Long-tail keywords became accepted as a fantastic way to gain search traffic a few years ago. Rankings were easier to attain, competition was lower, and it was comparatively easier to optimize for pages that targeted such keywords.
It's been about six years since long-tail keywords became a hot SEO property. However, that's ancient history to many folks –many people have forgotten about this pot of gold.
But not only do long-tail keywords still work, we're in the midst of a strong resurgence of their value. They continue to be a powerful way to leverage search traffic, especially with the growing competition around highly-sought after core (or "head") keywords.
Also, long-tail keywords work much better than in the past. However, that's only the case when we have a clear understanding of how to make them work for our SEO purposes.
What's a Long Tail Keyword?
Essentially, long-tail keywords are less popular keywords because they have less search volume and less competition to rank for. Consider the following two examples: "home remedies for bed bugs" or "how to get rid of depression." These are each considered long-tail keywords as compared to trying to rank for the much more competitive search terms "bed bugs" or "depression".
Search Trends: Google is Becoming a Person
It's becoming increasingly clear that Google is trying to become a destination for people to get answers. Much like you'd ask a friend "what's the weather in Seattle?" or "how much is 45*7?" and expect to get an answer rather than a list of sources from which you could find your answer, Google is also heading in that direction. Try those searches in Google yourself and you'll get answers as results.
Google's focus on the mobile front is largely on Google Now – a system that gets you answers through voice commands in natural language.
This means that the current generation of web surfers will increasingly be typing in (or voicing) their queries on Google. Sure, a ton of people will still be looking up "bed bug remedies", but there will also be an increasingly large number of folks who are going to ask or type "what are the home remedies for bed bugs?" on Google.
And this is exactly what is sparking the resurgence of long-tail keyword targeting in SEO.
I've observed this trend among both young and old. Age demography is not so much of a criterion here; it's how new the person is to Google.
People who are beginning to use Google – who've seen Google give out direct answers to questions on weather, math, currency conversions, definitions, etc. – are going to just input their question into Google, expecting a relevant answer. That's the start of the long-tail resurgence. It's happening right now.
User Intent: The Key to Better Conversions
The best thing about a long-tail keyword is that you can instantly understand what's popularly known as user intent. Most SEO professionals focus more on ranking the page on top, but that's merely the beginning of the game for the website owner.
The final goal in most cases is to increase conversions: to make people click, to make them buy, to subscribe… to make people commit to some action on the website that ultimately converts to revenue.
The difference between "bed bugs" and "home remedies for bed bugs" is this:
- When a user searches for "bed bugs," you have very little idea what the user has in mind. Is the searcher looking for a solution to a buggy problem? Or is the person looking for general information about bed bugs? Perhaps the user is doing a survey on bed bugs.
- When a user searches for "home remedies for bed bugs," however, the user intent is much clearer: He's probably looking to get rid of the bugs. There's an instantly higher chance of being able to "sell" a bed bug-related product or solution.
Long-tail keywords are wonderfully revealing. You don't have to run A/B tests or take a guess at what the user wants; you can almost always be certain what the user is looking for. A clearer understanding of user intent is enormously helpful for conversions, and will directly influence your ROI across all efforts.
Core keyword searches with monstrous competition and search volume are rarely going to yield high-value results, even if the information is rich and the quality is top-notch. This is because they're unlikely to be accurately relevant.
On the other hand, with long-tail keywords, the results are highly relevant. This translates to a higher conversion rate for folks ranking at the top for long-tail searches, as well as less competition.
Long-tail keyword searches have less competition because of their nature; they often don't have a bull's-eye on them like the heavy-hitting core keywords. Since there are only 10 seats at Google's first-page table (less if you count the growing pervasiveness of Google's 7-result SERPs), the competition for core keywords is fierce.
But as we've seen, long-tail keywords usually result in a higher conversion rate. So, I'd argue that a better strategy than getting ranked number 1 for a difficult keyword is to rank number 1 for 100 long-tail keywords. In most cases, you'll have happier, higher-converting visitors, a lower bounce rate, and better time-on-page metrics.
Additionally, at the long-tail keyword level, your competitors are less likely to have professional prowess behind their efforts. In many cases, they'll be ranking for these long-tail keywords without even knowing it. Needless to say, this creates opportunity for you to cherry pick these top spots.
Performing a simple Google search can give you a clear idea of the competitive landscape.
And as if all that weren't enough, let's consider the future of search. It lies with two things: mobile and natural language. Think about iPhone's Siri or Android's Google Now.
Using these technologies, people just pull out their mobiles and "talk" to their phone to get answers these days. It doesn't matter how the answers show up; as direct answers, formatted text, links to websites (this is what we're looking at), etc. In any case, the method of search is becoming more like a conversation with the search engine.
Here are some samples:
- "Where's the nearest Italian restaurant?"
- "How do I get rid of back acne fast?"
- "Foods that are good for your skin?"
People are actually talking to their iPhones and Galaxys and asking these kinds of questions. Searches are becoming more of a long-tail question. And that means we're looking at the resurgence of long-tail keywords.
Image Credit: RWS Photo Blog