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February 21, 2013

Are You Undervaluing Your Long Tail Keywords?

Every business has a short list of keywords they would love to rank well for.  Big, broad, highly-searched keywords like “insurance,” “IT services” or “cheap airfare” could drive tens or even hundreds of thousands of visitors to the top ranked websites.

There is no denying that websites on the first page of Google or Bing are bound to get the lion’s share of click-throughs, but the more searched a keyword is, the more competitive it is and the harder it is for websites to make much headway.

For instance, you could spend months (maybe even years) trying to claw your way to the top of the SERPs for a broad keyword like “consulting” and barely crack page three after months and months of work. Most websites can’t afford to only exist on page three, four, five or deeper in the search engines—so what’s a website owner to do?

The answer to success lies in the long tail keyword, which is still being undervalued by many site owners. Here are a few things that might help change their mind:

Long Tail Keywords Deliver Better Traffic

“Consulting” gets more than three million searches a month, but what kind of consulting are those searchers looking for? Business? Technology? Someone that needs a health-care IT consultant is looking for something very different than someone who needs small business consulting advice, but in theory both those searchers could use “consulting” to start their search process.

A lot of site owners are blinded by the search volume of a particular keyword and fail to account for user intent. Long tail keywords may have a smaller search volume but searchers that are much farther along in their buying cycle and know exactly what they are looking for and are more likely to convert are using them. A 2011 study found that long tail keywords convert 2.5 times better than broader terms. That’s what happens when you take user intent into account and drill down to the kind of keywords your specific target audience is using to search. Broad keywords might send more traffic your way, but long tail keywords send better traffic and that’s far more valuable to your bottom line in the long run.

Traffic from Long Tail Keywords Adds Up

Let’s say your enterprise software company had a list of 20 “priority” keywords you wanted to do well for. This list might include broad keywords like “ERP software” and “ERP system.”

Since those keywords are fairly competitive, your company might only be on page two for the search results. But, since they are highly searched, you still might be getting 700 to 800 visitors a month from those two keywords alone as searchers dig through the SERPs.

Now, let’s say you broaden that list of priority keywords to include 150 other long tail variations (after you’ve optimized your website for SEO) that include things like “enterprise accounting software” or “online ERP software.” Those keywords might only send 10 to 15 visitors to your site each month (maybe even as few as two to three), but 10 extra visitors times 150 keywords is 1,500 extra visitors every month. And like I mentioned before, that’s 1,500 extra highly targeted visitors coming to your site each month.

If you’ve done a good job with your SEO program there are probably another 300 even longer tail variations of your actively targeted keywords that are driving traffic to your site. All of those keywords, even if they only send one or two visitors are month, start to add up. In fact, another SEO study found that long-tail keywords provide more than four times the volume of traffic than their broader counterparts when you add it all up. I can’t think of any website that doesn’t want to quadruple its traffic (more targeted traffic at that) from keywords they can actually dominate with a strong SEO program.

Long Tail Searches Are Becoming More Common

Back in 2010, Google announced more than 20 percent of searches for the year were searches that have never before been seen. It’s safe to assume that single or double word searches like “insurance” or “mortgage company” weren’t among that new list of keywords.

Your target audience is getting better and better at using the search engines to find the exact information they want, which means they are searching using more long tail, targeted and specific keyword phrases. These search phrases could easily be four or five words long. Think someone searching for “life insurance for small business owner” or “hospital pharmacy outsourcing” didn’t mean exactly what they typed in?

Those are the kind of visitors you want to pull into your site. Since long tail searches are getting more and more common, long tail keywords are getting more and more valuable. In theory, there is no limit to the way people can search for information and two people could search for the exact same thing in completely different ways. The best way to position your site in front of those visitors is through long tail keywords.

I know it’s tempting to look at a keyword like “shoes” and think to yourself: “Even if I could get one percent of those 24.9 million searches I’d be set for life.” But just remember that search volume isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to SEO and choosing your keywords.

You might always be working toward that broad keyword as the end goal (and who knows, someday you might get there) but, in the mean time, it’s the long tail keywords that help keep your website alive and your doors open.

Don’t undervalue the power of the long tail!

Nick Stamoulis is the president of B2B SEO company Brick Marketing. With nearly 13 years of industry experience Nick Stamoulis shares his knowledge by writing in the Brick Marketing Blog and publishing the Brick Marketing SEO Newsletter, read by more than 150,000 opt-in subscribers. Contact Nick Stamoulis at 781-999-1222 or