The Long and Short of Long Tail Keywords

Targeting long tail keywords has been a tactic used for many years, long before I was in the SEO game. It’s something I’ve spent a lot of time exploring over 2016, spending time reading around the topic and putting into action things I’ve learned and to a number of successes!

Much to my surprise when first starting, this isn’t just about finding a long tail keyword and writing some ‘awesome’ content around it. This is about identifying these long tail keywords, understanding the motives behind them and appropriately catering for them on-site.

The post that follows takes you through the process I follow when formulating a long tail targeting strategy for a client.

For the sake of continuity, let’s firstly run over the basics.

What are long tail keywords?

In short, where exact match, ‘fat head’ keywords may consist of 1 keyword, long tail keywords typically consist of 3+:

  • Exact Match/Fat Head: Trainers
  • Chunky Middle: Nike Trainers
  • Long Tail: Size 12 Nike Roshe One Trainers in Black

Why should you adjust your current tactic of going after just the big keywords? There are a number of reasons:

Search Demand

Ranking highly for a keyword that’s searched 8,000 times a month is fantastic but the truth of the matter is, we’re only scratching the surface. Whilst you may be putting all your efforts into going after these fat head and chunky middle keywords, you’re targeting less than 30% of all searches performed.

So, what about the other 70%? These searches are made up of the long-tail keywords:

long-tail-keyword-search-demand

(Source: https://moz.com/blog/illustrating-the-long-tail)

Although individually, long tail keywords may not be searched a great deal each month, when you combine the traffic of these search terms, you’re dealing with a lot of searches in comparatively low competing for search landscapes.

Traffic Quality

When users search using 1 or 2 words, it’s unlikely they really know what they’re looking for. Long tail keywords tend to be very specific and because of this specificity, when users search like this they commonly know what they’re looking for.

Using my trainer’s example above, if I search for “Nike Trainers”, I’m only at a point of browsing, looking for more information on the different trainers available. On the flip-side, if I’m searching for “Size 12 Nike Roshe One Trainers in Black”, I’ve basically got my bank card out looking for a website to take my money.

So what am I getting at? The more specific a search term, the more likely a user is to convert. As long tail keywords are specific by their very nature, they are more likely to bring in much more qualified traffic.

Getting Ahead of Change

As I mentioned in my previous post, voice search is becoming more popular and with that brings a change in how people are searching:

change-in-searches-through-voice

(Source: https://moz.com/blog/how-voice-search-will-change-digital-marketing-for-the-better)

By establishing a targeting strategy for long tail keywords now, you’re not only finding niches within your relevant search landscape, you’re also getting ahead of this change in user search behaviour and very likely long before your competition do.

Identifying them

Now onto the good stuff. We understand the usefulness of long tail keywords, so now we’ve got to start collecting the data and start establishing what keywords we’re going to target.

There’s a range of tools that I use when undertaking my long tail keyword research, but whilst going through this process, I always ensure I’m measuring each term against the following three principles:

  • Competition – does the search term have relatively low competition?
  • Relevancy – is this search related to my brand? Is this a relevant niche I’m yet to explore?
  • Search Volume – how often is this term getting searched? Don’t get too caught up on this.

Before we start filtering through our data, we need to collect it. This is where we grab all our exports!

Domain Level Long Tail Keyword Research

Identify those low hanging fruits, the long tail keywords that are on page 2 of the SERPs. These pages, with a little bit of work, may see the greatest improvements in the short-term.

Search Console

Although something to take with a heap of salt, the Search Analytics Report within Google Search Console provides some (questionable) data on keywords used to reach your website. By specifically viewing position data, we’re able to identify some potential low hanging fruit:

search-console-screengrab

Sadly, unlike a number of other tools that I use for a similar job, Search Console doesn’t allow you filter queries within a certain position or containing a certain amount of words so this has to be done in Excel.

SEMRush

One of my most used tools in this process is definitely SEMRush, it gives me all of the information I need without the hassle of Excel formulas (although I do still pull out an export).

