We’re not sure if the long tail keyword is overrated because its fullest potential is frequently not utilized by otherwise SEO perfect websites. However, the first step to answering the question posed by our title would be to understand the long tail.
How Long is a Long Tail Keyword?
This is a tricky one, and it may seem we are not keeping to our own proposition about understanding the long tail, but we are. Anyone can tell that ‘paint brush’ is a broad keyword and ‘sable hair watercolor brush’ is a long tailed one. What about ‘sable hair brush’, in that case? Is it broad or long? Like most things in life, it all depends upon context – and what you are trying to sell (and, there for, to rank for). If you type ‘sable hair brush’ into Google search box, you will realize from the different varieties of sable hair brush that are also presented in the search results that this is, indeed, a broad keyword. It still has a longer tail than just ‘paint brush’, however.
Did we confuse you? Not your fault – we were trying to hint at something called the keyword taxonomy where targeted keywords get increasingly longer as you enter deeper into a site’s hierarchy. Consider the following keyword & page: What do I need to tow a trailer. As you can see, the broad keyword here is ‘trailer hauling guide’ which has its own page and leads into one that has our long tail. Why doesn’t a site use only long tail keywords to rank? We are coming to that next.
First, here’s another example: mosquitomagnet.com/advice/mosquito-info/mosquito-borne-diseases/west-nile-virus. Can you spot the long tail? Of course you can, but only because you did not attach any importance to the length of it. You sensibly discerned that the site is about advice regarding mosquitoes, then about mosquito borne diseases and finally, coming down to something very specific – The West Nile Virus.
Our point? The long tail keyword is about specificity, not length. It is a different matter altogether that most specific queries turn out to be rather long.
Why Doesn’t a Site Use Only Long Tails to Rank?
The short answer to that is that if it did, it would have precious few visitors. Long tails are specific. People are looking for something within something within something. Paint Brush > Sable Hair Paint Brush > Sable Hair Watercolor Brush>Red Sable Watercolor Brush > Red Sable Watercolor Brush No. 6 … and so on. Are you going to sell only red sable hair watercolor brushes that are numbered 6? We hope not! Having said that, if this particular brush were to be an item that would interest collectors, then it would definitely make sense to rank for a long tail describing it. However, in that case this long tail would suddenly become a broad keyword and you would find words like ‘ivory’, ‘gold’, ‘platinum’, ‘antique’ and so on coming up to form the long tails specific to your site selling the number 6.
In other words, you normally target a broad (buying) audience and then lead them into an SEO funnel of sorts where the keywords get more and more specific. This way, everyone’s happy – all or most buyers you target get what they are looking for and you end up selling a lot of different stuff in one category of product or service.
To use our previous example regarding brushes, here are a few links from the same site to show you what we meant in the previous paragraph: rosemaryandco.com/watercolour-brushes/pure-red-sable | rosemaryandco.com/watercolour-brushes/special-brushes/series-40-triangular (this and the next one illustrate our ‘no. 6’ example) |.rosemaryandco.com/oil-brushes/24-inch-handle-oils/ivory-long-flats-24. Hopefully, this has demonstrated what we termed the SEO funnel, and the broad to long taxonomy.
Google Updates and the Long Tail Story
Yes, we are all wary about SEO these days, thanks to Google, but if you think about it, things are actually better – for the most part. Now, you can rank by creating value. More importantly, you can outrank sites that used to rank without providing value. Add to that the Hummingbird which takes into account voice searches, and you can see a very distinct leaning towards real life search queries and relevant search results.
What this means for you is that you should start talking to people – or have your team talk to them. In fact, you could have a brainstorming session with your own team to thrash out ideas regarding probable long tail keywords. The discussion would probably be centered round something like ‘What would I type into the search box if I wanted to buy Product X’ , where Product X is, of course, your product. Look closely at customer queries and even complaints. Look into questions that people ask about similar products on forums or social sites. We repeat: talk to people, listen to them, seek out real life search queries. Now create long tails out of the information you have gathered.
Getting to the Long Tail’s Lair
The long tail is everywhere. It is in Google suggest, Google’s Related Searches, in Answers.Com and in Yahoo! Answers. You just have to look for them. Here are a few other methods of finding the perfect long tail for yourself.
Look at your competitors’ sites. Don’t just look at the content, look closely at the sidebars, as well. Very often, you will find long tails slipped in surreptitiously into so called testimonials on the sidebar. In any case, looking closely at what makes your competitor tick is always a good idea.
2. Check Out Q & A Sites
3. Beat the Farmers
We mean content farms and the freelancers that produce the frequently superficial content there. EHow is a good example, and so is www2.geeks.com (for more technical and better content). No matter the quality of content, these sites are mostly highly optimized for long tail keywords and they get a lot of traffic. There have been rumors about Demand Media Studios (they own EHow) being in a bad state of affairs, but that hasn’t stopped the traffic – yet. You can bet their long tails are well researched to bring in visitors and revenue. Choose from their selection. This is even better than snooping on your competitors. It is often simpler to produce better content than the content farms when compared to providing better value than your competitors since they are also focusing upon content, just as you are. Thus, if you can consistently produce high value content for keywords that a content farm is getting traffic for, chances are good that you will be able to lure some of that traffic to yourself.
A word here about the traffic you will get in this manner: people looking for answers are not necessarily looking to buy or, at least, buy immediately. Still, traffic is traffic, and you are better off getting more than less if you wish to hold on to your ranking and get the buying visitors you really want.
4. Check the Stats
What are the queries that led people to your site? They are not invariably going to be the keywords you targeted. Pay special attention to those and create new content around them and their variations. Check also your Google Analytics organic search data. Choose the search terms that seem to get you the most ‘unsolicited’ traffic ( i.e. traffic that came to you through a keyword you have no content about) and create high value content around them, as well.
All keyword tools are reliable, but they don’t all operate on the same metrics. Use as many different tools as possible to get variations or entirely new keywords. Some of the more useful ones are, Twitter Search, Wordstreams‘ Free Keyword Tool, your own PPC campaign reports that show what keywords led people to your ads, YouTube’s keyword tool, and the new Keyword Planner tool that has replaced everyone’s favorite free keyword tool from Google. You will have to use your head, of course, but it is much easier to do so once you have a head start than when you are starting blank.
Are Long Tail Keywords Overrated?
In a way, yes. We could have told you this at the beginning, but the answer would have made less sense. Nothing beats buying keywords, whether broad or long tail. Buying keyword is what you should be targeting if you wish to make a sale. The joy of long tails is that a larger section of them are buying keywords when compared to the broad keywords. As we have seen, the person making the query has refined their search parameters and are now looking for something very specific. The percentage of traffic, quite naturally, dwindles (compare the number of people looking for oil brushes to the ones trying to find a long ivory flat brush number 24), but the conversion rate certainly sees a drastic increase.
When we say long tails are, in a way, overrated, we mean to differentiate between the long tail keywords that are targeted to be buying keywords and those that are merely, also targeted, queries. However, from the standpoint of a blogger who is looking to make money only on the side (as opposed to a full fledged Internet Marketer), even ‘merely queries’ are great news. So, overrated in a way or not, long tail keywords are where it’s at, and no webmaster who wants targeted traffic will ever want to ignore that fact.
Derek Fraser is an online Blogger. He likes to blogging about online strategies that are related to SEO, Content, PPC & Lead generation. Follow him on Google+.