When you think of your target keywords, you're likely to think of a 2-3 word phrase, otherwise known as a short tail keyword, and you wouldn't be wrong.
Long tail keywords are associated with lower search volume and often dismissed as lower value, but this shouldn’t be the case.
If you’re in a highly competitive niche, long tail keywords may be your only way to get traffic, especially if you’re competing with higher authority domains.
In this article, I’ll dive into what long tail keywords are, how to find them, and how to use them best.
Long tail keywords are typically phrases 3-5 words long.
When we search with just one keyword, the chances are that while we know what topic we’re searching for, we don’t know exactly what we’re searching for.
This isn’t usually the case when using long tail keywords.
An example of a long tail keyword search is "12 red roses bouquet."
Compared to a short-tail keyword search of "roses," the intention is much clearer — the user knows what they want.
The extra information in this search enables Google to show better-matched results in the SERP, resulting in higher CTR.
Outside of the SERP, it also impacts your conversion rate. As you’re serving up specific pages that match the intent, the user is more likely to convert.
In the example above, the intent is to buy "12 red roses."
You can see this reflected in the SERP.
For "roses," however, due to the less specific query, Google is trying to match multiple intents at once.
We start to see a video show on the SERP.
Knowledge panels providing you with informational content.
People also ask boxes.
And a mixture of informational and commercial pages.
How many words is a long tail keyword?
Historically, long tail keywords are regarded as at least three words long.
But long tail isn't about the length; it’s the specificity of the query.
For example, "how to store bananas" is a long tail keyword. But the intent is the same as "storing bananas," which isn't long tail, but they ask the same question.
The phrase "long tail" is due a revamp as Google has become better at understanding how different queries have the same intent.
Short-tail vs. long tail: what's the difference?
While long tail keywords are usually three to five words long, short-tail are, as the name suggests, shorter at one or two words.
As I’ve mentioned, I disagree with this historical categorization.
I’d categorize "short-tail" keywords as generic searches without a specific intent. Long tail keywords have searches with a clear and unambiguous intent.
It’s worth noting that there are different specificity levels, and you can’t just categorize all keywords as either short or long and call it a day.
Let’s take a look at a search for "jeans."
Google is deciding that people who search for "jeans" tend to want jeans for women.
But they’ve got one men’s jeans page in there just in case. If we refine that query to "men’s jeans," the intent is more obvious.
Better yet, a more specific query could be "men’s black jeans ripped."
All three of the above different levels of specificity should be categorized and grouped separately in your keyword research.
For example, ‘jeans’ would be categorized as ‘Low’ specificity, ‘mens Jeans’ as ‘Medium’ and ‘mens black jeans ripped’ as ‘High’.
By doing this, you can quickly identify high-intent keywords that are likely to result in both a higher CTR and higher conversion rates if you create landing pages specifically catering towards the query.
While they might not get as much traffic as a short-tail keyword, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you forget about long tail keywords.
Aside from making up the overwhelming majority of searches, there are several other reasons to add them to your strategy, including:
#1 They tend to convert better
As we explored earlier, long tail keywords convert better because the intent is more specific.
Not only does the searcher have a clearer idea of what they’re looking for, but Google can also bring up better, more aligned results on the SERP.
Also, by providing pages servicing that intent, the user will land on the right page they’re looking for without navigating the site.
For ecommerce, pages targeting the long tail mean users don’t need to use filters and faceted navigation to find the products they’re looking for. Instead, users enter the site on a perfectly matched page to the query, making the experience from search engine to website frictionless and reducing the steps required to purchase.
Go check out this Ecommerce SEO guide that I wrote on how you can develop a potential SEO strategy.
#2 The difficulty is lower
Because every SEO typically targets short-tail keywords, there’s far less competition for ranking long tail keywords.
Think about it. If you’re a newcomer in the fashion sector looking to rank for the term "jeans," you’re going to have a hard time when there are the likes of Levi, ASOS, and H&M, and that’s just to name a few.
But once you start looking at terms such as “vegan leather jeans," having a chance at getting the first page of the SERP isn’t beyond hope!
Beyond SEO, less PPC competition can mean a lower cost per click when you advertise.
Because long tail keywords are easier to rank for, it means you’ll open yourself up to many more opportunities that are much more achievable if you’re a lesser-known brand.
#3 Long tail keywords can help you rank for broader terms.
We’ve already seen Google provide a mixture of content for generic keywords with unclear intent.
But still, we want to rank for those generic keywords, right?
There is still a lot of value and traffic to be had for ranking well for them.
One of the best ways to start ranking for more generic keywords is to cover the multiple intents users could have when they search them.
For example, you’ll struggle to rank for a broad query like ‘jeans’ if you’ve only got one page on your site for jeans.
A site that has pages and content covering all the potential intents for such a query such as ‘mens jeans’, ‘womens jeans’, ‘blue mens jeans’, ‘what to wear with black jeans’ is far more likely to rank because they’ve got much better topic coverage.
Google’s knowledge graph and various algorithms such as BERT and RankBrain have improved their understanding of topics and how queries within a topic are related to one another.