Within their Organic Research Report under Domain Analytics, you’ve got access to the Positions view. For every domain entered, this view highlights lots of keywords that the domain has been identified to be ranking for.

semrush-screengrab

Obviously, we’re looking for a very specific set of data and by using the filtering options, we’re able to find exactly what we’re needing:

semrush-screengrab-filters

SISTRIX

As each individual tool tends to have differing data, I undertake keyword research across a range of tools (as you’ll begin to notice). Doing this helps to ensure the most accurate representation of the long tail keywords used to access a site is given.

Much like SEMRush, with SISTRIX we’re able to easily apply filters within the tool to get the exact data we’re looking for. To do this, head to the Keywords Report within SEO:

sistrix-screengrab

Although I really like the SISTRIX tool, I much prefer the numerical data given for competition and traffic in SEMRush over the scale used by SISTRIX.

Ahrefs

Another great tool – Ahrefs Site Explorer. Much like the previous tools, it allows for some awesome refinement with their filters. To access the data we’re wanting, input the domain, head to the Organic Search Report, then the Organic Keywords view and filter:

arefs-screengrab

With all of the above tools (excluding Search Console), don’t just focus on your own domain, identify the low hanging fruits for your competitors – find what long tail keywords your competitors are ranking for. There may be some hidden gems that you’re yet to discover, and therefore yet to address in your keyword targeting strategy.

Product/ Service Level Long Tail Keyword Research

Let’s turn away from domain specific long tail keyword research and look towards more product or service specific focused research. Here we’ll focus entirely on what users are searching that’s related to what our business is offering.

Keywordtool.io

Although Keywordtool.io doesn’t offer much in the form of filtering down the results, it still provides a great deal of valuable data, segmenting search terms into standard keywords along with specific questions being asked – the latter can be very useful for content creation ideas.

keyworddtools-io-screengrab

(are trainers shoes…?)

As was mentioned for Search Console, with Keywordtool.io, you’ll need to grab an export and do all of the necessary filterings within Excel. Although not ideal, the data you get from this tool is very useful.

Answer The Public

Unlike Keywordtool.io, Answer The Public is an entirely free tool and still gives you so much data! When inputting your specific search term, you’re returned with long tail keywords in the form of questions and prepositions.

answer-the-public-screengrab

 

The only thing this tool lacks is volume data, but considering this tool is entirely free, we can’t really complain! I tend to export the data from this tool and chuck it in SEMRush for volume data (or Keyword Planner).

UGC

Along with a bunch of useful tools, we also want to get out there and be where our potential customers are talking. Doing this not only gives us an insight into what our audience is seeking information around, it also gives us invaluable insights into how they interact online.

There are many websites out there but I tend to always start at the following places:

  • Quora
  • Reddit
  • Industry-Specific Forums (there’s a dedicated forum for almost everything)

When looking through these websites, you’re looking for common questions being asked. Grab these and chuck them into an Excel document – try not to get too caught up with thinking about search volume, that’s not the main goal of long tail keyword targeting, we want to meet highly qualified traffic, be it a small group or not.

Data Formatting

So now we’ve got all our exports. How you format all the information gathered from the following process is up to you. I like to create a relatively big excel document with each export tabbed, using the following row titles where applicable within each:

  • Keyword
  • Competition
  • Search Volume
  • Position (only Low Hanging Fruit data)
  • URL (only Low Hanging Fruit data)

Once I have my data formatted, I then go through the search term with a fine-tooth comb, applying the three CRS principles. It can be a lengthy process but it has proven to be worth it.

What you’re left with is what we’re going to work with – make sure there are no duplicates and chuck them all together into one tab.

Refine

So we’ve just finished collating all of the long tail keywords we feel are worth going after. I like coming into this part of the process with around 30-40 long tail keywords.

Now we’re at the point of refinement, at this point I take a step back and really look at what I’ve got, asking myself – is this keyword really relevant to my client’s business and the services or products that they offer? It’s quite easy to get carried away in the research stage as you’re learning so much about how your users search.

Although we may have an idea of the competitiveness for each keyword from our long tail keyword identification stage, we don’t know who exactly we’re competing with. Once filtering out all of the ‘fluff’, with what’s left, I manually look into the SERPs returned for each search term. If we’re having to compete with well-established websites for the top 3 positions, it may be worth putting our efforts towards other terms where we stand more of a chance of ranking well.

After refining, we ideally want to be dealing with around 15-20 long tail keywords.

