What Are Long Tail Keywords and How To Use Them

Imagine having a brick-and-mortar store that sells men’s shoes, but you advertise that it sells clothing.

You get 100 people through the door, but only 5 of them are interested in buying what you sell. The rest of your visitors are looking for other types of clothing, and they don’t realize that what you specialize in are men’s shoes.

Now, picture advertising that your shop sells men’s shoes, specifying the styles you offer. In your marketing campaign, you use long tail keywords like “casual men’s shoes for summer” and “men’s boat shoes with laces.”

This time, you get 50 people through the door and 30 of them are looking for exactly the type of men’s shoes you sell.

You may have less traffic, but the customers who do come in are way more likely to buy what you have.

What Are Long Tail Keywords?

Long tail keywords are long, specific phrases that users search for. Often, the more detailed the search query, the closer the user is to making a purchase or converting in some way.

While long tail keywords tend to have a lower search volume than short-tail keywords, they’re not invaluable. When applied correctly, they can be a beneficial addition to your SEO strategy.

Long Tail Keywords vs. Short-Tail Keywords

A short-tail keyword — also called a head term — is a broader, shorter keyword that’s not specific and usually has a high search volume.

Keep in mind that a keyword that’s 2+ words doesn’t automatically qualify as a long tail keyword. Instead, a multi-word keyword can still be a head term. Here are a few examples:

  • daily planner
  • flower vase
  • self-help book
  • water bottle

These are more specific than “planner,” “vase,” “book” or “bottle,” but they’re still vague enough to be considered head terms.

Also, look at the high search volumes for one of these head terms:

Short-tail keywords with high search volume.

Long-tail versions of these keywords can be:

  • 2023 daily planner
  • flower vase with artificial flowers
  • best self help improvement books
  • insulated water bottle with straw

Look at how the search volume compares:

Long tail keywords with low search volume.

The more specific you get, the lower the search volume and the more targeted the query.

How Do Long Tail Keywords Work?

Long tail keywords work by having a better chance of ranking highly because they’re searched for less often.

The “tail” refers to the trailing tail in the keyword graph that compares head terms to medium- and long-tail keywords:

Semrush keyword graph.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re a travel agent who specializes in California vacations.

If you try to rank for “travel,” there could be so much competition that it’s unlikely you’ll get to the top. Additionally, most people don’t search for just “travel,” so you won’t be matching your keyword strategy to actual search queries.

Instead, you could try ranking for long tail keywords like:

  • 4 day trip to california
  • california road trip travel agent
  • fresno travel agency
  • how to become a licensed travel agent in california
  • los angeles travel agencies list
  • travel agent in los angeles
  • universal studios california travel agent

The competition for these keywords is lower, which gives you a better chance of ranking higher. The query is more specific, too, which means better targeting.

Why Are Long Tail Keywords Important?

From better rankings to traffic from users who are ready to make a purchase, long tail keywords can deliver a lot.

Ranking

Head terms are competitive, and it can take years for your content to rank for that keyword. It may not happen at all, no matter how much optimization effort you put in.

For example, according to the Semrush Keyword Overview tool, this is how difficult it would be to rank for “water bottle”:

Hard keyword difficulty report.

However, it’s much easier to rank for “insulated water bottle with straw”:

Keyword difficulty report of "possible."

Targeting and Traffic

Users who find you using long-tail queries are more likely to convert because they’re being matched to a specific search they entered instead of getting broader results that may not align with what they want.

Those users know what they want, and long tail keywords are a sign that they’re ready to take the next step.

A person searching for “California vacation” isn’t as close to booking a trip as a person who searches for “san diego vacation packages.”

That’s why optimizing for long tail keywords is often used as a conversion tool. Users near or at the bottom of the funnel are the ones who will convert, meaning they’ll make a purchase. Here’s our article about the marketing funnel to better understand its different stages.

Compare this to top-of-the-funnel queries , which are broader and based on research, not buying.

If you’re trying to target the segment of your audience that’s ready to convert, long tail keywords can drive those actions.

Don’t rule out long tail keywords for organic traffic, either. If you want your content to organically reach the top of the search engine results page (SERP), long tail keywords can help with that, too.

Cost

While long tail keywords can and should be used in your organic SEO strategy, they’re especially useful for attracting paid traffic. The cost per click (CPC) for long tail keywords is typically lower than for short-tail keywords because there’s less competition.

Compare the CPC for “california travel agent” to some of the other long tail keywords below it — the more specific you get, the less you’ll pay per click.

Short tail keyword vs. long tail keywords and CPC differences.

Targeting long tail keywords (the more specific, the better) means you can get prominent placement in relevant search results without paying a lot per click.

