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

Long-tail keywords sound simple on the surface. They're just a little bit longer than your average bear (read: keyword), right? But where's the logic in using them?

What are long-tail keywords in the context of SEO? This comedy images explains the confusion
"I understand completely. Something comparable to the wave and particle nature of light...?"

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.

Yes, figuring out what long-tail keywords are in the context of SEO is pretty simple.

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

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

Any long-tail keywords definition is simple:

"A keyword phrase which is at least 2-3 words long (and often longer)."

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. Why would that be a good thing?

In short, because there sure is a lot of competition out there on the Internet these days. Pretty much any industry or niche you care to name will have somebody making themselves at home in it already. In many industries, you'll be trying to squeeze in amongst a whole lot of other somebodies.

Hopefully humorous image referring to the difficulty of competing for head keywords in your market niche
"This is my niche. Get your own."

Cosy! As well as very difficult to compete with...

Let's say you're a freelance content writer (imagine the unlimited powers you now have at your fingertips!). There are a whole lot of people providing SEO copywriting services online. They've already pretty much sewn up the market for head keywords like “SEO”.

Also, a person will rarely type in “SEO” alone. They'll want to know the “best SEO practices 2019”. Or “how to do SEO properly”. Or something completely unrelated to what you actually offer.

You need to start getting a little more specific if you ever hope to get anywhere. I might go for something more along the lines of “affordable SEO copywriting services” to start with, for example.

How do they work?

So what does long-tail keywords mean as a simple logical process? Think of it like this:

  1. You aim 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. That is to say, the ones who want to buy the exact things you are selling. Or who are looking for the information which 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:

  • 18.5% – those short, fairly standard generic words

  • 11.5% – slightly longer keywords

  • 65-70% – long-tail keywords

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

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

To summarise, yes – Google certainly thinks so.

Google's Hummingbird update made long-tail keywords even better, as this image illustrates in an amusing way
Sipping 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 content writing agency will want you to have a ton of articles which feature longer-tailed keyphrases for your niche – and the reason why so many big brands and successful SEO experts do it too – is that it works.

For those 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-averagely driven superhero with timewarp powers could manage.

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

3) They give you ideas to write your blog around

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

Image showing 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 title (once per week forever) can be a real pain in the behind. You can call your friendly neighbourhood freelance copywriter in with their affordably priced blog and content writing services (editor's note – someone should probably remove this shameful and blatant plug)...

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 (or close to them)

The days when you were likely to catch an exact match are dead and gone. Answering the specific question which a given person is asking when typing into the web is still a good idea though.

Because if you're searching online, you've almost certainly got a certain query in mind. You might miss out some of the conjunctions or punctuation when you're typing it in, but you'll probably type most of the essential verbiage. Surely there should be some phrase which neatly encapsulates that idea for SEO purposes?

Hmm. Nope. I can't think of one.

Moving on!

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. Just one more feather in their cap. One that's likely to stand both them and you in great stead if you're using them in future.

Long-tail keywords – an example of how the Internet is changing

Google's clear trend towards prioritising long-tail keyword use and semantically relevant phrases (more on this next week) are probably reason enough in themselves to justify you using them in your content.

Yet you should also consider current Internet usage and likely developing trends in years to come.

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

Still not sure if long-tail keywords are better? Ask a question below and I'll see what I can do!