Long-Tail Keywords Explained: The Ultimate Guide

Published: Aug 08, 2019
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With over 76,000 Google searches taking place per second, how do you make your website stand out from the crowd?

The answer is long-tail keywords.

Long-tail keywords push your site to the top of search results and deliver traffic to your website—traffic that can turn into paying customers.

Of course, your success with long-tail keywords ultimately comes down to which phrases you use and how you use them.

If you target the right mix, you’ll propel yourself ahead of your competition, build a steady stream of organic visitors, and stand out as a leader in your niche.

What are long-tail keywords?

Long-tail keywords are search phrases with low search volume. These queries tend to be more specific and contain three or more words, although it’s also possible to find short long-tail phrases (i.e., one or two words).

Short-tail keywords, on the other hand, have significantly higher search volume. While these phrases are typically shorter in length, short-tail keywords can also be three or more words.

It’s thus important to remember that search volume is the crucial differentiator for distinguishing between long- and short-tail keywordsnot the number of words in a phrase.

Short-Tail and Long-Tail Keyword Examples

Still confused about the difference between short- and long-tail keywords?

Consider the difference between these two search queries:

  • women’s jacket
  • casual dress jackets for women

According to SEMrush, the first search term, “women’s jacket,” is a short-tail keyword because there are 74,000 searches for it per month. However, even without a keyword research tool, you might deduce that it’s short-tail because the phrase is broader and could include rain jackets, hooded jackets, winter jackets, spring jackets, and leather jackets.

Meanwhile, the second search term, “casual dress jackets for women,” receives on average, only 30 searches a month—making it a long-tail keyword.

Can you guess why there might be fewer searches for this phrase?

It contains more detail, reflecting the user’s intent to find a specific type of jacket.

Why use long-tail keywords in your content strategy?

More adept businesses actively identify and pursue long-tail keywords over short-tail keywords—and for good reason. There are four major benefits to using long-tail keywords:

  1. Less competition
  2. Ideation for your content strategy
  3. Increased conversion rates
  4. More traffic sustainability

We’ll go over each in more detail below.

Less Competition

Users generally search long-tail keywords when they’re looking for precise information. Because of their low search volume, though, many businesses gloss over them. Instead, they opt for targeting short-tail keywords with the belief that their high search volume means greater content ROI.

This makes long-tail keywords far less competitive, which you can use to your advantage.

Think about our previous keyword example of “women’s jacket” vs. “casual dress jackets for women.” If you type those phrases into Google, you’ll see:

  • 3.58 billion search results for “women’s jacket”
  • 450 million results for “casual dress jackets for women”

There are over 155% more results for the short-tail phrase than its long-tail counterpart.

So, if you happened to run an ecommerce store selling women’s jackets, wouldn’t you rather target the keyword with less competition?

Done on a large scale, you can seize the top spots in search results for many long-tail phrases. And though low in search volume, ranking #1 for them can ultimately translate into a higher cumulative amount of traffic to your site.

Ideation for Your Content Strategy

Have you ever sat in front of your computer without an idea of what to write about?

Or maybe you’ve written so much content that you’re not sure what’s worth focusing on next.

In either case, long-tail keywords can help you generate new topic ideas to avoid this dreaded writer’s block.

For example:

Say your business is an auto repair shop. You’ve tackled broader, short-tail topics in your blog and are now at a loss for what to write about next.

But, through long-tail research, you find untouched search terms. These include:

  • auto repair shops near me
  • auto air conditioning repair
  • find a Honda mechanic
  • automotive repair estimator
  • local certified mechanic shops

Voila—with these new phrases, you’ve got fuel for your content strategy. In this way, long-tail keywords can supply new blog post ideas for your site.

<div class="tip">Need some extra help coming up with new ideas for your site? Try one, or a few, of these content ideation tools.</div>

Increased Conversion Rates

According to a 2017 Econsultancy Conversion Rate Optimization Report, only 28% of companies are happy with their conversion rate.

But certain long-tail keywords can bring more qualified leads to your website because they target a precise product or need. These phrases may also be indicative of a higher intent to convert, and are thus known as transactional queries.

For instance, take a look at the following long-tail searches:

  • freelance billing software free trial
  • buy used phones unlocked
  • take free IQ test online

There’s a clear intent in each of these phrases, thanks to words like “trial,” “buy,” and “free.” And by creating content centered around these particular long-tail phrases, you’ll enhance your site’s probability of converting more users.

Similarly, in our previous automotive example, you wouldn’t search for “auto repair” if you were looking for a certified Honda mechanic. Targeting the long-tail keyword of “Honda mechanic near me” can deliver more relevant traffic since people will find what they’re looking for.

