Long-tail keywords are not a new SEO concept. However, thanks to the Google Panda and Penguin updates, webmasters and search marketing experts are now paying more attention to what was, for a long time, an overlooked device. In this post, we look at their effectiveness in modern-day SEO and content marketing.
The use of long-tail keywords became essential about six years ago, when marketers realised that those keywords were more targeted, usually had less competition, and made it easier to assess a searcher’s intent.
Unlike other SEO techniques which have faded into obscurity, the idea of using long-tail keywords still works today. Now that Google has started to pay more attention to the quality and variety of each website's link profile, webmasters are revisiting old and proven strategies.
Why Long-Tail Keywords Work
Long-tail keywords work for several reasons.
First, they account for a huge percentage of search traffic.
Second, they are much easier to achieve good rankings for, because there’s less competition. This typically means lower search volumes, but by targeting a wider set of keywords rather than relying on one or two high-competition terms, you can usually make up some up the difference.
And third, because they are so descriptive, you can be confident that if someone searches for your chosen keyword, it is because they are interested in your service, product or content.
Imagine you sell small forges for hobbyist blacksmiths. The word "forge" is difficult to rank for, as it could refer to forgeries, the video game called Forge or any one of a huge number of brands that contain that word.
Even "craft forge" is hard to rank for due to similar issues. Instead of trying to achieve high rankings for such a general keyword, it makes sense to focus on far more descriptive terms.
Web users know they need to be quite specific with their search queries if they want to find relevant pages. They know that searching for ‘forge’ will bring up only a few choice pearls floating on a sea of irrelevance, so they’ll search for things like ‘home blast forge for blacksmiths’ or ‘buy small blacksmithing forge’.
If you were to take an old-fashioned SEO approach and stuff content with terms like ‘buy small blacksmithing forge’, though, you’d end up with on-page content that reads badly.
Search engines and searchers love good content, so you shouldn’t sacrifice well-written, informative copy for the sake of stuffing some long-tail keywords in there.
Nowadays, you shouldn’t worry about getting lots of long tail keywords in your content verbatim. Instead, you should think of them as ‘idea generators’ for your content writing.
So instead of trying to include ‘home blast forge for blacksmiths’ in your content five times, you should try to cover as wide a base as possible when it comes to targeting search queries.
‘Blast forge’ might be your main keyword, but you can use your research into long-tail search queries to guide the rest of your content. Looking at the examples already given, you might also try to include the words ‘home’, ‘blacksmiths’, ‘blacksmithing’, ‘small’ and ‘buy’ too.
Search engines are cleverer than they used to be. You’re better off giving them gentle nudges in the right direction, rather than huge, flashing neon signs saying ‘BUY SMALL BLACKSMITHING FORGE HERE’.
Good Keywords Drive Great Content
Similarly, you can use your research into long-tail keywords to generate great content.
If you've ever tried to come up with a steady stream of articles for a niche website, you know how difficult it can be to come up with ideas for interesting content when all you have to work with is a single keyword.
By taking the time to come up with some long-tail keywords, the process of generating ideas becomes a little smoother. For example, if you sell crafting equipment for amateur metalworkers, you could end up with some long tail keywords and phrases which make interesting titles.
Perhaps, in this instance, you could write about choosing a good forge, what safety equipment amateurs would need to buy, or how to take care of it once they’ve made a purchase.
Remember that achieving good search rankings is only half the battle.
Once you have attracted visitors to your website, they need to be convinced to convert and return.
That's what writing good content does.
The soon-to-be discontinued Google AdWords Keyword Tool can help you come up with ideas for low competition, high-search-volume keywords (once it’s discontinued you’ll have to make the switch to the Google AdWords Keyword Planner).
Ultimately, though, it's your job to determine which keywords have the right searcher intent. And it’s also your job to create content that will turn those visitors into customers.