Stop thinking about long-tail keywords and start focusing on searcher intent

long tail lemur

Over the years, the usefulness of certain types of keywords has been debated, analyzed, celebrated, and even disparaged.

Long-tail keywords – those specific phrases of low-volume but perhaps higher-quality queries from searchers who are closer to taking action on procuring the product or service they seek – have certainly received a heck of a lot of recognition for their value to marketers.

However, I am here to declare the demise of these keywords that we held in such high regard only a few short years ago.

Please let me explain…

As the use of search has evolved and search engine optimization has become commonplace, businesses have succeeded in increasing their visibility in search results and made adjustments to be most visible for those queries they care most about.

This, by itself, would be fine; a positive and helpful thing actually, if the end effect was search results pages all containing exactly what the user was searching for. However, the issue we’ve seen is that queries on many broad keywords no longer provide the relevant results that a searcher wants.

A search engine user looking for information now often uses one of these two methods to arrive at the search results they need:

  1. They start with a broad search and continue to refine that search until they get to appropriately relevant results.
  2. They mentally refine their search, knowing the broad results will not bring what they want. So they begin with a more specific search and refine fewer times.

Certainly, longer search queries are becoming the norm. Part of the issue here is that Google has populated broad queries with many different universal result offerings… News, Images, Videos, Knowledge Graph. This moves those specific, relevant pages that many searchers are actually looking for further down the page – or possibly onto the next page.

Then, on top of those universal results, we have results like Wikipedia and educational or governmental pages that don’t exactly fit the intent of the user’s search either.

Now that searchers are finding it necessary to further and further refine their queries to get to the precise results that they want, I suggest that what we once called long-tail queries are now simply queries. The keywords that users now commonly rely upon are becoming so lengthy and diffuse that the distinction is lapsing into serving little function.

Thus, the term ‘long-tail’, to me, no longer exists. The once novel concept of paying attention to long-tail keyword queries is now so commonplace that it can go without being said. Long-tail keywords are now just the queries we all use to actually find what we need. Our ability to identify specific combinations of words that lead to our desired results will continue to evolve.

This is why the SEO community is moving away from the targeting of specific keywords or queries to instead thinking about themes and the searcher’s intent.

If we, as marketers, ditch our focus on query length and instead drive the focus toward the theme of the content, we can then start to adjust that content to make sure that what we are truly providing is the search destination that our potential clients and customers have in mind.

Ready to incorporate this mindset? Start with asking these three questions of your business’s website:

  1. Are we satisfying the searchers’/customers’ journey?
  2. Are we giving them what they need and in the way they need it?
  3. What do our customers need from us that we aren’t currently providing, but should?

Kevin Gamache is Senior Search Strategist at Wire Stone, an independent digital marketing agency for global Fortune 1000 brands.

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