Learn SEO One Step at a Time – The Long Tail of SEO

The long tail of SEO is the practice of identifying keywords that bring lower traffic volume to a website and combining them with other long tail keywords to work together for higher site traffic. Implementing long tail keywords is a crucial part of any SEO strategy.

The long tail of SEO is the practice of identifying keywords that bring lower traffic volume to a website and combining them with other long tail keywords to work together for higher site traffic. Implementing long tail keywords is a crucial part of any SEO strategy.

Today’s lesson in learning SEO covers the importance of utilizing multiple keywords to drive quality, high-converting traffic to your website. If you’re just joining us, this is part six of our series covering the basic tenets of SEO and how it can enhance your online business. We’ve already covered the importance of SEO, how search engines work, how pages are ranked, keyword basics and keyword research.

In my last post on keyword research, I made a side note on the long tail of SEO. Quite frankly, I knew this topic was too important not to provide a dedicated post on how the long tail impacts your SEO.

Keep reading to see my findings. Note: all underlined terms are vocabulary words and are defined at the end of this post.

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What do you mean by the long tail?

Essentially, you can break all search terms/keywords driving traffic to your site into two groups: 1) the head, or the short list of keywords that drive the bulk of traffic and 2) the tail, or the very long list of keywords that individually drive minimal traffic. Once you study this long list of keywords and aggregate the traffic it brings, you’ll quickly see how important these long tail keywords really are.

For clarity, we’ll define long tail keywords as keywords that are less popular and competitive than other important keywords, but are still utilized by searchers. These keywords are much longer (3-6+ words) than the keywords of the head (1-2 words) and are much more targeted.

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Why do you say long tail keywords are so important to SEO?

Because they are. It’s tempting for us to only focus on our most competitive keywords because we think they bring the most traffic. However, consider the following truths of long tail keywords:

  • Long tail keywords can compose upwards of 80% of all visits to your website.
  • Visits from long tail keywords have much lower bounce rates.
  • Searchers who come to your site from long tail keywords are much more likely to convert.

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Now that you’ve seen the facts, let’s apply our old example of Matt’s Organic Hot Sauce. If someone types “hot sauce” into Google, they could be looking for recipes, nutritional facts, historical information or anything else related to hot sauce. However, if they entered “buy locally grown organic hot sauce,” we know that the searcher is looking for something specific, and more importantly, is looking to buy.

Thus, if my website for Matt’s Organic Hot Sauce was to appear for a long-tail keyword, the searcher would spend more time on my website because they found information specific to their needs. This explains the lower bounce rate of long-tail terms. Also, since this searcher has a targeted goal, they’re likely to have credit card in hand, which clarifies the higher conversion rates. And if you consider that the overwhelming majority of searchers are now using lengthier search terms, it makes sense why long tail keywords compose so much of your traffic.

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Okay, the long tail is important to SEO. But how do I know which keywords are in the long tail?

The first step in figuring out your long tail SEO strategy is to separate the head from the tail. This will require you to log in to your analytics tool. The simplest way to identify the head is to take the top 10-15 keywords directing traffic to your site. You’ll likely notice that keywords in the head are shorter in length and are either branded keywords or are more general keywords, like “hot sauce.”

The remaining keywords, which will likely extend into the thousands, are your long tail keywords. To provide a visual representation of the head and tail, take a look at this graphic:

The long tail of SEO is the practice of identifying keywords that bring lower traffic volume to a website and combining them with other long tail keywords to work together for higher site traffic. Implementing long tail keywords is a crucial part of any SEO strategy.

If you’re having difficulty deciding where to draw the line between the head and the tail, a good practice is to take keywords along the border and type them directly into search engines. Then, see how many results are returned. If there are less than 100,000 results, you have a pretty good shot of ranking for that keyword and can place it in the long tail. So, if “texas made hot sauce” is on the cusp, I’d type that directly into Google and see how many results came back:

The long tail of SEO is the practice of identifying keywords that bring lower traffic volume to a website and combining them with other long tail keywords to work together for higher site traffic. Implementing long tail keywords is a crucial part of any SEO strategy.

