how to start integrating them into your content strategy.

What are long-tail keywords?

Long-tail keywords are keywords that are more specific and highly-targeted than short-tail keywords. They tend to have lower search volume, but because they are more specific and tailored to users’ unique needs, they also tend to be less competitive.

What puts the “long” in “long-tail”

The vast majority of Google search terms are long-tail keywords, with recent studies putting the figure somewhere between 70 and 92 percent. This leads us to where these search terms get their name. Many long-tail keywords have three or more words, which has led some SEOs to believe the name refers to the length of the search terms. However, long-tail keywords can be shorter than three words, and vice-versa.

In fact, “long-tail” refers to where these terms fall on the search demand curve. Ahrefs provides a useful graphic demonstrating this. When you put all possible search terms on a graph, there’s a high spike of mega-popular short-tail keywords with very high competition – i.e., so many people are searching for these terms that it’s virtually impossible to rank for them without a huge marketing budget. But as search volume falls, we enter a “long tail” of highly targeted, low-competition search terms that are more specific in nature.

A closer look: “SEO” vs. “SEO company los angeles”

Consider the difference between the terms “seo” and “seo company los angeles.” When we ran these terms in our keyword research tool, we could see that the first term has a search volume of 135,000. At first glance, this seems great – that’s a whole lot of people searching for the term “seo” every month, so it makes sense that you’d want to get your content in front of all those eyes.

But because this term is in such high demand, it’s also difficult to rank for. In fact, our tool gave it a difficulty score of 76.49 out of 100. If you wanted to rank for the term “seo,” you’d have to beat out industry giants like Moz, Ahrefs, Search Engine Land, and Search Engine Journal, plus Google and Wikipedia.

The second term, on the other hand, has only 2,400 monthly searches and is much easier to rank for, with a score of 53.67. If you’re thinking 2,400 monthly searches seems paltry compared to the 135,000 going for “seo,” think about the search intent behind “seo company los angeles.” Someone searching “seo” could be looking for any number of things, but it’s pretty clear what someone searching for “seo company los angeles” wants. If you’re an SEO company in Los Angeles, and you do a good job targeting this keyword with high-quality content, you stand to turn some of those 2,400 monthly searchers into actual clients.

The huge proportion of search terms that long-tail keywords make up, paired with the specificity and targeted nature of these terms, have led thought leaders like Neil Patel to call long-tail keywords the “holy grail of SEO.”

The pros of long-tail keywords

1. Long-tail keywords can help new or low-authority pages rank quickly.

Google ranks web pages according to a few factors, including authority, quality, and relevance. One reason the rankings for high-competition keywords are dominated by a few giant industry players is that these pages tend to have higher “authority” in the form of backlinks. In the SEO example, tons and tons of pages link back to Moz, Wikipedia, Search Engine Land, etc., signaling to Google that these pages are trustworthy – i.e., authoritative.

But if your webpage is newer, and/or you just haven’t managed to attract enough backlinks, your “authority” won’t be able to compete, even if your content is the highest quality it can possibly be.

In this case, you can gain a strategic advantage by being more relevant to your target audiences. By targeting long-tail keywords that are more specific in nature, you can create highly relevant content that answers these search terms better than other pages. You then stand a chance at ranking for these lower-competition keywords even without a ton of backlinks propping up your page or blog post.

2. Long-tail keywords can lead to higher conversion rates.

Let’s go back to our “seo company los angeles” example. As mentioned, it’s pretty obvious what the person who types this search phrase into Google is looking for. In fact, it’s likely that this person is getting pretty close to pulling the trigger on an SEO service, depending on what the search results offer up.

We would say that this user is low in the sales funnel, or that they are highly qualified lead – their search intent is higher than someone simply searching for information. They want a specific service. This is the kind of person searching with long-tail keywords, and it’s exactly the kind of person you want to reach.

Why? Because when they find good content that answers their questions, high-intent users are more likely to convert. Targeting long-tail keywords is a crucial strategy for increasing your conversion rate.

The cons of long-tail keywords

Long-tail keywords have low search volume

The low search volume of long-tail keywords is really the only meaningful drawback of this type of search term. If no one is searching for a particular term, there’s no point in targeting it – because no one will actually find it. If you’re pursuing a content strategy, you need to make sure someone is actually finding your content.

This can be remedied by simply making sure you target keywords with some monthly search volume. Your mileage may vary depending on the nature of your company, but we’d say at least 20-50 searches per month is a good minimum.

The pros outweigh the cons

If you ask us, the pros of long-tail keywords vastly outweigh the cons. Even a search term with a very low volume can be valuable if it’s easier to rank for and can lead to more conversions by attracting higher-intent target audiences.

How to find and utilize long-tail keywords

1. Identify your mission.

Long-tail keywords are valuable because they’re specific and highly-targeted. Used wisely, they can help you show users what sets your business apart from the others. The folks at Yoast recommend clearly identifying your mission before performing keyword research. That way, when it comes time to choose which long-tail keywords to target, you can make sure they reflect exactly what your business provides. In other words, it does no good to target a lower-volume search phrase like “seo company los angeles” unless you are actually an SEO company in Los Angeles.

2. Use Google.

One quick, free way to get started finding long-tail keywords is to just use Google. If you type a general term like “pasta recipes” into the search bar, you’ll see more specific, long-tail keywords start popping up.

3. Use keyword research tools.

Our favorite is SEMRush, but there are plenty of other high-powered keyword research tools out there that may better fit your needs. You can also try free tools like Answer the Public.

Once you’ve identified your mission and a number of long-tail keywords you’re confident you can target with quality content, it’s time to craft some blog topics around those keywords and throw them onto a content calendar. You’ll be creating quality blog posts aimed at high-value leads in no time.

Have questions about keyword research or anything else related to content marketing? We’re always happy to talk shop. Get in touch with the Redefine team today.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mauricio has close to 20 years of digital experience and a core foundation in the technical side of SEO. He’s led and executed strategy both in-house and on the agency side and enjoys defining successful strategies for our clients.
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