Wagging the Long Tail of Keywords

There are plenty of SEO have-a-go heroes out there - this article is for you. I spent five years working full-time at an online news agency. We had regular training on everything from on-page SEO to Google News inclusion and even supporting websites through social media.

It's a fast-changing online world and, even if you think you have a good awareness of what's going on, you've probably missed something. I personally believe this is no bad thing - you'll never overtake the competition by doing what they're doing, you need to try something new.

And that is why I'm writing this piece, to highlight the importance of long-tail keywords. They're harder to strategise for, as it's impossible to know the exact wording to target, but the rewards can be great.

First, a word of warning...

Don't let the tail wag the dog

It's easy to become obsessed with SEO - you make one change and it works a little, so lots of changes should work a lot, right? Well no, not necessarily. The key word (as opposed to the keyword) in SEO is the O - optimisation.

SEO is about creating the optimal content on a given page and, in some cases, supporting this through inbound links and other off-page techniques. If your text is already performing as well as can be expected, changing it will only make things worse.

Keep in mind what you are trying to achieve and how your text helps you to do this - let the overall aims of your site dictate what you cover in your plain text content. Don't compromise the entire site for the sake of a higher keyword density or front-loaded headline.

In short, don't let the tail wag the dog.

Non-scratch chainmail iPhone covers

Not a subheading you were probably expecting, but a fine example of a long-tail keyword. A short-tail keyword would be, for example, 'iPhone covers', a search term for which there are 93.5 million results on Google.

Imagine, though, that someone out there is a Camelot enthusiast; they want to carry their phone with them when re-enacting Arthurian legends, but they want it to fit in with the rest of their outfit. They need a chainmail iPhone cover.

Amazingly, there are 1.4 million results for this - there genuinely are places out there selling chainmail iPhone covers. Lots of them. So let's be more specific. Let's search for one that will not scratch the screen.

While there are over a quarter of a million results for 'non-scratch chainmail iPhone covers', none of them appear to be selling them - they just happen to contain the right words.

So, if you're out there with a massive stock of non-scratch chainmail iPhone covers, keyword your site accordingly. The only real competition you'll face is from this blog post.

Real-life examples

One of my proudest entries on this blog is Putting Colour into QR Codes, a process I devised myself and as yet haven't seen described anywhere else online - although I'm sure somebody else must have tried it.

Recently that page received a direct hit after somebody searched for 'Do QR codes have to be in black and white?'. At ten words, that would have to qualify as a long-tail keyword, although it's not in the form of a single compound noun phrase like the example given above.

It does, however, highlight that the words on your page typically do not need to be in the exact same order as they occur in the search query. More written content means more words, which means more chance of matching more of the words in the individual search query received.

This raises the page's perceived relevance to the search engine, scoring it a higher ranking, as well as making it likely to appear more relevant to the individual and making a clickthrough and conversion more likely still.

Long tails and short-tail targeting

So where do long-tail keywords fit into your existing SEO strategy? Well, if you're focusing on a fairly generic phrase like 'car insurance', you can still target the short tail while adding additional words to the front or end to create a long-tail phrase at the same time.

Take the example of cheap company car insurance cover - you've still got your two-word short-tail phrase in the middle of there, along with the following long-tail terms:
  • car insurance cover

  • company car insurance

  • cheap company car

  • company car insurance cover

  • cheap company car insurance

  • cheap company car insurance cover
And that's the joy of long-tail keywords - in just a few words you can significantly increase the number of search queries for which your page will qualify and, if you hit on the precise wording, shoot straight to the top of the SERPs for a highly relevant query.