Long-Tail Keywords Vs. Short-Tail Keywords

When you’re coming up with content ideas for your site and figuring out how you’re going to get your site closer to the top of results pages, one of the most important things to consider is keywords.

In the early days of SEO, keywords were the lifeblood of a website. The more of a particular word you had stuffed into your site, the better chance you had of ranking higher with Google for that keyword. Fortunately, all that has changed, and there are well over 200 factors Google uses when deciding how your website will rank.

However, that does not minimize the importance of having the right keywords in your website’s content. In other words, are the keywords you’re choosing matching the intent of users that are looking for content like yours?

In order to answer the question, we have to know what long-tail and short-tail keywords are. Long-tail keywords are more like phrases that are greater than 3 words and typically have a very focused and narrow intent.

Subsequently, short-tail keywords are keywords or phrases that are less than 3 words, that have a much more broad intent. Each type has vastly different implications for your site. Let’s take a look at what those implications are and how it impacts your website!

The Pros and Cons of Short-Tail Keywords

When most people think of keywords, they typically gravitate toward short-tail keywords because they are pretty easy to think of.

For example, let’s say you are a burger connoisseur, and you have a blog dedicated to finding the best burger in the world. When thinking of keywords for your upcoming content, one of the first keywords that might come to mind might be “burger.” Now think about how many different intents that could have – is the user looking for a fast food burger? A gourmet burger? A burger recipe they can make at home? Or something else entirely?

Typically, if your blog has a smaller audience or if you own a small business that runs this blog, short-tail keywords like “burger” won’t be very helpful to you. Yes, they garner a ton of search traffic, which is one of the pros of targeting short-tail keywords. However, because of the massive volume of traffic and the corresponding amount of varying user intents behind searching for the keyword, the chances of search traffic clicking through to your site is very slim.

On the flipside, if you have a sizeable following on your blog about burgers or you own a company that’s widely associated with burgers, short-tail keywords might be more your flavor. Since the business and blog are already well-established, the goal should then be to solidify brand awareness in the market. You want as many people to see your brand as possible, and you don’t have to be as reliant on the traffic you get from a blog post as much as a smaller business or blog would.

The Pros and Cons of Long-Tail Keywords

As you may have guessed, long-tail keywords essentially have the opposite effect.

Instead of a lot of search traffic with wide varying intents, long-tail keywords will have smaller, more focused search traffic.

In our burger blog example, if you optimized for the keyword “best burger on the east coast” – the user intent is much more clear than just the word, “burger”. The user clearly wants to know where they can find the best burger on the east coast, and if you have content that is well-optimized for answering that question, then you’ll win in the search results.

You can see where the benefits of using long-tail keywords would come in to play with an e-commerce or lead generation website since you could optimize for key phrases like “buy [widget] in [given locale]” or “[widget] services in [given locale]”.

The traffic that is searching for those types of terms is on a very specific mission that your site can help them accomplish. The downside, of course, is that you will typically see much less traffic coming through to the site. However, if you’re getting more qualified leads or sales, you likely won’t care!

Optimizing for the Right Keywords

Ultimately, whether you use short-tail or long-tail keywords depends entirely on your brand and your goals. If you need your site to keep your business or blog afloat, then you may want to stay away from short-tail keywords since that’s not going to bring in the kind of traffic that will “convert”, or that wants to purchase something or sign up for your services. If your business is not dependent upon your website and you really want to move your brand forward, then optimizing for short-tail keywords might be right for you.

Keep in mind that different pages on your site will have different intents, so you can optimize one page with longer-tail keywords to get traffic that will convert, and you can optimize another page with short-tail keywords to help further your goal of brand awareness.

You can try our website grader to see how you’re doing currently, and if you need help deciding what keywords to pick, or if this is all confusing to you and you need help with your website in general, please don’t hesitate to contact us! We will be more than happy to have one of our website experts take a look and provide you with some direction!

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