When it comes to search engine optimization, there are two sets of keywords that we can go after: competitive keywords and long tail keywords. And like anything there are pros and cons to using each type, and different applications for each type.
What Are Competitive Keywords?
In short, competitive keywords are keywords that are very difficult to rank for, but have a ton of searches per month. An example of a competitive keyword might be “buy cars” or “find used cars” which could have tens of thousands even hundreds of thousands of searches per month. The benefit obviously is that you will get an enormous amount of traffic when you rank for these terms, but they are extremely difficult to rank for and leave you with an enormous problem if a Google update rolls out that harms your rankings.
What Are Long Tail Keywords?
Long tail keywords, on the other hand, are keywords that are much easier to rank for, but have very few searches per month. An example of a long tail keyword might be “buy used cars online in Chicago” or “how do I find the best priced used car?” which could have anywhere from 10 searches per month up to a few hundred searches per month. The drawback of these keywords obviously is that they don’t have a lot of traffic behind them, but the benefits are that they are much easier to rank for and you are much less likely to see a dramatic drop in traffic with any major Google update.
Why Use Long Tail Keywords?
The main reason we’ve incorporated long tail keywords into our SEO strategy for our site as well as our clients is to diversify and protect them. In 2011, Google rolled out the first string of the Panda update and in 2012 the first string of the Penguin update which left hundreds of thousands of website owners scrambling to figure out ways to get their traffic back. Imagine ranking #1 for a keyword and getting 1,000 new customers a week from that keyword, then overnight your traffic disappears. Unfortunately that’s exactly what happened to a lot of business owners after these updates, and many of them were left laying off their workforce or closing up shop. Fortunately less than 5% of our clients were harmed by these updates, but nevertheless we never know what Google update will come next.
Do Long Tail Keywords Really Generate Traffic?
Yes they do, and to demonstrate that I’m going to use one of our clients as an example. This client (which we won’t specifically name for privacy reasons) received 245,000 visits from organic search engines in the last year. As shown below, to the left, those searches came from 61,044 different keywords, which means on average each keyword drove about 4 visits to the site.
Now of course mixed in there are competitive keywords that drove thousands of visits to the site, so what we did is filtered down the organic search terms to only display keywords that drove less than 1,200 searches in the 1 year period (or keywords that drove less than 100 searches per month, which definitely qualifies as long tail). We were left with 171,215 searches from 60,998 different keywords, which means just with long tail we saw an average of about 2.8 visits per keyword.
What most people don’t recognize is that Google itself has said that about 50% of their searches everyday are unique, that is they have never been searched for before. So while there are abundant numbers of people searching for highly competitive terms, there are also an infinite amount of long tail terms that we can use to get traffic organically.
How Do You Target Long Tail Keywords?
We incorporate them into most of our SEO services for our clients, and it consists of two steps: 1) content creation and 2) content promotion/link building. We start out by ensuring that everything is properly setup on-site to allow for proper rankings and content management, then either create content or work with our clients to create content targeting long tail keywords, then begin aggressive link building campaigns to promote that content.
It does take a while to build up large amounts of traffic, however in the case we provided above in only about 1,000 pages of content we were able to drive 171,215 searches from long tail keywords. I don’t know any business that wouldn’t be willing to dedicate some time and resources to content creation and SEO to improve their overall website and drive tons of traffic to the site.
So How Important Are Long Tail Keywords?
Very important. I would argue that long tail keywords are even more important than competitive keywords these days, given the dramatic changes search engines have been rolling out. It’s a fantastic way to drive tons of targeted traffic to specific pages designed for that traffic, and at the same time protect yourself from violent swings in traffic from update to update.
If you’re interested in learning more about our SEO approach for our clients, simply fill out the form to the right to request a free consultation and we’ll explain more about how a balanced SEO strategy can not only help drive traffic to your website, but can also diversify against future algorithm changes.