What Is A Long Tail Keyword & Why You Should Care

By Jeremy Eisenberg - December 03, 2014

What is a Longtail keyword  - and why should you careI am sure you heard the term keyword before when it comes to your online marketing efforts.

"Keywords! Keywords! Keywords!" used to be the old battle call that ruled the SEO industry in the days before Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird - and eventually gave it a bad name as SEO's tried to game the algorithm by stuffing websites with relevant, or irrelevant keywords.

Today, however, you will find your main keyword is "Not Provided", and that won't change anytime soon.

So what gives?

Keywords, or to be more precise long tail keywords and phrases, should not be the foundation that your entire marketing strategy is built on. Your buyer persona, your corporate culture and your services should be. But keywords are what people type into Google to find you, so you cannot discount their importance - if you know how to use them properly.

What Is A Long Tailed Keyword?

Let's say you are a small but high-end furniture manufacturer. You would not want to try to rank for the keyword "table" or "chair". You would go for "modern farm house dinner table" or "teal mid-century modern dining chairs". Those are long tail keywords.

Let's look at it a little closer:

Wordtracker defines a long tail keyword as "a keyword (or, rather, a search that has been made on the internet) which is really specific to something that the searcher is looking for." Wordstream's PPC University specifies that longer and more specific keyword phrases are more likely to be used closer to a point-of-purchase.

OK, so what does that really mean?

What the Wordstream definition says is that the searcher that uses long tail keywords when they are farther along in the buyer's journey, towards the bottom of the funnel.

To stay with our example from above, your prospect has already decided, they want a modern farm house table for their dining room, but they are looking to find the right one and make a purchase. Or they might need help deciding between two options and search for which type of mid-century modern chair fits with the rest of their decor.

But I am sure I am not telling you something you don't know: the more specific words you put into your search query, the more relevant the results will be. This is nothing new.

What's New Is How We Search

Do you use Siri, Cortana or Google Now? Chances are if you don't you know someone who does. Everyone from the Baby Boomers Generation to Generation Z talk into phone more for search than to call someone. Even my parents talk into their phone instead of calling "information", or in a pinch the library for a weather update (and yes, my father always called the library for the weather before he got his smart phone).

Google Conversational SearchIt is called conversational search. You can say, it is the future of search but it is already here.

After Google implemented Hummingbird, which was basically putting a brand new type of engine into an already awesome car, sites that were purely keyword focused, especially short keywords, suffered hard. Hummingbird is Google's response to the way we changed how we search.

Sites that did not get hurt by Hummingbird, or even saw their rankings increase, were ones that had content focused around long tailed keywords. Even better were sites that had content written to educate, taking into account keywords, rather than taking a keyword and building content around it.

In essence, an inbound approach to keywords.

Changing The Definition Of Long Tail

Who says that long tail keywords are for searchers that are ready to buy? Oh right the Wordstream snippet I quoted earlier.

Well I don't think that holds true anymore. Why can't I have a long term keyword like:

"Should I lease or finance a new car?"

"I'm feeling sluggish but I am not sick"

"How can I get Inbound Marketing budget from my boss"

OK, so the first search query puts the searcher in the middle of the funnel. They know they need a new car, and are starting to weigh their options. At this point they might now have any idea as to the brand they want. Maybe they would even be interested in a late model used car if they found the right educational material from their search.

The second search query, though more of a statement, is typical of someone at the top of the funnel. Why are they feeling sluggish? They already say they are not sick, but maybe they have a vitamin deficiency, or maybe they are sick and just haven't pieced together all the facts yet. Either way if one of the results were to be an article about how to combat feeling sluggish with exercise, eating right, or taking vitamins regularly that searcher could become a lead for a gym, health food store or vitamin company.

The third example is of someone who has already made their decision and is looking for support to back this decision up. We, as content marketers, can help this person by providing helpful charts, graphics and case studies. Not only will make this the person look better in front of her boss when she will ask for budget because she can show she did her homework, but if our content was the most helpful to solving her problem, she will hold our business in higher esteem and come back whenever she will need our help again.

How Do I Focus On Long Tail

Like doing any keyword research, you can use Google Keyword Planner, Market Samurai, Wordtracker or Wordstream, and look for the longer phrases. Market Samurai has a filter option that lets you only see the long tail keywords and nothing else.

But a way that can be even more effective than spending a day on long tail keyword research is to think about your buyer persona, write something educational and informative for them, and talk using natural language. Try to avoid using lofty overly descriptive language, keep it the way you would have an intelligent conversation with someone generally interested in talking to you.

How do you use the long tail? What are your experiences with it? Let me know in the comments.

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