The How & Why of Long-Tail Keywords

December 8, 2022
By Trenton Ackerman

If you know anything about search engines and marketing, I’ll bet you’ve heard the term ‘SEO’ (Search Engine Optimization). This three letter grab-bag for all things that “show-up on Google” is easy to grasp at a macro-level, but usually leaves the under-informed scratching their heads on a micro-level. How do you optimize for search engines anyway? If I own a shoe store, shouldn’t my awesome business just pop-up every time someone types “shoes” into Google?

If only it were so simple…

While ‘SEO’ is an easy way to simplify an increasingly complicated topic into three digestible letters, in today’s blog I’ll be getting granular and comparing different examples of keywords which users may search for: short-tail keywords and long-tail keywords.

Now let’s make like dogs and start chasing those tails!

Difference between short-tail and long-tail keywords

Allow me to contrast short-tail and long-tail keywords with an example following ‘Beth,’ an average Google user.

Beth’s tooth hurts and she needs a dental check-up A.S.A.P. Like most people, if she doesn’t already have dependable dental care, she may pull up Google Search and type something like ‘dentist’.

Look at that, Beth is one of 1.8 million users nationwide searching for that exact term each month! ‘Dentist’ is a perfect example of a short-tail keyword. It’s incredibly general, and highly competitive. Since dentist is the preferred term for someone qualified to treat teeth, if you’re a dentist who is indexed on Google, your practice will appear in the search anywhere from page 1 to infinitude.

After browsing through the first few results, Beth notices a majority of them require a consultation visit for new patients. She realizes her search is too broad, and she refines it accordingly. This time, she searches ‘walk-in dentist’ so she can be seen quickly.

With the added specificity, Beth finds results more relevant to her inquiry. Now, she will likely only see results for dentists who accept walk-in patients! These slightly more specific search terms aren’t usually defined, often being called middle or medium-tail keywords. The issue is that it still isn’t specific enough for Beth’s needs once she realizes: it’s 2 in the morning. With her tooth still throbbing, she frantically clarifies her search once more.

Bingo. ‘24 hour walk-in dentist’ is what she was looking for all along, and it’s a perfect example of a long-tail keyword. It’s highly specific, relevant to the user, has lower search volume and far less competition.

But, why does that matter?

Why use long-tail keywords?

In my example, I illustrated the differences between short-, medium- and long-tail keywords, but I didn’t explain the “why”. As a search engine user, it’s clear-cut. The more specific your search term, the more specific your results. While as a digital marketer, or even a small business owner running a Google Ads account, there’s one dreaded thing that must underline all decisions you make: Budget.

Competition comes at a cost. If you and Coca-Cola are both bidding for the keyword [soda], not only is Coke going to win-out a majority of the time, but moreover, if you do win someone’s engagement a highly competitive short-tail term will quickly eat up the budget and dominate your spending. You may get two clicks on your ad from people broadly searching [soda] for the same cost as thirty people clicking the same ad who searched the long-tail you should have originally been targeting (e.g., [healthy organic cherry soda], [all-natural cherry soda], etc.)

Long-tail keywords are essential for driving higher-intent, lower cost-per-acquisition customers to your website.

Don’t be afraid to be niche

You may be thinking:  “I don’t care what the marketers say! I’m only bidding on single-word keywords!”

Don’t misunderstand me. Short-tail keywords have their place. In fact, in a perfect world, you’d bid on absolutely any term that would show possible user-intent to purchase your product.

It’s unrealistic to afford that luxury though, especially for smaller businesses. To succeed on SEO amongst the big dogs, you’ve got to build site authority by ranking on the lower volume keywords before getting more general. If you’re worried about volume being too low, here’s an interesting fact: 15% of Search Queries on Google are Completely New, even as of 2022.

Having trouble deciding on long-tail keywords?

It can be hard to determine not only which keywords to go after, but also what keywords are worth attempting to rank for to begin with.

There are a plethora of keyword planners available, but I’ll recommend two of the most comprehensive and user-friendly ones: Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool and Google’s Built-in Keyword Planner. Both require an account, but are free to try with several other goodies to aid you. It may require some extra research on your end, but flying solo is better than flying blind.

And what’s better than flying solo? Flying with a coordinated team of digital marketers whose mission goes beyond simply fighting for keyword rankings and the Google Ads rat race. Schedule a discovery call with OM today to take that next leap in scaling your business.

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Trenton Ackerman

Marketing Associate
OM Performance Marketers

Trenton is new to the field of marketing, but coming from the customer service industry, has nearly a decade of experience in putting the client first and working to get the best result possible. Diligent, inquisitive and detail-oriented, Trenton is always looking to improve himself and the project at hand. He is meticulous and will never hesitate to ask, “What can we be doing better?”

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