Only about 9000 results came back for this search query, so that’s definitely in the long tail category. Once you make your separation, you can begin to see which long tail keywords are the most effective. Then, you can identify patterns to help you optimize your site content.

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That makes sense. How do I conduct long tail keyword research?

This is where things get a bit tricky – again, since there are literally thousands upon thousands of long tail keywords, it’s difficult to pinpoint specific ones, especially when they’re so obscure and unpredictable. Among the billions of searches made in Google every day, 25% of them have never been made before. In other words, the search possibilities are endless and grow constantly.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. A great way to start is to walk in the shoes of a random searcher and answer the following, based on the overall buying process:

  • What search query would I use if I was looking for general industry information?
  • What search query would I use if I wanted to know more about a specific company?
  • What search query would I use to learn more about specific product specs?
  • What search query would I use in order to buy the product I’ve decided to purchase?

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Another helpful exercise is to place modifiers on your head keywords to help come up with long tail ideas. Let’s apply this to our head keyword, “hot sauce.”

  • Geographic modifiers: “texas hot sauce” “central texas hot sauce”
  • Selling point modifiers: “best organic hot sauce” “most affordable hot sauce” “spiciest tasting hot sauce”
  • Product-based modifers: “jalapeno based hot sauce” “grilled poblano hot sauce”

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Also consider using singular and plural versions of the head keyword, along with synonyms.

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All right, how do I optimize for long tail keywords?

Again, there are so many long tail keywords that apply to your website that it’s extremely difficult to optimize for specific ones. If your analytics indicate that some long tail keywords have higher conversion rates than others, go ahead and explicitly include them in your content and tags.

The real key to long tail optimization is to provide useful content that will match a variety of search terms. This is done by optimizing your page for 2-3 major keywords and writing in a way that searchers using long tail keywords will find your page. Conducting the previously discussed modifier exercise is a great way to come up with ideas.

Again, as is the case with every SEO lesson, your best bet to boost rankings, traffic and conversions is to create content that others will find useful and want to share.

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Any final thoughts?

Yes. The long tail of SEO is important to anyone, but is especially noteworthy for small or young businesses. Just think, you can optimize your site for extremely competitive keywords until you’re blue in the face, but you just won’t rank highly for them. But your business does have a fighting chance to rank for long tail keywords. And once you start ranking highly for long tail keywords, you can quickly creep up on your competitors for more valuable keywords.

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I hope this lesson has been useful to your SEO efforts – feel free to share this with others who may find it useful and add your comments below. If you’re keeping notes, don’t forget to reference the SEO glossary at the bottom of this post.

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Happy selling!
-Matt Winn, Marketing Associate

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SEO Glossary – Lesson Six: The Long Tail of SEO

  • “The head:” The short list of keywords that accounts for the majority of your site traffic
  • “The tail:” The much longer list of keywords that individually account for low traffic volume, but aggregately account for the majority of your site traffic
  • Long tail keywords: Keywords that are less popular and competitive than other important keywords and are easier to rank for, typically ranging from 3-6 words
  • Bounce rate: The rate of visitors who visit and leave your site immediately, without looking at any other pages of your site
  • Long tail SEO strategy: The practice of taking lower-volume, higher-converting keywords and making them collaborate to provide a larger SEO impact
  • Modifiers: Slight adjustments to original keywords to provide insight into potential long tail keywords

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Learn SEO One Step at a Time Series:
Step One: An Important Introduction
Step Two: How Search Engines Work
Step Three: How Search Engines Rank Pages
Step Four: An Introduction to Keywords
Step Five: Keyword Research
Step Six: The Long Tail of SEO
Step Seven: Building a SEO Friendly Site
Step Eight: Link Building Basics
Step Nine: Basic SEO Measurement/Conclusion

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About 

Matt Winn is Volusion’s Senior Brand Manager, where he helps oversee the organization’s branding and communications efforts. Matt has created hundreds of articles, videos and seminars on all things ecommerce, ranging from online marketing to web design and customer experience. Beyond being a certified nerd, Matt is an avid college football fan, enthusiastic home cook and a self-admitted reality TV junkie.

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