For small and medium-sized businesses—especially those that have to compete on a national or global level—it can be extremely difficult to get an edge in search engine rankings. Competing with large or well-established brands is tough, but integrating long-tail keywords into your content or your PPC campaign is a good way to improve your traffic.
What are Long-Tail Keywords?
Most of us think of keywords as a single word, or at most, a two-word phrase. Long-tail keywords are phrases, typically of three to six words, that have a much tighter focus than the average keyword.
For example, for a keyword of "t-shirt", long-tail keywords can include a wide range of phrases, depending on the intent of the searcher:
black long sleeve t-shirt
tailored silk t-shirt
cost of t-shirt printing
So, what long-tail keywords do is capture highly specific searches. These kinds of searches aren't made as often as the more general keyword searches, but targeting long-tail keywords has some big advantages.
Why Use Long-Tail Keywords?
There are three big advantages that make long-tail keywords worth using, both on your website and in any PPC campaigns you run.
It's much easier to rank well using long-tail keywords than it is for general industry keywords. This is especially true in a highly competitive industry, or when you're competing against large companies with big marketing budgets.
Using long-tail keywords gives you a better chance to grab traffic from well-established competitors and big brands.
Searchers who use long-tail keywords have a specific intent in mind and are usually easier to convert into customers than people who perform general searches.
A fourth advantage, when you're using long-tail keywords in PPC campaigns, is that you can stretch your advertising budget a lot further, and get more value from the money that you spend. General keywords can capture a lot of traffic, but the more general your keywords are, the higher the risk of getting clicks from people who are unlikely to become customers. With highly specific long-tail keywords, you eliminate most of those clicks and get traffic that's much more focused.
There also tends to be a lot less competition for long-tail keywords, which means you can often win them fairly cheaply in AdWords.
How to Research Long-Tail Keywords
Long-tail keywords are incredibly useful, but to get the most out of them it's important to do some good research to determine what's going to be most effective.
The obvious strategy might be to think like a customer and generate long-tail keywords based on what you think your customers are searching for. That can work up to a point, but to get the most out of this strategy it's preferable to do some solid research using a keyword planning tool like the one that's available to use with Google AdWords.
To use the AdWords tool for long-tail research, think of a good specific starting phrase, and type it into the search box. There are a few useful customisation options that can help you generate some highly specific keywords, too, with the ability to specify locations, languages, and dates.
Once you hit search, Google will return several pages of results. From here you can choose long-tail keywords with a moderate to high number of monthly searches. And, if you're actually planning to use these keywords in PPC, it's a good idea to go for options with low to moderate competition if you want to minimise your spend.
Choosing keywords with the right search volume is something that can be tricky to get right, at least initially. A term that gets 2,000 searches a month might be too low for some industries, and just about right for others, depending on the volume of sales you're aiming for. And terms with 15,000 searches a month might seem to be a better idea than terms with 4,000, but remember that the more searches per month there are, the more competition there's likely to be.
Integrating Long-Tail Keywords into Website Content
Once you've selected several appropriate long-tail keywords, the next step is to integrate them into your website content.
One way to do this is to rewrite existing content on your site and add the new keywords. The problem with this strategy is, you risk losing any current rankings you have for the pages you rewrite. If you have one or more web pages that are currently ranking well for specific keywords, rewriting those pages may mean you lose the rankings you've already got.
For this reason, it's generally better to create new content that's optimised for your new long-tail keywords. This strategy has the additional advantages of providing new pages for Google to index, and making more content available for people to read and engage with.