Long Tail vs Short Tail Keywords

Image credits: Aida Blakely

When it comes to on-page SEO, keywords are the biggest factor in determining your SEO success or failure. When deciding which keywords to use, you’ll need to do some homework and research before deciding which ones to go for. One question that often arise while doing keyword research remains:

Short Tail or Long Tail Keywords?

The discussion has been raging and the resulting ends are something that anyone doing marketing on the Internet should be made aware of.

What Are Short Tail And Long Tail Keywords?
Short Tail Keywords

Short tail keywords are 3 words or less. Examples include: “athletic apparel,” “DVD player,” or “engagement ring.” Short tail keywords are also known as “head terms”. They may be the first thing you think of when you are deciding where to go to eat (“Chinese food,” “pizza delivery”), what to do (“dance clubs,” “roller coaster park”), or where to worship (“synagogue,” “Catholic church”).

Long Tail Keywords

Long tail keywords however are a little different compared to short tail keywords. Long tail words are more than 3 words. They are definitely a lot more targeted and not as broad. You may not bring in as much search traffic from long tail keywords but the traffic you do bring in is the kind you are looking for.

Examples of long tail keywords include: “summer women’s athletic apparel,” “super Blu Ray HD DVD combo player,” or “white diamond engagement ring.” Long tail keywords are obviously a lot more specific than short tail keywords; as a marketer this actually can work very much in your favor. But there are pros and cons to both types of keywords.

The Long and Short Of Keywords

Which type of keyword you want to use for your marketing is going to depend very much on the type of traffic that you want to drive to your site.

As keywords get longer, search volume becomes lower. However, all other metrics such as conversion rates go in favor of long tail keywords.

Short Tail Keywords

Short tail keywords have several things working for and against them. For example if you are trying to drive a lot of traffic to your site, you should use short tail keywords. The challenge here is that if your site is “new” or if your search efforts are just beginning you are getting at the back of a very long line.

Volume: High

When it comes to volume, short tail keyword is going to win long tail keyword every time. The shorter the keyword is, the higher the search volume. If you could rank for a short tail keyword, you’re definitely going to get plenty of organic traffic.

Competition: High

Given the high search volumes, it’s no wonder why everyone is trying to rank for short tail keywords, the reward is high. Competition for short tail keywords is highly competitive.

To give you a clearer picture, for pizza searches, you are behind brands like Pizza Hut, Pizza Pizza, Dominos, Papa John’s as well as all the ranking sites, local searches, and the like.

So if you notice the pattern here, it’s clear that unless your company is huge at the international level, it is really tough to get into the first page of Google search results.

Focus: Low

There is also the issue of your search not being “targeted.” People searching for “DVD” may be looking for a player to buy but they also may be looking for a DVD player to rent, a DVD film, a DVD reproduction service, a list of DVD rentals and the like. You are going up against names like Samsung, Sony, and Amazon when you simply search DVD.

Cost: High

Short tail keywords also have a cost factor involved which is going to get expensive. Google AdWords is going to charge you a pretty penny to get into the short tail keyword business for your common search terms. Because so many other people are buying them you are going to need to pay a premium for your presence in these searches.

Conversion Rate: Low

Finally, the thing which irks most people about short tail keyword is the low conversion rate. Say you have a term that’s searched for a lot. Even if you get 10,000 searches and 100 clicks your conversion rate may be one or two customers.

While those one or two customers may be your bread and butter, the truth is that you may have more luck and less noise if you opted for long tail keywords.

Long Tail Keywords

Long tail keywords are like a bear in the forest. They can lie dormant for a while but when they are used they are typically quite deadly. Like the bear in the forest, there isn’t too much else that competes with these keywords as you’ll see.

Volume: Low

When you are talking about long tail keywords you have to appreciate the level of volume. Your volume of traffic from long tail keywords is going to be far less. For some types of businesses, this may be a bad thing.

However, if you have your wares that you are selling and you are trying to cater to your specific customer, you may not want a lot of beady eyes and sweaty breaths clogging up your virtual storefront.

Competition: Low

The competition among others is also lower when you have decided on a long tail keyword. When you have a search term like “RV camper power cord hatch cover” or “baseball card holder sheets” you are getting traffic. The good news for you if you’re selling these things is that there are few others who are selling the same thing. The search is going to be geared towards whatever it is you are selling and the competition for this specific traffic will be low.

Focus: High

Just like the low competition made evident, the targeted nature of the search traffic you get will, for most businesses selling specific things, be ideal. You will pretty well only have people who are looking for “toddler ballerina shoes with ribbon” or “cheap loveseat recliner covers,” coming to your store. That means you’re a lot more likely to have the customers you are looking for, looking for you!

Cost: Low

Another added benefit to the lower traffic long tail keywords is that you are going to pay a lot less for them. Google AdWords has got a reduced price for searches that are specific and contain more terms. This means that you won’t show up nearly as high in general searches (until you become the preeminent name in your industry) but you will have a lot lower cost to get you there.

For small businesses who may have a PPC arrangement, this is going to be huge for your monthly cost. When you are selling more things to fewer customers that will be even better!

Conversion Rates: High

One last point about long tail keywords is the increased conversion rates. If you have people seeking out such specific things as discussed above, you will have a far easier time converting the traffic you generate. These conversion numbers are obviously going go vary depending on what it is you’re selling and where, but the numbers point very strongly in favor of long tail keyword selection.

Moreover, if your customer likes what they see from your long tail conversion selection, even if they don’t buy the first time around they are far more likely to come back to your online store when they do buy simply because your site spoke to their specific needs.

Which Is Better?

To simplify this entire article into a simple table, you’ll see that long tail keywords are the far better choice and rightly so.

At the end of the day, you need to do what is best for you and your small business. Of course you want to save money and you want to have as large a web presence as you possibly can.

At the same time you need to remember that the point of your having a web business isn’t (generally) to get people to click to your site and walk away unsatisfied with the results their search has given them; the idea is that they spend money!

Getting your customers to drop that dime and try out your business is the whole point. If you want to increase your conversion and make that sale then you should be directing traffic to your specific type of widget, whatever that may be.

In this day and age of online searches short tail keywords are very difficult break into the rankings of. As discussed earlier it is almost impossible for small or even medium sized businesses to rank among the big boys.

So if this is not a fight that you are even able to have, why would you want to try?

If you have a huge body of content, a very specific but general item, or strong brand and domain authority then maybe the short tail keywords will still work for you.

However if you are looking for higher conversion rate, lower cost, lower competition, and volume that is specifically after what it is that you are selling, the long tail keyword game is one that you should be in.

This post was originally written by Zhi Yuan and published on Nov 18, 2015. It was most recently updated on July 27, 2018.

Related Links:

How To Decide Which Keywords To Use? — Comprehensive Keyword Research Guide
How To Increase Conversion Rate By 113% Using Retargeting Ads
Inbound Marketing vs Outbound Marketing – Which Is More Effective?

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