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All You Need to Know About Semantic and Long-Tail Keywords

If you owned a website even a decade ago, you’ll know how simple it was to introduce SEO (search engine optimization). For Google, and most other search engines, keywords were the most important factor of all which meant you could choose one keyword for each piece of content and cram it in as many times as possible. Even with no relevance, this was the best way to reach the first page and this meant anyone could enjoy success.

Today, the process is a little more difficult and the launch of ‘Penguin’ from Google has meant that so-called ‘keyword stuffing’ no longer works. Instead, the best way to see good results is if you have a keyword strategy across your whole website. With spam detection at an all-time high, keyword research is becoming more valuable and today we’re going to look at two theories and techniques you can use in 2017 (and beyond!).


Firstly, we’re going to start with semantic and, by definition, this describes how we interpret a single word or phrase. If we take the word ‘crane,’ how is the search engine supposed to know whether you’re searching for the animal, the equipment used on construction sites, or the way we might adjust our necks to see something far away?

On a website, it can’t determine what you mean by this one word alone which is why it looks to the words around it to get a feeling for what your content is discussing. Looking at the wider picture, the text might say ‘why cranes are pivotal for a building site’ and this allows the search engine to recognize what niche you’re targeting. Suddenly, it becomes clear that you’re not talking about the bird or about craning your neck to see something; unless the birds have some unknown benefit to building sites we should know.

However, this is a double-sided effect because, once it has the niche on which your content is based, it then uses the same process to show results. If Google only showed results for the phrase you type into the search engine, you wouldn’t actually get very many results because not many webpages will have a title formed in the same way. Therefore, Google might show results for ‘crane importance,’ ‘crane history on building sites’ and ‘industrial crane benefits.’

Is It Important? — At the moment, you might be wondering why this information is important for you but it could be pivotal in this ever-more competitive world. If you want to climb the rankings these days, you’ll need to incorporate the keywords or phrases in addition to the related terms and phrases that Google will use to show the most relevant results. When forming the rankings for any given keyword, the search engine will effectively create a spider diagram will all related keywords coming off it. Therefore, you need to do the same if you’re going to see results any time soon.

Step 1: Level 1 Keywords — First and foremost, you need to create a list of your core keywords. As well as your target phrase, these ‘Level 1’ keywords will also show the variations of the phrase and the different ways these phrases can be typed online. To start, the phrases should remain very close to the focus keyword without straying too far away.

Thanks to Google, we actually have everything we need for this stage of the research and it comes from ‘Related Searches.’ When you type a question or phrase into Google, it will automatically display related searches because these might be better for finding the page you need. With this list, you can see all the different variations of typing the same phrase. For example, when typing ‘crane building site,’ we got the related searches of ‘tower crane height,’ ‘tower crane parts,’ ‘what is tower crane,’ ‘types of mobile cranes,’ and ‘types of tower cranes.’

If you carry out this research yourself, you’ll find the closest variations of the same phrase because they’re being suggested by Google. Therefore, it means they’ve been typed into Google extensively and have become the norm when it comes to this particular topic. With these variations, you’re off to a fantastic start.

Step 2: Level 2 Keywords — With the main list all ready to use, now is the time to create a list of ‘thematically’ related keywords. Although not directly linked to the target keyword, they will still be linked with the concept itself. At this stage, you need to think about why people are searching the phrase they’re searching online.

If we use the crane example once again, you can create a list of keywords and phrases linked to the concept as opposed to the focus keyword. For example, this could be ‘equipment used on a building site,’ ‘building machinery,’ ‘how building sites manage large objects’, etc.

Once we start adding these keywords to the strategy, we really start to hit our stride. Not only is the site now ranking for the target keywords, it’s also reaching out for the Level 2 keywords that capture the audience at a much earlier process in the searching stage.

Step 3: Level 3 Keywords — So far, we’ve dealt with the focus keyword and what people might search before then reaching this focus keyword, but what about after this process? With most products on the market, they look for reviews, they research more information, and then they need another question answering. As a business supplying content for the industry, you always have to ask yourself ‘what next?’

