There’s More to Keyword Strategy Than the Long Tail

Choosing which keywords you want to chase in your SEO (define) strategy can be a challenging task. Go after terms that are too competitive, and you might not get there, or even if you do, it might take too long. Go after terms that are easier to rank high for, and you’re likely to get there much faster.

You could be leaving lots of money on the table, though.

Opinions on keyword strategies are varied. For example, Hamlet Batista, founder of search marketing firm, posted reasons why you should target the most competitive keywords, while Jennifer Laycock took the opposite tack in “Five Reasons to Aim Low When You’re Just Learning SEO.”

What’s my take? I thought you’d never ask.

Spread the Field: Information Architecture

Just like a quarterback in the NFL gives himself lots of options with short, medium, and long passing routes, you should spread the field. This means building a site architecture and content plan that gives you the opportunity to score at all levels.

Here’s a Super Bowl strategy for your keyword research and selection. Tom Brady or Eli Manning could win the big game by spreading the field, although it looks like Manning needs more help with SEO.

We all need to start with basic questions such as “What business am I in?” and “How will my Web site support that business?”

Once you answer questions like these, you then need to think about the keywords users will type in at a search engine when they are looking for products or services like yours.

Keyword Brainstorming and Keyword Selection Tools

Begin by brainstorming those terms with your internal team, and then turn to tools like Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery to find more terms of interest. Take the trouble to compile a comprehensive list, even down to relatively small volume terms.

Then take a look at what content and tools you have available, and what content and tools you are able to add to the site. Start matching this content with the keywords that you have researched. Doing this properly may be the most important part of putting together a plan for your site.

Prioritize Site Usability

Make usability of the site your number one priority. It’s important to not treat this as a game that you’re playing with the search engines. You’ll achieve results in two key areas: focusing on conversions, and creating a site that encourgages people to link to your content.

Group your keywords into logical categories. Keywords can be broken out by geography, product category, or many other ways that make sense to your business and your customers. Use the keywords as a window into how the users think about your products and services.

OK, Now What?

Now that a basic keyword strategy is in place, it’s time to dig into the details a bit.

Should you compete for the major keywords terms?

Absolutely. If you run a national mortgage business, you should be competing on terms like “mortgage” and “refinance.” There are few terms more competitive than these.

But, don’t stop there. To continue with our example, in the mortgage space there are lots of ways to go to the next tier of terms. There are many different types of mortgage products. People also search by geography in this market. There’s a rich opportunity to define pages and content for pages that target these second tier terms.

Better still, there are thousands of third terms. You don’t want to implement Web pages for each remote term people might use. You can put deep content on pages designed for second tier terms and let the content do the work for you.

This is how you get to those third tier terms while maintaining a site architecture that’s focused on your users.

What Do We Gain?

We achieve four major objectives:

  1. Your site architecture remains focused on your user’s needs. By understanding your business and site goals first, you can better understand how your users think about your site with in-depth keyword research.
  2. You’re now competing for the most competitive terms in your business. Play to win.
  3. You’re competing for second tier terms in your vertical. That’s just being smart. Your users will likely want to see content related to those keywords. Search engines will respect deeper content, too.
  4. You’re also competing for third tier terms (aka the “Long Tail“). Why do you care since the volume is so low? Simple, these terms are less competitive. You’ll start ranking for these terms before you start ranking for second tier and first tier terms.

The Beauty of the Long Tail

In every business, the highest volume terms get far more traffic than third tier terms, sometimes even hundreds of thousands of times more. For example, a user might type in a phrase like “digital camera.” A quick spot check of Wordtracker shows this generic term received 2,238 searches per day over the last 30 days. Pretty impressive.

A branded keyword listing like “canon digital camera” is still very strong with 580 searches per day. This is an example of a great second tier term. Terms like “canon digital slr camera” get only 10 searches per day. This is an example of a long tail term.

The cumulative volume of all of those long tail terms almost equals the volume of your first tier terms. So there’s a lot of opportunity here. In addition, people who type in a term like “canon digital slr camera” are probably much closer to making a purchase than someone who searches for a “digital camera.”

Executive Summary

When you spread the field with your keyword strategy, you can begin to make money quickly with long tail terms. Money fuels every business.

Spreading the field enables you to enjoy watching the places where you receive search traffic steadily move up the search engine food chain.

Join us for SES London February 19-21 and for training classes on February 22.

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