With a correctly implemented URL structure, internal linking, and some structured data, you can give multiple signals to Google that your site covers a topic well, boosting how you rank for all keywords that fit within that topic. This is why concepts like topic clustering works so well.
If you want to take this a step further, cover both generics and long tail variations within a topic cluster. This is where you have "pillar pages" that satisfy multiple intents by internal linking to all the "cluster pages," those being the long tail keywords you’re targeting (more on this later).
Now we know just how vital long tail keywords can be, it’s time to understand how you can find them.
Just like with your usual keyword research, there are several routes you can go down, and the SERP is a great place to start.
People also ask
Familiar with this?
That’s a people also ask box, and the drop-down reveals similar questions people also search for.
These questions are all related to the query you entered, so they’re likely to be very relevant and give you a good idea of what else people want to know. Content ideas galore!
A handy tool to use, AlsoAsked.com shows questions based upon people also ask results, and it can be filtered by language or region.
Simply type in your seed keyword and search, and you’ll see a whole host of related questions.
It might not be one that you’d think of straight away, but popular question-based forums like Quora can be a long tail keyword goldmine.
Forums are full of people asking questions, and because they’re so popular, there are hundreds and thousands if not millions of users on them.
These are real people (for the most part!) asking real questions, and chances are if they’re asking them, other people will want to know the answer too.
Another added benefit is that these users are searching using natural language that helps generate ideas for seed keywords when doing keyword research. You’ll often find experts use terminology that a user might not use or understand. This terminology is then used on landing pages, resulting in the language being used that isn’t great for users or search.
If you want to find questions being asked on a topic in Quora, simply search on Google using the site search operator like this "site:quora.com men’s jeans."
You’ll soon come across a lot of long tail keyword opportunities.
"Searches related to"
It’s easy to miss, but this is another handy tool to assist in your keyword research.
Scroll to the bottom of the SERP, and you’ll see "Searches related to...". It’s similar to people also ask, but rather than questions, it’s a whole host of long tail variations of the original search query.
These suggestions are convenient ways to find long tail keywords that you can be confident real people are searching. However, it’s a manual process, and if this isn’t for you, or maybe you’re restricted by time, there are a couple of tools that can help.
Google Search Console
Performance reports in Google Search Console (GSC) are an excellent resource for finding potential long tail keywords to target.
An easy way to highlight keywords is by heading to the pages report and selecting a page.
Then, go back to the queries report and find long tail variations you could be better optimized for:
Ahrefs Keyword Explorer
A favorite keyword research tool for many, Ahrefs also has some handy tools for finding long tail keywords.
You have a couple of options here.
The first is to head to the "Phrase match" report after entering your seed keyword. In this example, we'll use "whiskey" as our seed keyword.
Next, use the word count filters when you’re in the report to look for longer phrases.
However, as mentioned, specific long tail keywords could also be less than that four-word starting limit. So by doing this, you could miss out on opportunities.
This leads us to the second option.
As long tail keywords typically have a lower search volume and are easier to rank, you can use the volume and difficulty filters and enter a max value.
As you can see from the above, with a keyword difficulty max of 10 and a volume max of 250, the majority of keywords are long tail.
Using tools like these is an easy and quick way to find a mass of long tail keywords!
Now you’ve got a long tail keyword set; it’s time to create a content strategy that will help you use them as best as possible.
#1 Understand when to use a separate article vs. a broader guide (SERP Analysis)
You have two options when it comes to long tail keywords.
You can either create an article revolving solely around those terms or create a broader guide and targeting several of your long tail keywords throughout the content.
A shorter article is excellent when you want to answer a specific question, but that can mean you will be creating many articles to cover a topic.
You need to consider the intent of the search.
For someone searching "how to store bananas," they will just want the answer to that question.
Your guide on the entire history of bananas and everything to do with them isn’t useful to that user!
Comprehensive guides covering broad topics often deliver a poor user experience from the SERP to the webpage.
One of the best ways to determine whether an individual guide is required is to check the SERP. In our banana example, you can see a specific guide on storing bananas is needed.
Google understands that generic banana guides with a section on storage aren’t fulfilling that user’s intent.
#2 Structure your content effectively
Structuring content effectively is one of the key ways you rank for long tail keywords.
There are several ways I structure content to incorporate long tail keywords naturally.
Not only will this help incorporate long tail keywords into your content quickly and naturally, but it can also help with capturing people also ask and featured snippets SERP features.
#3 Use topic clustering
Once you understand the specificity of queries, you can organize your site structure with generic keywords targeted on pillar pages and long tail variations as cluster pages.
Here is an example topic cluster sticking with the banana theme.
As there is a lot of content on the topic, I’d create a topic cluster with two levels of pillar pages. The overarching topic is "bananas," which would then break down into four more "subtopic" pillar pages:
Each subtopic would then link out to the different cluster pages that fit within that subtopic.
Here is an example structure:
These articles are all relevant to one another, so cross-linking between them within the content should be considered.
Want some more examples? Here are a few:
Hopefully, this guide has helped you understand the benefits of a long tail SEO strategy and why it should be one of your critical tactics for growing your site’s or client’s site traffic.