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Long-tail keywords: what are they, and how do I get more of them?

Gareth Cartman

We all have a ‘trophy’ keyword that we’d like to rank for. Something that thousands of people search for every month. For example, if you sell used cars, you’d be over the moon if you could get top position for that phrase.

However, let’s face facts – you’re highly unlikely to beat, unless you invest thousands each month, over a sustained period. Even then, you’re playing catch up. By chasing a phrase like ‘used cars’, you’re running into a brick wall. Repeatedly. And that’s bound to hurt. 

This rather cute image from Left Click illustrates the long tail perfectly:

There are very few high-volume search terms to go after – but there are many low-volume search terms. Let’s take the used cars example. A simple long-tail keyword would be “used Ford cars in Maidenhead” (assuming that you sell second-hand Fords in Maidenhead). Relatively few searches, but it will potentially be much easier to compete. After all, how many Maidenhead-based second-hand Ford dealers are there?

Long-tail keywords, by nature, are more specific – and therefore more targeted. As a result, they tend to convert at a much higher rate than their ‘trophy’ counterparts.

Of course, chasing one single long-tail keyword is just as counter-productive as chasing one single ‘trophy’ keyword. So, we need a keyword and content strategy (also called an SEO strategy) that allows us to understand – and maximise – the potential of the long-tail.

Uncovering more of the long tail

There are tools for doing your keyword research – the best of which is probably Google’s External Keyword Tool. However, just talking to customers, and understanding the words they use, is equally as powerful.

Simply by inputting the word ‘used cars’ into the Google tool allows you to see a whole host of keywords – and the volume of searches they receive.

This rather rudimentary ‘tag cloud’ of words illustrates the keyword potential around the term ‘used cars’.

There may not be too many searches for ‘ford fiesta used cars berkshire’ – but there certainly won’t be too many competitors for the phrase. The more you look at the ‘tag cloud’ of words, the more combinations you can make – and the more long-tail keywords you can find.

We use this tactic all the time, because it’s so powerful. It helps us - and our customers - understand the huge variety of keywords used for just one single topic, and it helps us devise content and link-building strategies with real focus and real potential.

Capitalising upon the long tail

Now the best bit – implementing it. Remember, there are real people using your website, so don’t go spam-tastic and include every word. Think about how you structure your content in a logical sense, and then about how you include as wide a range of keywords as possible.

For instance, you may want your home page to capture the majority of the traffic, while your sub-pages could focus on makes of car, your location, or low mileage cars. So, your home page title could be “Good condition Ford Used Cars Dealership in Maidenhead, Berkshire”, allowing you to capture keywords such as “used cars dealership maidenhead” and “good condition used cars berkshire”. Within the header tags and the content of the page, you can start to weave other elements of your tag-cloud, including “second-hand”, “dealers” and others.

You can then think about your sub-pages. For example, “Low Mileage Used Ford Cars in Maidenhead, Berkshire”. The key part of this page title is obviously “low mileage” – so use that keyword on other pages within your site (preferably a blog or a news page), and link to the low-mileage page.

Using long-tail search to boost non-sales visits

Why on earth would I want to boost visits to my website that don’t make sales? I hear you ask.

For a start – if someone is researching a topic, there’s a chance they may – in the future – enter the buying cycle. So, imagine what your potential customers might be thinking before they buy a car. It could be:

  • “Which Ford car has the best fuel economy?”
  • “What is the best Ford car for large families?”
  • “What price would I expect to pay for a 2005-reg Ford Focus?”

These visitors may not necessarily become customers right away, but through engaging with your website now, you’ve got a chance at recapturing them as repeat visitors. Repeat visitors, by the way, almost always have a higher conversion rate.

Among our customers, we have many examples of repeat visitors starting with the longest of the long tail before refining themselves through the short-tail and eventually the brand. The strongest of those are the sites with blogs, newsletters and downloadable content that answers questions and solves problems.

When crafting content for these pre-buying-cycle articles, think about your market. Think about their pain points, and think about how you can help them solve their problems. Then use your Keyword tool to discover long-tail keyword groups that you can use in the page title, the headers and the content, maximising your potential exposure. Open yourself up to the many varieties of questioning that a user might try for a topic, but above all: make sure it makes sense!

Image credit to JayceLoop (Flickr/CC):