Overview and Background
First, let me give a very brief overview of keywords, then I’ll define long tail keywords and explain why they matter and how you use them.
Keywords is one of the central concepts in ranking websites, but most people I talk to focus on “How do I rank #1 on Google?” without understanding one of the most important concepts in keywords.
The images below were viewed with Google’s Search Console, what they used to call Google Webmasters Tools.
Important Keyword Phrase Concept #1
Any mature website ranks for hundreds if not thousands of keyword phrases and each keyword phrase has it’s own average position in which it shows up in the SERP (Search Engine Result Page).
This website, the one on which you’re reading this post right now ranks for 772 different keyword phrases.
For some (56 to be precise) the average position is between 1 and 10, which means for those queries a page on my website shows up on page 1 of Google. On the other hand, the lowest ranking keyword phrase has an average SERP position of 648, which means it shows up on the bottom of page 65.
So the idea of showing up on the 1st page of Google is only relevant in the context of a specific keyword phrase.
Some images below help illustrate this point. Double click and image to see an enlarged copy.
Important Keyword Phrase Concept #2
For any given keyword phrase, what is reported is the AVERAGE position. Your site does not always show up in the same place in the SERP on every query, and it also does not show up in the same place in the SERP in different countries.
The screenshot below shows a search term on this website and it’s average SERP position by country.
Now on to Long Tail Keywords
A keyword is nothing more than a phrase someone enters into a search query.
A long tail keyword is nothing more than a keyword phrase that is at least 3 words long.
In terms of ranking your site for specific keyword phrases, there are two important considerations, both of which can be determined (to some degree of specificity) using the Google Adwords Keyword Planner tool. Using that tool is beyond the scope of this post and will be covered in a later post.
From this point on, for purposes of illustration, example numbers will be used.
Keyword Phrase Important Consideration #1
How often do people enter the keyword phrase into a search query? Clearly keyword phrases that are search for more often are more desirable to rank for.
However… Keyword Phrase Important Consideration #2
How competitive is the keyword phrase?
You want to outrank Starbucks for the keyword “coffee”? Good luck with that! For the record it can be done, but is too expensive to be of any practical use to small businesses.
Think of competitiveness in a boxing scenario. Would you rather step into the ring with the reigning World Champion, or a 98 pound weakling?
Why Long Tail Keywords Matter and How You Use Them
Let’s say keyword phrase A has a high search volume of 1,000 searches a day but is very competitive. The odds of you ever ranking for it are slim to none.
Let’s say keyword phrase B has a very low search volume of only 25 searches a day but is not competitive. You might be able to rank high for it after a few weeks of publishing.
The most practical course of action is to pursue ranking for keyword phrase B.
Then find another low competition phrase C, then find another (D), then find another (E), etc, etc.
Or better yet, find several low competition keyword phrases each of which has a low but reasonable search volume, and publish content about all of them. Not necessarily all in one day, but definitely all in one week. Then keep publishing until you rank well for all of them.
This is how you use long tail keyword phrases.
How you find them is by using the Google Adwords Keyword Planner tool (or the commercial tool Market Samurai which automates searching through the reams of data available within the Google Adwords Keyword Planner.
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