Long Tail Keywords Can Wag the Dog

As SEOs, we are constantly cajoling our clients to create new, useful, unique content for their sites. When we build web sites, we always push the clients to include a blog where they can easily add this unique content to their site. Why? The short answer is long tail key words. Now, the long, long answer…

What Are Long Tail Keywords?

Long tail keywords are words or phrases (yes, the word “keyword” doesn’t just mean one word?it can mean a phrase) that people do not search for very often; they are unique turns of phrase that are not the most commonly used keywords to find a product, service, or piece of information through a search engine.

For example, if you were searching for a new mountain bike, “mountain bike” would likely be the most common keyword.  An example of a long tail keyword would be, “mountain bike with SRAM drivetrain under 21 lbs.”

But why are they called “long tail?” Maybe an example would explain it best. Imagine you own a sushi shop in Chicago and you want to get more customers to visit your web page by finding you easily in the search engines. The best way to fine tune your site is to find out what people are searching for when they are looking for sushi in Chicago. So, you turn to Google AdWord’s keyword tool, type in “Sushi in Chicago” and it spits out 650 keywords that are similar or related.

As you would expect, there are several keywords that are most often searched for: “sushi chicago,” “sushi restaurant chicago,” “best sushi chicago” to name a few. They are searched for tens of thousands of times a month. In the graph below, they are the long blue lines to the left. And, most importantly, these are the main keywords that you need to make sure your site focuses on. These keywords should be in your headers, URLs, and page titles.

Sample Graph of Long Tail Keywords
Sample Graph of Long Tail Keywords

You also need to be aware that you figured this out pretty quickly and easily…all your competitors are likely doing the same thing! They know these are the important keywords and they are working to make sure their websites draw traffic from those keywords as well.

You Still Haven’t Explained Where Long Tail Comes From…

I’m getting there! In addition to the major keywords, Google AdWords gave you a list of hundreds and hundreds of keywords related to “sushi in Chicago” but are only searched for 50 times a month?or maybe only 3?for example, “fresh maguro in chicago,” and “sushi restaurant with fresh ground wasabi.” When you look at the graph to the right, these keywords are those to the right of the graph where the number of searches per month is approaching zero…and if you use your imagination, it looks like a long tail. Yep, simple as that. They are called long tail keywords because they make the graph look like it has a long tail.

What Good Are Long Tail Keywords?

Often-searched-for keywords like “sushi chicago” are  heavily competed for. They are popular and therefore everyone wants to control them. This competition makes it difficult to get your web site to rank in the top few sites in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

However, not many shops are likely fighting to control “fresh maguro in chicago” so it is quite a bit easier to be at the top of the SERPs for it. You will likely only get a few hits a month for it, but if you are the only shop in town that talks about your fresh maguro, those people are searching for it are more likely to head your direction.

This is the key to long tail keywords?you will get less traffic from each long tail keyword, but you can rank for them more easily and you are likely to convert a much higher percentage of them.

How Do I Begin to Rank for Long Tail Keywords?

This is where blogs come in and are really handy. It’s really easy to put a post on your sushi shop’s blog proclaiming that you have fresh maguro in Chicago. Is it likely that your competitors have “fresh maguro in Chicago” anywhere on their web sites? Probably not. That means you will likely be at the top of the search results when people search for that phrase.

The beauty of blogs is that as you write about what you do, you are likely to unwittingly begin putting together the combinations of words that people don’t search for often, but do search for. And, since you are the only site that does have that unusual combination of words, your page will rise to the top for that phrase.

There are other ways to get long tail keywords onto your site: you can add static pages to the site, edit those static pages, and you can even add PDFs with the keywords in them if you do it well.

Long Tail Keywords Create Site Authority

When you start to rank for more and more long tail keywords, your site begins to acquire a level of authority with the search engines on the topic of your site. This means that the search engines trust you when you are writing on your topic. That makes it easier for you to begin to try to rank for middle-volume keyword (those that are searched for hundreds or thousands of times a month). So, long tail keywords can eventually help you begin to rank for even the high-volume keywords.

More Blog Posts Mean More Keywords and That’s Better for Business…Usually

Ranking for one long tail keyword isn’t going to make your business thrive. You need to rank for dozens and perhaps hundreds of them before you begin to see an impact in your web traffic. And this is why regular, consistent blogging is so critical for most businesses. The blog is a long tail keyword generator.

But as SEOmoz pointed out a couple of days ago, there is an upper limit. If your site has hundreds of thousands of pages, Google may decide to not index the whole site. For most of us, this is the least of our concerns. For this to be a concern, you need to have thousands upon thousands of pages on your site. If you are an amazingly dedicated blogger trying to get some long tail keyword traffic, there’s no way you’re going to bump your head on this limit. This problem is the problem of enormous web sites and/or spammers who are auto-generating tens of thousands of pages a day.

Wrapping Up This Long Tail Maki Roll

Long tail keywords are good for business. Do some keyword research, find some keywords that get some traffic but are not on any of your competitors’ sites. Make sure to get those keywords onto your site somehow?the easiest way is a blog. You can keep track of all of this using website analytics software like Google Analytics. Once you’ve started to rank for a lot of long tail keywords, start moving up to middle-level traffic keywords and trying to rank for them. After some success in the middle, you’ll have an easier time ranking for the high-volume keywords as well.

Posted in SEO


  1. Long tail keywords I think are what really helps grow a website online the right way. Plus when the long tail keywords really help to get a site ranking quicker than the shorter keyword phrases.

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