More Traffic Sustainability

With quality content, strong SEO, and a bit of luck, it’s possible to snag the top search positions for a high-volume, short-tail keyword.

But what happens if there’s a major algorithm update? Or a new and promising competitor appears? Don’t forget that short-tail keywords are incredibly competitive, so maintaining a high rank is often as difficult as getting there in the first place.

When this happens, your coveted position will slip, and your site could go from the first page of Google’s search results to the sixth in a blink of an eye.

However, targeting multiple long-tail keywords can help guard against drastic swings in search traffic by establishing a solid foundation on which to build your content strategy. If one or two of your keywords start slipping away, you’ll have plenty of others to pick up the slack and avoid disrupting your business.

How to Find Long-Tail Keywords

The first step to finding long-tail keywords is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. If you go back to women’s jackets, consider what’s important to someone looking for that item. You might consider lightweight vs. heavy, the type of material it’s made out of, color or patterns, and whether it has a hood or not.

The possibilities are virtually endless.

Beyond simply imagining yourself as your user persona, though, there are plenty of long-tail keyword tools at your disposal. These include:

  • Google autocomplete suggestions
  • Answer the Public
  • Free and paid keyword tool software

Google’s Autocomplete Suggestions

That’s right—Google itself makes for an effective keyword research tool. How so?

When you type your topic into Google, its autocomplete suggestions provide insight into what users are looking for.

screenshot of Google search for "women's jacket"

For instance, the autocomplete suggestions for “women’s jacket” will give you long-tail keywords such as “women’s jackets on sale,” “women’s jackets size chart,” and “women’s jacket dresses plus size.”

As a bonus, you can scroll down to the bottom of Google’s search results to find related search phrases. This area reveals additional long-tail keyword options—in this example, “women’s casual jackets,” “women’s winter jackets,” and “women’s fashion jackets.”

screenshot of Google's related searches for "women's jacket"

Answer the Public

Wondering what questions users are asking about a particular topic?

Meet Answer the Public.

This powerful keyword planning tool spits out question phrases based on your entered search term and categorizes them according to the type of questions people search.

screenshot of Answer the Public's results for "buy a car"

In addition, Answer the Public provides and organizes related long-tail phrases based on common prepositions used and comparison phrases, e.g., “versus” and “like.”

Depending on the original phrase you enter, it may show upwards of a thousand keywords—but there’s a limit to how many of these free keyword reports you can get if you don’t have Answer the Public’s Pro plan.

Free & Paid Long-Tail Keyword Generator Tools

The benefit of using a paid product—many of which have free versions—is more detailed information to base your long-tail keyword strategy on.

Some of the best paid options include:

Completely free long-tail keyword tools also exist, like Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest, although their features tend to be more limited.

In general, though, each tool functions quite similarly.

For any given keyword, each platform will give you an in-depth look at which websites rank highest for it, what the monthly search volume is, and any related keywords. You’ll also get valuable insight into ad history, website traffic, and backlink data for a comprehensive content strategy.

Tips for Using Long-Tail Keywords in Your Content

You’ve identified dozens, even hundreds, of phrases—now the question is, how do you use long-tail keywords?

To integrate these search phrases into your content strategy, keep in mind the following tips:

  • Understand your audience. Your buyer persona is the most critical element of your long-tail keyword strategy. It should guide your decisions about which phrases to target; otherwise, you’ll attract unwanted customers to your blog or website. Focus on your target audience’s age range, concerns, and pain points to create more catered content.
  • Pick a catchy title. Even the best content won’t get any clicks if it’s labeled with a dry or boring title. Attract readers by coming up with alluring headlines—but avoid making false promises or using clickbait.
  • Add internal and external links. When linking to existing blog posts on your site, incorporate your keywords into the anchor text—the clickable text used in hyperlinks. Also be sure to spread your links throughout your content rather than concentrating them in a single paragraph or area.
  • Avoid overusing your keywords. Keyword stuffing is an outdated practice from the earlier days of Google, and the search engine’s algorithm has since been refined to reward sites that deliver a great user experience over the number of keywords. That means if your content has too many instances of your target keyword, it won’t rank well—or even at all—on search results.


Make no mistake: both long-tail and short-tail keywords are valuable components of any content strategy.

However, pursuing a strategy of short-tail keyword phrases alone comes with major challenges—namely, greater competition.

But by identifying long-tail keywords relevant to your niche, you can significantly expand your business’s online reach.

Just remember: Although the right selection of keywords is important, so is delivering great content. Your best bet is to balance your long-tail strategy with valuable content to keep your readers coming back for more.

This article was written by Compose.ly writer Amy Beardsley.


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