Understanding Intent

Now we’ve got our shortlist of highly business relevant long tail keywords, so surely now we go ahead and create the content? No, we need to understand the intent behind each search term.

By applying each search term to the Customer buying cycle, we’re able to understand the intent behind their search. Knowing this can help us create effective, relevant content that meets our user at the right stage of their three stage buying cycle:

customer-buying-cycle

(Source: http://www.forentrepreneurs.com/buying-cycle-and-triggers/)

Let’s take a look at each stage in more detail and how it’s applied:

Awareness

When a user is at the awareness stage, they’re not wanting to buy into any product or service just yet, they’re seeking information to address their needs and questions. The typical characteristics of a search term performed in this stage? Typically, they’re searches that start with the Five Ws and H:

  • What to wear to a wedding men
  • Who sells abercrombie and fitch
  • When did fred perry clothing start
  • Where is asos based
  • Why fur on parka hoods
  • How to measure suit size

Whilst knowing this does help, an element of common sense needs to be applied as this is a general rule. Try to put yourself in the position of the user. If you were to make the specific search, why would you do so? What are you looking for?

Consideration

When at the consideration stage, a user is usually aware of a product range, certain products or services and is actively looking for a good reason to spend their cash. Some keywords that are typically used during this stage are:

  • river island shoes reviews
  • wayfarers vs aviators
  • best prom tuxedos
  • top 10 mens trainers
  • low cost running shoes

Marketers can often confuse users considering a purchase with users wanting to purchase. You want to make sure you’re getting this right, don’t start asking a user to buy when they’re not ready, they’ll leave.

It’s our job to be that inspiration needed to move a user into the next stage of the buying cycle. Give them a good reason to part with their cash.

Purchase

This is exactly what it says, the step in the buying cycle where the user makes the purchase. This is where action can be taken by us to help users buy into what we’re trying to sell them.

When a user is at this stage, there are certain keyword phrases that are almost always used, these being:

  • asos discount code
  • vans with free shipping
  • where to buy new balance 574
  • discount barbour jackets
  • buy nike roshe run
  • best price superdry windcheater jacket

The type of searches made at this stage of the buying cycle often involves the customer wanting to get the most for their money on an item they’ve set their sights on.

Targeting Long Tail

We’re finally at the point where we can make use of what we’ve discovered and start establishing ow we’re going to target our long tail keywords. I enter this stage with a strong list of around 15-20 long tail keywords, all of which have been scrutinised to make sure they fit with the brand I’m working with and have been mapped out against the buying cycle.

The worst thing we can do after all our efforts is to chuck these keywords onto our website in the form of low-quality content that’s not one bit useful to our user. Creature unique and useful content that caters for these keywords, making sure you’re engaging with the user the right way considering their stage in the buying cycle.

What content?

Although it seems to be common practice, targeting long-tail keywords isn’t all about producing long-form blog content! Be creative with your mapping, in a way that will enrich your website rather than affect the natural flow of it. Some other ways you can target long tail keywords are (and definitely not limited to):

  • FAQ Pages (a dedicated page or product/service level)
  • Q&A Style Blog Content
  • UGC – Client Testimonials, Product Reviews etc.
  • On-Page Content Optimisation

The Short Of It

Long tail keywords aren’t being utilised as much as they should be. They’re a huge opportunity for websites to get in front of qualified customers, looking to convert.

Make sure when developing a long tail keyword targeting strategy, you’re going through every core step to enable effective targeting:

  • Identify
  • Refine
  • Understand
  • Target

Just like all keyword research, this is an ongoing process. Once you’ve done this, that’s not it. SEO changes, search engines change and user search behaviour changes. It’s important to routinely undertake keyword research, be it fat head or long tail to ensure you’re staying relevant.

I’d be keen to hear if you’ve had any success from targeting long tail keywords. Drop me a comment or message me on Twitter: @LukeTheMono

About Luke Monaghan

Luke Monaghan is an SEO Executive at Koozai, a Southampton based Digital Marketing Agency. He has a keen interest in organic search, specifically the growth of mobile search and how it’s changing the search landscape.

  • Gareth Beck

    Really good article.

    I’m interested in what the three CRS principles you refer to are as I’m not familiar with them. Could you let me know?