If we use laptops as an example, people will read reviews and conduct extensive research on the topic…but what next? Well, they need to know how and where to buy the laptop. Furthermore, they need to know how to use it correctly and how to make the most of the laptop they buy. While people might not want to buy cranes, there could still be a ‘what next?’ in the process (especially if it’s the builders doing the searching).

Step 4: Humans First — Once you have this information, you can ensure you enter all three stages of the keyword research phase into your content. Rather than targeting one stage and hoping for the best, you can attempt to reach your audience at three different stages. As long as the content is of a high-quality and is genuinely useful, your result will show at all three stages.

In terms of producing the content itself, we always advise writing for humans first because this will always be the most important factor. If your material doesn’t sound natural, nobody will continue reading because it doesn’t actually help with the problem they’ve clicked on the website to solve (the main reason your content exists). As long as you remember your audience and write for them first, then you can think about the search engines and how to utilize the research process you’ve just completed.

If you can master this balance between a conversational tone and using keywords and phrases (Levels 1, 2, and 3), there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy some level of success this year. The more content you produce using this method, the better results you’ll see.

Long-Tail Keywords

Now you have everything you need for semantic, but what about long-tail keywords? Have you ever noticed how you and most others type questions into Google? As soon as a question hits our mind, we type the question without actually thinking because we think this will bring the most accurate results. As a business, you need to target these questions and they are called ‘long-tail keywords.’

While the shorter keywords and phrases will focus on just the most important words — for example, ‘karaoke bar London’ — long-tail keywords are all about the whole question; ‘where is the best karaoke bar in London? Nowadays, anyone in the world can incorporate a couple of keywords into some content so long-tail keywords are the best way to find your niche audience. As you may have noticed, this is a form of semantic search because you’re answering a question asked at any of the three stages. Essentially, the searchers are looking for people who have asked the exact same question so they can receive a sensible and appropriate answer.

Why Long-Tail Keywords? — With general keywords and phrases, they’re incredibly easy to incorporate into the content and this is because they aren’t necessarily specific. Due to this lack of specificity, the competition will be extremely high. If you were to focus on these keywords alone, you might struggle to find your audience because they’ll get lost in the crowd and you won’t be able to make an impact on the search ranking.

With long-tail keywords, they are far more specific which means you target a much smaller niche. With the competition not as fierce, you should be able to rank a little higher and you can really find the audience that will rate and buy your service. At first, these long-tail keywords might struggle to gain attention but you’ll soon own the keyword phrase as time goes on. Sure, the interest you receive from this tactic might be lower but it’s also more sustainable which means you could potentially see traffic many years from now.

Does It Work? — Ultimately, long-tail keywords do still work and their role in SEO and website content is more important than ever before. What’s more, people are more likely to make a purchase after a long-tail keyword which gives us another reason to keep trying. With short phrases and one-word searches, it suggests the user is trying to obtain information. By asking a question online, they’re actively looking for a solution and many times this will start with ‘where to buy…’. If you manage to show up on the search results when they’re pro-actively looking for a service or product to purchase, you stand a great chance of making a sale.

As we saw with semantic, long-tail keywords will generally be Level 3 keywords too which is the ‘follow-up’ stage and the stage at which they’re most likely to take action. In a recent experiment, we saw ‘Smartphone’ have more than 1.8 million searches in a single month. With ‘best Android phone,’ this decreased to 135,000 searches; with ‘where can I find the best mobile phone deals,’ it decreased to just a handful. As mentioned previously, this isn’t going to be as popular but it should lead to more sustainable success.


If you combine semantic and long-tail keywords, you have yourself a winning strategy for the time ahead. While others are worrying about focus keywords and seeing no progress, you can utilize this strategy and watch as the visitors come flocking.

About the author


Michell Morgan

Michell Morgan is currently working as a content and digital marketer at Lilo UK. Lilo is a web development and online marketing company based in London, United Kingdom. Michell is a passionate writer, with more than seven years of experience in digital marketing. She writes articles on latest online marketing and e-commerce trends. She loves learning about the social media marketing trends and how to improve conversion rates on e-commerce websites.


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