Long-tail keywords were all the rage just a few, short years ago, but what made them such a hot commodity back then? To understand why they were so popular years ago, we have to look at the climate of the Internet back then. For one thing, rankings on search pages were easier to get anyway, and competition for rankings was less fierce, too. As a result, it was relatively easier to optimize for webpages that targeted long-tail keywords.
Essentially, they were seen as a phenomenal way to obtain search traffic. This makes sense when you realize that they provide an exceptional way to exploit search traffic. Today, they’re experiencing a renewal of popularity, and with good reason. Compared to short-tail keywords, which are also called head terms and usually no longer than just two words, long-tail keywords enjoy much less competition around them. This can benefit your SEO rankings.
In addition, while they always worked well in the past, long-tail keywords work even better today. This has mainly to do with changing views from Google and natural language, as you’ll soon find out.
Defining Long-Tail Keywords
Let’s first understand what they are. Long-tail keywords are more specific and much longer keywords than the usual search terms that people normally type into Google. For instance, think “how do you tie a necktie properly” versus “necktie.” See how the former is a lot more specific and reveals the user’s intent a lot more clearly than the latter search term?
As a result, long-tail keywords are actually less popular since fewer people are actively searching for them. This also means they have less search volume and less competition that they must rank for. They have less competition since fewer people will—referencing the example above again—search for “how do you tie a necktie properly” versus those who simply type in “necktie.”
In addition, there are major differences between long- and short-tail keywords when you look at metrics. The key takeaway to remember is that long-tail keywords are significantly more profitable to marketers and companies than short-tail keywords can ever be. To be more exact about it, long-tail keywords are generally 66% more profitable than their shorter counterparts.
This profitability can be applied all across the board in the metrics that matter the most. These include the click through rate (CTR) and the conversion rate.
Google Search Trends: Asking Questions
One of the big reasons that long-tail keywords are back in the forefront of things is that Google is increasingly approaching its search results as if they were a real, live person. Let’s explore this further because it is ultra-interesting.
Over the past few years, Google has reshaped its approach to search results to make it so that they become a direct source of answers instead of just providers of various sources from which people can find answers. This is by no means a small distinction!
The fact alone that Google has reworked its search results in this way is largely because of the types of searches that people are conducting. They’re increasingly typing in questions, which are by nature long-tail keywords, instead of succinct short-tail keywords. Let’s say someone’s curious about the weather. They’re much likelier these days to type in “What’s the weather like in Los Angeles?” instead of “L.A. weather.”
This has caused Google to respond in kind, and this has driven the renewed popularity of these long-tail keywords. This trend is only going to get more intensive, as more people will be spoiled and expect to get direct answers from Google when they type in search questions.
Long-Tail Keywords and User Intent
One big advantage to long-tail keywords is that they make it pretty easy to figure out what the user intent of the searcher is. This advantage simply can’t be present when you’re dealing with short-tail keywords, as you’ll soon see. User intent is essentially what the user is really looking for when he’s searching for something on Google or any other search engine.
Let’s look at two examples to illustrate this point.
If a user types “car alarm” into a search engine, then you don’t really have a clue as to what the user’s looking for because the context is absent. The user could be looking for where to buy them or what the best ones are.
Now, if a user types “car alarm that doesn’t cost much” into a search engine, you understand immediately what his user intent is. He’s clearly looking for affordable car alarms that won’t cost him an arm and a leg.
This user-intent knowledge also importantly helps with conversions because it can help website owners and SEO professionals optimize their sites all the more efficiently. As a bonus, you don’t even need to run complicated A/B testing with long-tail keywords, due to the explicit user intent.
Downside of Short-Tail Keywords
You may have been able to see by now that short-tail keywords have quite a few detriments to them. One of the biggest disadvantages by far to short-tail keywords is that they come complete with excessive competition and very monstrous search volume. Both of these things mean that obtaining high-quality search results with short-tail keywords is not that likely at all. This is still true even if both the information supplied is rich and the quality is very high.
This can be explained by the fact that your search results for short-tail keywords are not likely to be very accurately relevant. Just think back to the earlier examples of the comparisons between the long-and short-tail keyword searches.
On the flipside, though, long-tail keywords offer search results that are extremely relevant. In both practical and business terms, this equals a much greater conversion rate for websites that rank at the top for their specific long-tail searches. In addition, it also means less competition from other search results.
Long-Tail Keywords Have Less Competition
Another benefit to explain why long-tail keywords are increasingly popular (again) these days is that they simply have less competition in searches. Their nature is more complicated and less obvious; that’s why many users won’t think to type them into search engines as much as the short-tail keywords. After all, the competition for first-page results on Google searches is aggressive because only 10 slots are available. So why not help your chances by using long-tail keywords to reduce competition significantly?
We’ve already explained why long tails drive greater conversions. That’s why it’s prudent to try to rank 1 for every 100 for a long-tail keyword instead of trying to rank 1 for a really hard keyword, which would be almost impossible since the competition is—you guessed it—so aggressive.
Consequently, you can enjoy the benefits of more visitors who convert, a lower bounce rate and visitors who spend longer on any given webpage.
Since many SEO professionals still focus too much on short-tail keywords, you’ll alsofind it easier to pick the top spots for your long-tail keywords.
Looking Ahead to Google Now
Finally, we’re interested in what lies ahead for the future of search. This can be symbolized byGoogle Now, the “intelligent personal assistant” that you can download onto your smartphone. Google Now employs a “natural language user interface” that can answer your queries, offer recommendations and even execute actions. That means that the future of search lies in two things: mobile (already well on its way) and, now, natural language.
Essentially, users can just whip out their phones these days and talk right into them to obtain their answers to burning questions like:
“Where can we get great Japanese food in Los Angeles?”
“What’s the weather like today in Santa Barbara?”
“How can I make my teeth whiter?”
It’s not even really important anymore at this point just how these answers show up. They can come in the form of direct answers, links to various sites or even formatted text. The big takeaway here is that searches are increasingly becoming like casual conversations that you have with a search engine…almost like said search engine is your chum!
The Long Tail Is Here to Stay…for Good
Whereas the long tail was all the rage some years ago and then faded a bit, that’s not likely to happen this time around. Now, this highly useful and sometimes misunderstood keyword is making a huge resurgence and also revolutionizing the industry. You’ll never look at SEO quite the same again when you’ve fully understood what these types of keywords can do for your company, site and SEO.
It’s undeniable that users who know exactly what they’re searching for are behind this resurgence, as is the increasing use of both mobile and natural language, both highlighted very nicely in Google Now. This is the trend, andit’s only going to continue, of course, since the people who are using mobile are continually growing. You can take that to the bank!
The long tail is also amazing at driving greater conversions for any site, so it’s important to remember to optimize for long tails. Greater conversions obviously lead to more revenue, and we should all be able to agree that that’s always a good thing!