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What are long-tail keywords in the context of SEO? You might (not) know this already

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

They sound pretty simple. They're just a little longer than the average, right? But what are long-tail keywords in the context of SEO?

What are long-tail keywords in the context of SEO? A woman hides from a blackboard full of physics
"I understand completely. Something comparable to the wave and particle nature of light...?"

Why would they even be a thing?


Isn't it more difficult to get searchers to match your keyphrase if there are more words in it?


Well, yes. But also, confusingly, no.


So, yeah. Figuring out what long-tail keywords are is pretty simple.


The thinking behind why long-tail keywords are better is a little bit more involved.


Here's what you need to be thinking about when you're using them on your website:


What are long-tail keywords in the context of SEO?

The definition of a long-tail keyword is simply "a keyword phrase that is at least 2-3 words long (and often longer)."


(Although, in reality, the name refers to where they sit in the shape of the graph of overall keyphrase type distribution – in the "long tail".)


That's it. There's nothing more to it than that.


However, the idea behind using this type of keyphrase is to be more specific in your choice of target audience.


But why would that be a good thing? Isn't it big numbers that we're going for?

Competing for head keywords in your market niche is tricky - this child has cornered their own
"This is my niche. Get your own."

In short, it's because there is a lot of competition out there on ye olde Internet these days.


Pretty much any industry or niche you care to name will have somebody with a major online presence in it already.


In fact, in many industries, you'll be trying to squeeze in amongst a whole lot of other somebodies.


Cosy! As well as very difficult to compete with.


An example of long-tail keywords in action

Picture this scenario. Let's say you're a freelance content writer.


Now, many people provide SEO copywriting services online. They've already pretty much sewn up the market for short head keywords like “SEO”.


But also remember that a person entering an online search will rarely type in one single word, phrase, or acronym like “SEO” all on its lonesome.


They'll want to know the “best SEO practices 2023” or “how to do SEO properly”.


(Or be looking for something completely unrelated to what you actually offer. Understanding search intent is important.)


This means you need to start getting a little more specific if you ever hope to get anywhere. It also means there are big benefits of doing so.


I might go for something more along the lines of “affordable SEO copywriting services” to start with. This is an example of a long-tail keyword.


How do long-tail keywords work?

What do long-tail keywords mean for your marketing strategy? The theory works like this:


1) You're aiming for a smaller audience

You might not have as large a potential audience as you would with a more generic choice of keyphrase...


2) But there's less competition

So you actually have a much better chance of people searching for those phrases actually clicking on your link. Plus...


3) Your searcher will be more committed

People who qualify their search tend to know what they're looking for. Thus, they're more likely to be the actual kind of people who you're looking for.


They're people who want to buy the exact things you're selling. Or who are looking for the information you've set yourself up as the expert resource for.


Are long-tail keywords better?

You might think that those obvious, generic keyphrases have tons of competition because they get all the glory. Or, more importantly, all the clicks.


Weirdly though, the data about the search demand curve and long-tail keywords doesn't seem to back this up.


Here are some approximate percentages showing who really gets all the clicks (this is updated data from 2023):

  • 70-90%+ of all searches – use long-tail keywords.

  • Around another 10 to 15% – use mid-length keywords

  • Only the final 10% or less – use the highest-competition search terms.

You'll sometimes see this written as the "80-20 rule" for long-tail keywords. But, as you can see, the numbers became even more stark since the term was coined.


This is helped by the fact that successive Google updates a few years back – Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird – all edged towards a focus on long-tail keywords.


The Hummingbird update, in particular, frantically zoomed at however-many-hundred wing-beats per second in that direction.


To summarise, yes – Google certainly thinks long-tail keywords are better.

Picture of a hummingbird for Google's Hummingbird update that made long-tail keywords better
Sip that sweet long-tail nectar.

5 extra benefits of using long-tail keywords

As well as the above, if you figure out how to use long-tail keywords effectively you gain several other pretty swell benefits:


1) PPC advertising will cost you less

One of the other upsides of reduced competition is that PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising like Google Ads will likely be cheaper for you.


There's less competition for most long-tail keywords on AdWords. Ergo, Google wants less money per click to display your ads for those terms.


When paired with the fact that people searching for these terms tend to be more motivated to buy, that's a serious increase you will eventually see in your Return On Investment.


2) They smuggle in and support your head keywords

The reason why any given copywriting agency will want you to have a ton of articles that feature longer-tailed keyphrases for your niche is that it works.


For big brands and huge websites like BuzzFeed or The Huffington Post, we're talking about hundreds or thousands of articles. More than any sane person or an above average-quality superhero with timewarp powers could manage.


But the same is true on the more realistic scale where you and I make our homes too. Those longer-tailed keywords help you rank for the head keywords you're artfully smuggling into your articles inside them.


3) They give you ideas to write your blog around

You need to blog for SEO purposes. This means you probably need to write one article per week. Or more.

Woman having the disastrous realisation most freelance copywriters have at one point or another
"Oh dear me. Oh deary deary me. Oh. Oh no."

For all time.


Just let that sink in for a second.


Thinking up ideas for your next blog post topic (once per week forever) can be a real pain in the behind.


You can call your friendly neighbourhood freelance copywriter in with their competitively priced content writing services.


Or you can let a long-tail keywords generator guide you. You can find them easily online. I quite like:

Simply type in the keyword you're thinking about using. You'll get a whole list of suggestions back.


Most of these tools require you to create an account to use them. However, they tend to be free up to a certain number of searches per day.


4) These phrases are the actual search terms people are using

The days when you were likely to catch an exact match are dead and gone.


Answering the specific question that a given person is asking when typing into the web is still a good idea though.


Because if you're searching for something online, you've almost certainly got a specific query in mind.


You might miss out some of the conjunctions or punctuation when you're typing, but you'll probably enter most of the essential verbiage.


That's often what a well-chosen long-tailed keyword will aim to catch.


5) They're more useful for catching voice searches

Voice searches using personal assistant software like Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, or devices like Amazon's Alexa are becoming more and more popular.


Of course, when you ask a question out loud, you're even more likely to use a complete sentence.


Step right up those longer keywords. It's just one more feather in their cap.


It's a feather that's likely to stand both them and you in great stead if you're using them in future.


Over 55% of millennials use voice search with longer-tail keywords daily.


Start aiming for long-tail keywords

Google's trend of prioritising long-tail keywords and semantically relevant phrases is probably reason enough to justify you using them in your content.


Yet you should also consider the way most people enter search queries online and the way this is likely to continue to change.


Working out what long-tail keywords are in the context of SEO and how to use them now is the way to set yourself up for a sustainable content future.


Need some high-quality content focused around long-tailed keywords?


Let's chat. The Maiden Standard has been prvoiding SEO copywriting services used by businesses in Bristol and beyond for over ten years.


Reach out to talk about your content requirements at benjamindmaiden@gmail.com. There's no fee and no obligation.

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