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The Difference Between Long-Tail & Short-Tail Keywords, and Why They are Important

By Sarah Wain
on 30/8/18

Keywords are the life-blood of search engines. In order to properly optimise your content to get more traffic and visibility in SERPs, you’ll need to carry out substantial keyword research. But which keywords should you be using in your meta data and web copy – short-tail, long-tail or a combination of the two?

The answer to that question depends on what you want to achieve. Do you want to yield more visitors? Or yield more visitors who are ready to buy your product / invest in your services?

Both short-tail and long-tail keywords are important to your overall SEO strategy, but they have slightly different purposes. In this blog, we’ll explain the difference between the two and why you should use them to optimise your web content.

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What are short-tail keywords?

Short-tail keywords are generally the most effective way to drive visitors at the top of the buying funnel to your site. These terms only contain between 1 and 3 words, such as ‘handbags’, or ‘designer handbags’. This type of keyword tends to garner high search volumes – for example, designer handbags sees a whopping 74,000 searches every month.

The thing to remember about short-tail keywords is, with such high search volumes, they’re competitive little things. These search terms are generic, making them more difficult to rank highly in Google SERPs. But don’t be disheartened if it feels like you’re standing at the back of a very long, very impatient queue. If you’re targeting the right keywords, all it takes is patience, hard work and the right approach and you will start to see results. But more on that later. 

What are long-tail keywords?

Long-tail keywords can be extremely effective in bringing visitors to your site, but they can also be used to target users who are searching for your brand and intending to buy from you. These terms contain more than three words, target users at different stages of the buying funnel, and tend to be more descriptive – for example, ‘designer handbags for work’, or ‘which iPhone has the best camera’.

These searchers already know what they want, but they’re doing their research to find out which option is best for them. This is your chance to reach out to your audience. By knowing the type of long-tail keywords users are searching for, you can tailor your content so that it reaches the people who may ultimately want to buy your product.

The downside to long-tail keywords is that they almost always have far lower search volume than short-tail keywords. In comparison to the 74,000 searches for ‘designer handbags’ every month, there are a mere 90 for ‘designer handbags for work’. But then ‘which iPhone has the best camera’ sees 2,900 monthly searches, so there is a lot of diversity when it comes to volume.

Again, don’t let lower search volumes put you off and assume it’s not worth including a term because it only gets 90 monthly searches. More than 70% of internet searches are made up of long-tail keywords, and the users you do gather from these terms have a higher intent to purchase because they’re searching for something specific. The competition is also lower because they’re not searching for a generic term, which means there’s a higher chance of users seeing your content and, hopefully, making a conversion.

Now I know the difference, how do I conduct the keyword research?

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To be honest, this topic could be a whole separate blog in itself. But there are a few basic rules you can follow to get the best out of your research:

  • Start with your brand’s products or services. If you sell hot water bottles, that’s your first short-tail keyword, so go from there
  • Look at your website. What are your headings and sub-headings? These are another good source of potential keywords, both short and long-tail
  • Check out your competitors. What are their title tags, headings and subheadings? Honestly, competitor sites are a treasure trove of keywords – go steal them.
  • Think about location. Locational keywords are a great way to target users who live close to your business. For example, if you’re a dentist based in Hampshire, your users will be searching for ‘dentists in hampshire’, so make sure they find you.
  • Think about informational keywords. Not everyone searching for your product or service already has a direct intent to purchase. Many users are looking for more information before they make the decision to buy. Think about what you’d want to know if you were an internet searcher looking for more information on your product. Questions are an excellent base for long-tail keywords, so that’s certainly something to consider during your research. Where could you place questions within your page content?

If this all sounds like hard work, fear not. There are loads of really useful free keyword tools out there to help you out. But if you’re still feeling unsure, get in touch. Our dedicated team are experts in both short-tail and long-tail keyword research and would love to help you out.

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