The Difference Between Long Tail Keywords & Short Tail Keywords

Brendan Egan

The Difference Between Long Tail Keywords & Short Tail Keywords

The first part to any successful small business SEO campaign is proper keyword research and analysis. Most SEO companies bypass this critical step or put way too little effort into finding keywords that you company can realistically rank for on your budget but also find keywords that have enough traffic to justify spending money on optimization.
Simple SEO Group starts every new SEO campaign with extensive keyword research and analysis to find keywords that will best fit your small business. But two terms that are often thrown around during keyword analysis are long tail keywords and short tail keywords. Surely you have heard these terms before, but do you really understand what they mean?
Let’s assume we own a company that is based in Chicago, but is trying to attract customers within a 100 mile radius of downtown Chicago. Let’s also assume that this company is a law firm that specializes in divorce.

Short Tail Keywords

An example of a short tail keyword for this company would be ” attorney” or maybe even “Chicago attorney”. According to Google, each month there are approximately 27,100 US based searches for attorney and approximately 590 searches for Chicago attorney. This is certainly good traffic, but the competition for these keywords is also extremely high. Could your small business rank for these keywords? Yes, most certainly, but you probably won’t like what you hear when we give you a projected cost for these keywords as well as the amount of time it will take to rank.
As an example, we ranked one company in the number 1 spot for the keyword “trading course” which has higher competition than “divorce attorney” but this project took thousands of man hours and with that comes a several thousand dollar price tag. Rest assured we managed to rank this keyword in the number 1 spot on Google in just over 6 months, but not all small businesses are ready to invest this kind of money into search engine optimization–at least not yet.

Long Tail Keywords

Long Tail keywords usually consist of 3 or more words and are usually more specific to what your small business actually does. Back to our law firm example, a few long tail keywords that we might try to optimize for could be “Divorce Attorney” or better yet “Chicago Divorce Attorney” or “Chicago Family Divorce Attorney”. These keywords receive dramatically less traffic, however relative to the first two short tail keywords we looked at they are also much less competitive. This means less time and less money to get to page 1 of search results.
Another thing worth considering other than timeframe and cost is the effectiveness of a keyword for your small business. Chances are a good amount of the traffic searching for “divorce attorney” isn’t located within 100 miles of downtown Chicago. So even though it looks appealing to rank for a keyword with so much traffic, it probably isn’t practical and won’t end up converting these searches into new clients for you. Something we always consider when picking keywords, whether they are long tail or short tail, is the relevancy of the keyword for your small business and how well we think it will actually convert once that searcher comes to your company’s website.
While there is not a generic answer as to whether your small business should use a long tail keyword or short tail keyword, we can analyze this based on your expectations, budget, and time horizon. The best way to learn more about potential keywords for your small business is to submit a free small business SEO analysis and consultation request and speak to one of our veteran search engine optimization specialists.