One of the latest big hits in current search engine optimisation (and advertisement) is utilising long tail keywords. Most recently bloggers have waken up to using long tail keywords in optimising their blog posts for searches. What really are long tail keywords and how to target them?
Long tail theory is a widely used theory of the culture and economy shifting from focusing on the relatively small number of "hits" toward a bigger number of specialised products and niches. For example this would mean that a hit song would sell less than multiple less known songs as a combination. Or that a popular blog would have less traffic than multiple small blogs. According to the theory these long tail songs or blogs would, by "stealing" the sales from the hit songs or the traffic from the popular blog, harm the popularity of the hits. This theory has been criticised as it appears the hits are not losing their share to the long tail.
Long tail keywords build from the same theory. The point is to use keywords, or rather keyphrases, that are very specific and less targeted than the common keywords and phrases. The long tail keywords generally consist of more than three words, but the length of the keyphrase isn't exactly the main issue. One word could, theoretically, be a long tail keyword, if it was very uncommon search phrase. As an example, you could blog about a very specific and rare niche product, which would lead the name of the product, even if it's one word, to be a long tail keyword. The long tail isn't about the length of the phrase, but the rarity of the searches.
The common keywords, for example "SEO", are on the "head" or central part of distribution of search results, whereas the more specific and specialised keyphrases, such as "local search engine optimization", would be in the long tail. While the long tail is less searched, it should drive more traffic to the sites utilising those keyphrases. One of the argument for focusing on long tail is assumption that people are getting better in making searches, and are using more specific search phrases. According to marketing analytics company Moz the popular keywords make less than 30% of performed web searches and the rest consists of long tail searches. It's said that long tail keywords have a higher conversion value. The rationalisation is that people who search for specific things are more likely to buy those specific things.
While long tail keywords generally have a small(er) search volume they have less competition too. To keep within the previous examples, when I'm writing this, Google Keyword Planner gives 673 000 average monthly searches for the search phrase "SEO" and only 320 searches for "local search engine optimization". The competition for the said phrases is medium for the first and low for the latter. However, apparently because of the popularity of long tail targeting, the costs-per-click (CPC) is much higher for the latter than the first phrase. Using long tail keywords in advertising isn't necessarily cheaper.
If you wish to target long tail searches in your blog post SEO it's important to do research about the to-be-used keyphrases. There are multiple ways to do this keyword research, such as using the aforementioned Google Adwords Keyword Planner. Other common tools include Moz Pro Keyword Explorer, which allows two free searches per day and more for paid subscriptions. In addition to Google, Bing offers their own Bing Ads Intelligence tool. To find out how your keywords are doing and have been trending in Google searches, Google Trends is your way to go. It lets you to compare keywords and their historical data. For example "SEO" is trending in searches much more than "search engine optimisation" or "search engine optimization". Wordtracker has a free keyword planner, which suggests keywords related to the search term you give, tells the amount of traffic each keyword gets, how much competition they keywords have. It gives a Keyword Effectiveness Index or KEI, which supposedly tells the potential the keyword has.
One way to find out what Google users have been searching is to do a search for a keyword or keyphrase then check the "Searches related to" section below the search results. Using the search itself is important part of keyword research, because it gives you an idea of the content that already can be found with a certain search phrase.
Your own website statistics work as a research tool. In Google Analytics you can measure your SEO success so far. And Google's Search Console has it's own separate Search Analytics, which gives an idea of which search phrases have been used to find your blog content. Google's products aren't the only ones you can use, there are multiple other analytics services out there. Measuring and tracking the search engine optimisation success is as important as researching for the keywords. Of course, that requires setting some basic objectives of the SEO efforts. Blog post SEO goals can differ from sales SEO goals. Are you aiming for traffic only? Are you aiming for comments? Are you aiming for shares in social media? Or maybe something else? Without knowing what your goal is, it is hard to measure the success.
The keywords are used in your blog post content, in the title of the post, possibly in the tags and categories and in meta description. Additionally I recommend using the keywords in image optimisation (I will tackle this later in the series). However, this is where you can go horribly wrong. The search engines are getting more and more sophisticated, and keywords are only one, very small part of SEO. People making the algorithms behind search engines are well aware of those who try to game the search results. They fight against this gaming, and the overall quality of the content is increasingly important. In case your writing is poor and you just try to stuff irrelevant phrases in your content, you won't only do badly in searches, but also get penalised by search engines. So if you are targeting "local search engine optimization", make sure your content is about the subject. To be ranked high in searches relating to the subject, write a quality blog post about it.
My best advice on long tail keyword targeting for bloggers is to figure out the subject about which you want and can write. Never try and fit a phrase in your content as is, unless it feels like a natural part of your text. Otherwise your blog post will appear forced and built around some phrase that doesn't seem like part of your usual way of writing. Use the phrases in your way and by using your blogging voice. Keep in mind that the competition on long tail keywords is growing. When everyone is targeting long tail keywords, the harder it gets to be found using them. Thus you shouldn't get too obsessed with keyword targeting, or SEO in general. Be more focused in creating quality blog content which is easy to access and fast to load.
See all the articles in Blog post SEO.
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I'm Mervi Emilia Eskelinen, an artist and online presence strategist from Finland. I coach and consult indie businesses and bloggers to find focus with their branding, marketing and web. I have almost 20 years of experience, a bachelor's degree and some fun certifications in everything about digital media and marketing.