Using Long-Tail Keywords for Better SEO

An Introduction to Long-Tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords are powerful weapons in the battle to boost your search engine rankings. While most content writers understand that they need to utilize keywords in order to get high rankings in search engine results, many do not know that there are different types of keywords. The two major types of keywords used in common SEO practice are long-tail and short-tail keywords.

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Short-Tail vs. Long-Tail Keywords

Short-tail keywords contain one or two words that have high search volume. Short-tail keywords generally indicate that the search engine user is looking for information on a broad topic. Examples of short-tail keywords include “Apple computers,” “easy recipes,” and “SEO.” These keywords receive a high volume of searches each month, and the competition to rank highly in search engine results for these keywords is fierce.
Long-tail keywords contain three to five words that have varying degrees of search volume. These keywords are generally specific phrases or questions that users search for, such as “how to choose Apple products,” “easy chicken casserole recipes,” and “SEO tips for entertainment bloggers.” Because long-tail keywords are more specific than short-tail keywords, SEO competition is less fierce.
Long-tail keywords are typically searched for between a few hundred and a few thousand times each month, while most short-tail keywords solicit tens of thousands of searches each month. At first it seems counterintuitive to intentionally choose keywords that receive less search volume than others, but it is actually a powerful way to boost your SEO rankings. Competition for short-tail keywords is intense. If your blog or website is not already well-known, it is almost impossible to get featured on the first page of search engine results for a short-tail keyword.

The Role of Authority in Search Engine Rankings

When determining which sites feature prominently in search engine results, the major search engines like Google and Bing consider a variety of factors. One of the top factors considered by their ranking algorithms is authority. An authoritative site features high quality content by subject experts, and content writers tend to have some level of recognition and authority in their chosen field. For example, the top results for the short-tail keyword “health” will always be from highly authoritative websites like WebMD, CNN and Wikipedia. A fledgling blog or website stands little to no chance of competing with these highly authoritative websites in search engine rankings for such a heavily searched keyword.
On the other hand, smaller sites and blogs have a huge advantage in search engine rankings for long-tail keywords. Small sites have the freedom to specialize, and they can target niche topics in which they have both knowledge and authority. Search engines consider specialization when ranking results according to authority, which is why choosing targeted long-tail keywords is such a crucial part of achieving the search engine rankings and traffic you want. A relatively obscure website can make it to the top simply by targeting the specific phrases and questions that search engine users are searching for.
Search engines view long-tail keywords as more authoritative for searches with clearly specific intent. Even though long-tail keywords have fewer searches, your blog or website is much more likely to receive traffic from those searches than from the great quantity of short-tail keyword searches.

Keyword Competition in SEO

Because there is less competition for long-tail keywords, it is much easier to gain traffic for them. When you use a popular short-tail keyword, few users will sift through the many pages of more popular search results featuring the same keyword to get to yours. Search engines are all about convenience, after all. Even if the short-tail keyword has hundreds of thousands of searches every month, only a few of those users are likely to click on your search result unless your website is already recognized as highly authoritative on the subject.
On the other hand, there are fewer results to compete with when you use a long-tail keyword. With less to choose from, users are much more likely to click on your search results. The long-tail keyword may only have a few hundred searches every month, but if half of those users end up clicking on your search result, you gain more traffic than you would have from the handful of short-tail searchers.

How to Find Long-Tail Keywords

There are many free tools available online to help you find effective long-tail keywords to include in your content. The most commonly used keyword tool in SEO by far is Google Keywords. Google Keywords allows you to search for a single phrase or topic related to your content and returns a list of related searches. The keyword results are long-tail and short-tail keywords that contain the exact spelling and phrasing of actual searches.
Google Keywords displays the search volume for each keyword so you can see how many users are searching for your keyword every month. This tool is a great way to find out what users are looking for and the language they use to refer to concepts within your field. Use Google Keywords to target long-tail keywords that have decent search volume and low competition. Once you familiarize yourself with this essential tool, there are more advanced keyword analytics programs on the market to try. Many are free, but some require a nominal subscription fee to gain access to more advanced features.

Common Mistakes in Long-Tail Keyword

The most common mistake made by people who use long-tail keywords to boost their search engine rankings is stuffing a page with unnecessary keywords. This is known as “keyword stuffing,” and it is a practice that search engines penalize heavily. Long-tail keywords are sometimes awkward to fit into a page. When choosing a long-tail keyword to use, read it aloud and try to fit it into a sentence. If it blends into the sentence naturally, you have a winner; if it sounds awkward and you have to contort your word structure just to include it in a way that is grammatically correct, choose another long-tail keyword.
Another option for long-tail keywords that are too awkwardly phrased to fit organically into the body of your content is to use them as headings. It is important that the body of your content is rich in keywords, but never neglect an opportunity to include long-tail keywords in your title and subheadings. Search engines view content that does not use subheadings less favorably and are much less likely to index the content highly in a list of search results.

Summarizing Long-Tail Keyword Strategy

Once you familiarize yourself with the basics of using long-tail keywords to improve search engine rankings, it is important to return to the motivation you had for doing so in the first place. Long-tail keywords are an incredibly powerful SEO tool, but they are only as effective as the content in which you use them. If you use long-tail keywords irresponsibly and don’t take the time to make sure they fit naturally within the context of the page, search engines will eventually take notice.
Even if a page overstuffed with long-tail keywords taken out of their proper context initially receives a rankings boost, search engine algorithms will pick up on the misuse and your rankings will eventually be downgraded. On the other hand, if you produce high quality content and use long-tail keywords efficiently and appropriately, they will keep a steady flow of traffic coming to your website over time.