Picture a toolbox. Most contain several general-purpose tools, like a claw-foot hammer and a wrench. Some kits may also contain more specialized tools, such as a hex key or diagonal cutting pliers.
You can think of short-tail keywords as the search engine optimization (SEO) version of general-purpose tools—and long-tail keywords as tools designed for a specific task. Although you may not use the specialized tools as often as the general-purpose ones, they can be invaluable for getting the job done right.
What are long-tail keywords?
Long-tail keywords are highly specific search terms made up of about three to five words with relatively low search volumes. Although there’s no official search volume threshold, long-tail keywords generally have monthly search volumes (MSV) of less than 1,000.
By contrast, short-tail keywords—also known as “head keywords,” “head terms,” or “broad keywords”—are brief, common search terms. For example, “dutch oven” is a short-tail keyword, whereas “blue enamel dutch oven for sale” and “how to choose a dutch oven” are long-tail keywords.
The defining characteristic of a long-tail keyword is lower search volumes. The “long tail” in the name refers to the far end of the search volume demand curve, which contains many potential keywords with lower search volumes. As such, long-tail keywords are typically less competitive than short-tail keywords, have lower keyword difficulty scores, and yield higher conversion rates.
Long-tail keyword examples
SEO strategists build long-tail keywords around seed keywords—the foundational terms used to initiate keyword research (that don’t contain keyword modifiers like “best” or “near me”). These serve as a starting point for discovering related keywords and optimizing content for search engines.
The associated long-tail keywords can contain the seed keyword or related keywords, such as “auto” instead of “car.” Many also include keyword modifiers—words like “better” or “best” that increase the specificity of a search query.
Here are a few long-tail keywords built around the seed keyword “makeup,” all pulled from Google Keyword Planner:
|Monthly search volume
|How to put mascara on your bottom lashes
|Makeup tips for zoom meetings
|Concealer for hyperpigmentation
|Vitiligo makeup cream
Topical vs. supporting long-tail keywords
There are two types of long-tail keywords: topical long-tail keywords and supporting long-tail keywords. Supporting long-tail keywords are less common variations of popular searches, and topical long-tail keywords represent unique query subjects.
For example, “my tire is completely flat, what do i do” (MSV 100–1,000, low competition) is a supporting long-tail keyword because it is associated with the short-tail keyword “changing tire.” Search engines will rank the same pages for all supporting long-tail keywords associated with the same parent topic, which can make it more difficult to rank for this keyword type.
Advantages of using long-tail keywords in your SEO strategy
Implementing a long-tail keyword strategy can reduce the cost of paid search engine advertising, help you improve your organic search engine rankings, and make it easier to target consumers with a particular search intent. This strategy benefits you since it increases relevant search traffic and ultimately boosts conversion rates.
Keyword competition refers to the level of competition among advertisers for a specific keyword in search engine marketing, measured by factors like search volume and the number of competing pages. Typically, the more competitive a keyword is, the more an advertiser must bid to display an ad on a search engine results page (SERP). Long-tail keywords tend to be less competitive than short-tail keywords, which can make them a more cost-effective choice for paid search engine marketing campaigns.
Lower keyword difficulty
Long-tail keywords usually have lower keyword difficulty scores, a number that represents how difficult it is to rank for a particular keyword in organic search engine results. For keywords with high difficulty scores, producing high-quality, relevant content may not be enough to rank: Top-ranking pages feature comprehensive content and many high-quality backlinks (inbound links from other websites to yours) that may take too much effort to outdo.
Ranking for lower-difficulty keywords is easier. Businesses that target long-tail keywords can perform well in search engine rankings without needing to outperform competitors by creating longer content and acquiring greater numbers of backlinks. Because building relevant backlinks takes time, you can also use long-tail keywords to quickly improve search engine performance while investing in a long-term strategy to increase domain authority (your website’s search engine trustworthiness score).