Return on Investment

Long tail keywords may have fewer searches overall when compared to short-tail keywords, but they have a better return on investment (ROI). Put another way, you may get less traffic with long tail keywords than short-tail keywords, but whatever traffic you do get will be more valuable.

In essence, long tail keywords are a way to vet your audience — you can weed out those who aren’t interested in exactly what you’re offering and focus on those who are.

How To Find Long Tail Keywords for Your Strategy

Long-tail keyword research can be tricky because a lot of tools focus on focus or short-tail keywords. By knowing which tools to rely on and how to filter results, you can hone in on the right long tail keywords for your strategy.

Google Search

Google’s own search functionality can be a goldmine for long tail keyword research. Entering a keyword will show an expanded search menu with various longer keyword options. The more detailed your main keyword, the more detailed the options, too.

For example, entering “office desk” auto-populates these queries:

Keyword research in Google search.

By entering “office desk for home,” longer keyword suggestions show up:

Keyword research in Google search.

Even just entering your head keyword and another letter shows suggestions you may have never thought of on your own:

Keyword research in Google search.

While not all of Google’s auto-complete suggestions will be long tail keywords, many of them will be, and you can discover more about them by using other keyword research tools for analysis.

Google Keyword Planner

The Google Keyword Planner is an excellent place to research long tail keywords. It’s free to use, and you get a ton of keyword suggestions, along with volume, competition and CPC data.

Long tail keywords in the Google Keyword Planner.

This tool is meant for users who will set up Google Ads, but it’s available to anyone who wants to use it for organic keyword research, too.

Here are some of the results for “travel tips.” Since this is an information-focused query, you probably wouldn’t want to run ads on related keywords. But you can still get ideas for optimizing your content:

Informational keyword research in Google Keyword Planner.

Semrush Keyword Magic Tool

The Keyword Magic Tool from Semrush is useful because you can filter results by word count. This lets you quickly narrow down the list of keywords to the longest ones.

For example, after entering “thrilled movies” and setting the filter to phrases with four or more words, here are the results:

Long tail keywords using Semrush.

You can also filter by volume and difficulty to find the long tail keywords that you have the most chance of ranking for.

This article has more information about how to use the Keyword Magic Tool.

WordStream

WordStream is one of the best and easiest-to-use free keyword research tools out there. It’s also a good place to start when looking for long tail keywords. Here are some of the results for “hard luggage”:

Keyword research with WordStream.

It’s helpful that WordStream shows you the CPC for each keyword so you can start planning ads.

The one drawback of WordStream is that you have to enter your email address to see anything after the first page of results, and then you’re redirected to a landing page. You have to scroll to the bottom of that landing page to download your keywords.

Overall, this isn’t a huge issue, and the download is still free — you don’t have to sign up for the offer on the landing page. But if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to miss.

How To Use Long Tail Keywords in Your Strategy

Once you know where to find long tail keywords, it’s important to understand how to incorporate them into your SEO strategy.

Create Topic Clusters

Topic clusters create organized content that makes website navigation easier for human visitors as well as web crawlers.

Basically, you start with a pillar page that covers a broad topic, and you then create spinoff pages that target more specific topics and long tail keywords related to the pillar page.

Then, you internally link your pillar pages to the subtopic pages and vice versa.

Develop Content That Matches Search Intent

Creating content that drives conversions means matching the search intent of the query.

Search intent is the reason behind the query.

A person looking for “how to stay hydrated” wants information-based content with tips for staying hydrated. They don’t want to see a product page for a water bottle they can buy.

On the other hand, a person who searches for “20 ounce insulated water bottle” isn’t interested in a blog post with hydration tips. They want to buy the type of bottle they searched for.

It’s important to use keywords and create optimized content that sync with what the user wants.

Some keyword research tools, like Surfer, let you filter keyword suggestions by search intent. Here are informational keyword results for “coffee beans”:

Informational keyword research in Surfer.

And here are transactional results for the same keyword:

Transactional keyword research with Surfer.

Using long tail keywords is a way to improve communication between your brand and your target audience. You’ll be able to pair your content with people who are actively looking for what you offer.

Strategically Place Long Tail Keywords

It’s smart to use a long-tail keyword as your content’s target keyword. From there, make sure to place it in the areas that matter most:

  • Page title
  • Header tag
  • URL
  • Meta description
  • First paragraph

An SEO plugin like Rank Math or Yoast will let you know when you’ve used your target keyword enough and if it’s missing from any prominent places.

Wrapping Up

Your SEO campaign won’t be successful without smart keyword research. If you’re trying to get traffic to a new site or your goal is to build authority, the path forward will be much easier and more rewarding if you focus on long tail keywords.

Also, if you’ve found it difficult to rank for your chosen target keywords, it could be that they’re too competitive. Replacing them with long tail keywords can show you the results you’re after.

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