What Are Long-Tail Keywords and Why Do They Matter in Content Marketing?

long-tail keywords

You’ve probably heard of these creatures called “long-tail keywords,” but you might not have a handle on what they are exactly or why they’re so important to your SEO and site conversion rates.

In business and statistics, a graph like the one pictured above is often used to depict a “head” where the bulk of what you’re measuring exists; this head then gives way to the tail, showing a variety of less common distribution. In terms of keywording, long-tail keywords are highly specific keyword phrases, usually at least three or four words long. These represent smaller search volumes and more search diversity that aren’t intended to bring your website more traffic, but to bring it better traffic. More on that distinction below.

Head Keywords 

To understand the value of long-tail keywords, let’s start with the ones at the other end of the curve, the so-called head keywords, or top-level keywords. These are usually single words that refer to a broad category, industry, concept, etc. A few examples would be: 

  • Travel
  • Marketing
  • Cars
  • Dogs
  • Weddings 

These are pretty useless. You’ll never rank on the first page of Google search results for these terms. If you’re in the travel industry, you’re not going to unseat the top results, belonging to the likes of Travelocity, Travel & Leisure, Travel Channel, CNN, The New York Times, and the BBC. At least not without tons of money for massive, prolonged marketing campaigns and a long, long time to wait. 

But that’s OK, because nobody’s searching for head keywords anyway. Nobody easily finds what they want by just Googling a top-level term. And even if they did happen to find your site by searching for one, what are the odds they’d actually be looking for what you’re selling? 

Refining Keywords 

Head keywords can be narrowed down to mid-length keyword phrases consisting of two or three words. These capture more of the searcher’s intent, but are still not all that specific or useful, either for the searcher or for the website capturing the traffic. 

For example, you might add a location to the head keyword to get things like “Orlando travel” or “Orlando weddings.” Or, you could add other qualifiers like “content marketing,” “rental cars,” or “dog adoptions.” 

But then you get into long-tail keywords, which typically have at least three to five words and are much more narrowly focused. To continue with our examples: 

  • Orlando theme park hotel travel packages – or – kid-friendly restaurants near Disney World
  • how to do content marketing – or – small business content marketing services
  • rental cars Orlando airport – or – Orlando car share programs
  • Orlando shelters dog adoptions – or – no-kill Orlando shelters that take puppies
  • cheap Orlando wedding venues – or – custom wedding cakes in Orlando 

Long-Tail Keywords and Searcher Intent 

As you can see, long-tail keywords make it much more obvious what the person performing the search is looking for. They often, but not always, include head and/or mid-level keywords, but they use at least an additional word or two to further refine intent. Many times, the inclusion of a location is important. 

From the user standpoint, this is the best way to quickly find exact information. People know that if they want to see car rental options at Orlando International Airport, they aren’t going to find them by just searching for “cars” or “rental cars.” 

From a business website’s perspective, long-tail keywords capture highly targeted, somewhat prequalified traffic. If you operate a low-cost wedding venue in Orlando, how important is it that someone getting married in Boise, Idaho who wants to buy a wedding gown finds your website? How about someone Googling “cheap Orlando wedding venues”? 

People searching for long-tail keywords have a good idea what they want. They’re at least beyond the first stage of the buyer’s journey and are now looking to act on their need or desire. This is what we mean by getting better traffic, rather than more traffic. It’s traffic that’s much more likely to convert into a lead or sale. 

And it just so happens that it’s much easier to rank highly in Google search results for long-tail keyword phrases than it is for top- or mid-level keywords. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be quick or easy. But there’s considerably less competition and much more hope for getting found for “Orlando theme park hotel travel packages” than for “travel” or even “Orlando travel.” 

Long-Tail Keywords in Content 

The content you publish on your website provides excellent opportunities to attract targeted traffic. Long-tail keyword phrases should also be included in your website copy, but there’s much more room to stretch out and focus on a higher number and greater variety of relevant long-tail keywords in your blog posts or articles. 

Use these narrowly defined search terms in your content titles. It should be easy to do if you’re sticking to one focused topic per piece. Incorporate long-tail keywords that people would use when performing research related to your products or services or looking for a provider. You’re much more likely to be found, and you’re much more likely to get a sale from the people who find you.

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