When we talk about keywords, you might hear them described in two ways. The short head and the long tail. Even some SEO experts mistakenly believe that long tail just means a long key phrase. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Heads or tails?
We often categorise search terms by their volume and competition level. From here, a lot of people surmise that a short head keyword is one which is high competition and gets a lot of searches per month. Something like “car insurance” would be a great example of this.
As you move down the list of keywords by volume, you start to see phrases like “car insurance for teens”. Yes, this is longer and has fewer monthly searches, but it still isn’t long tail. Even something like “how to get cheap car insurance for 17-year-olds” which only gets 10 searches per month still isn’t a true long tail keyword.
The truth is that anything with search volume isn’t a longtail keyword. The danger is that many people assume that anything with low search volume is a longtail keyword and will, therefore, be easy to rank for. The problem is, you’re not the only person with access to this data. What happens when every car insurance provider creates a blog optimised for “how to get cheap car insurance for 17-year-olds”. Suddenly your competitive edge doesn't look so good.
The myth of the long tail
In many ways, optimising your content for the long tail keyword is a myth. Not because they don’t exist but because it’s impossible to know what they are. This 2010 article by Jill Whelan strengthens this argument. Whelan suggests that long tail terms are searched for so infrequently that it would be impossible to optimise for them. These terms are so obscure that the only way to search for them is to provide an answer to whatever question they might be asking.
In reality, there are plenty of low search volume key phrases that are not truly long tail terms. An example of this would be “how to build a lead generation website”. This only gets 10 monthly searches, but the competition for this term is very high. Just because a keyword suggestion is long and has a low search volume, this doesn’t automatically make it a long tail keyword. This is a long perpetuated myth which can hinder your content marketing strategy.
How to attract long tail search traffic
You might be wondering, how do I attract this traffic, then? The best way to approach this is to just publish incredible content. Use a lot of words and phrases to describe everything you do.
But don’t worry about writing for search engines, write for people.
By publishing quality and consistent content, you stand a chance of engaging with the people who are searching for true long tail key phrases.
Websites that have a lot of great content rank better than websites that have low-quality or thin content. Look at your most successful content and think about what parts of it could be expanded to make the whole offering even more powerful.
Content really is king
There’s no getting around the fact that quality content can make or break a marketing campaign. Every day, we see more and more traffic land on our site because of the articles we published years ago. When you write great content, you will continue to be rewarded for months and years to come. There is no secret sauce to ranking well on Google, all you have to do is play by their rules and offer something of value. Google wants to show helpful results to users, so if your content is helpful, it’s more likely to show up in search engine results pages.
Don’t worry so much about chasing the mythical long tail keywords and focus instead on creating incredible content. By all means, use the keyword volumes to help you generate new content ideas, but it’s time to give up on the idea that we can optimise for the long tail.
If you need help with your website SEO, then please contact me.
I'm Paul Gordon an SEO freelancer who has spent the last 16 years helping businesses expand and grow through effective SEO strategies.