Higher conversion rates
Long-tail searches often have a more clearly defined search intent—a user’s goal when performing a search query. You can leverage long-tail keywords to target consumers with a greater likelihood of making a purchase, which can increase the relevance of site traffic and boost conversion rates.
Consider the search query “outdoor fire pit.” The searcher might be looking for DIY options, styling a pre-existing fire ring, or even wondering if outdoor fires are dangerous. A user who searches for “cast iron outdoor fire container nashville,” however, is likely planning to purchase an outdoor fire ring in the Nashville area.
Consumers also tend to use more specific long-tail keywords, as they move further along the marketing and sales funnel: A user might search for “outdoor fire pits” during the initial research phase, “best medium outdoor fire pits” once they’ve decided to move ahead, and “solo stove for sale Nashville” right before making a purchase.
How to find relevant long-tail keywords
SEO strategists estimate more than 90% of all searches use long-tail keywords, which means there are a lot of options to explore. Here are three popular long-tail keyword research strategies:
1. Use keyword research tools
Most keyword research tools—for finding popular search terms online—display search volumes, making them helpful in finding long-tail keywords.Google Keyword Planner and Moz are popular free tools, and paid options include SEMRush, Ahrefs, and Surfer SEO. Some keyword tools (like Long Tail Pro) also focus on long-tail keyword suggestions. Although specifics vary by tool, you typically enter a seed keyword, and the tool generates a list of related keyword ideas along with supporting keyword data like difficulty and monthly search volumes.
Keyword research tools can also analyze competitor sites to find long-tail keywords generating traffic for similar businesses—and, therefore, likely also relevant to your target audience. If a significant competitor is ranking for “how to style ballet flats in 2024,” for example, you might create a blog post around this target keyword to compete for organic search traffic—and hopefully outperform your competitor in search engine rankings.
2. Review site analytics
You can use Google Search Console and Google Analytics to find long-tail keywords based on your site content. Google Search Console shows you keywords for which you already rank, and Google Analytics displays the search queries driving traffic to your site. You can then use Google Keyword Planner to cross-check search volumes and identify long-tail keywords included in each platform’s results.
Use these results to create additional content around existing long-tail keywords and brainstorm new long-tail keyword ideas. For example, if you sell baking supplies and find 5% of your site traffic results from queries containing the keyword “how to choose the best cupcake pan,” you might create a blog post explicitly targeting this keyword.
You could then use a keyword research tool to test search volumes for related keywords, like “how to choose the best bread pan” and “how to choose the best cake pan,” and build corresponding pages around relevant keyword matches.
3. Take advantage of search engine autocomplete
Search engine autocomplete (like Google autocomplete) suggests search queries as you type in the search bar based on popular or relevant phrases. These functions can help you find relevant long-tail keyword phrases. For example, typing the search term “earrings” into the Google search bar generates a drop-down list that contains “earrings for sensitive ears,” “earrings with flat backs,” and “earrings for men”—each a potential long-tail keyword.
Remember, autocomplete functions provide the most common searches associated with a given entry, meaning their suggested search queries may have high monthly search volumes. Use a keyword research tool to confirm suggestions have low enough search volumes to qualify as long-tail keywords.
You can also experiment with phrasing and partially typed words to generate more specific options. For example, “best earrings for d” produces a list containing “best earrings for diamond-shaped faces,” “best earrings for double piercing,” and “best earrings for double chin.”
Long-tail keywords FAQ
How do you choose long-tail keywords?
Use keyword research tools to generate suitable long-tail keyword ideas based on a specific seed keyword and review your site’s analytics to find long-tail keywords for which you already rank.
Why use long-tail keywords for SEO?
Long-tail keywords tend to be less competitive and have lower difficulty scores than short-tail keywords, making targeting long-tail keywords an efficient and cost-effective way to increase the quality and quantity of your site traffic.
What are the different types of long-tail keywords?
There are two types of long-tail keywords: topical long-tail keywords and supporting long-tail keywords. Supporting long-tail keywords are less common variations of popular searches, whereas topical long-tail keywords are unique query subjects.