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Search Engine Optimization – Long Tail or Short Tail?

Editor’s Note: This was originally posted in 2010, but has been updated to match current SEO standards, providing recent information and relevant, current links.

When looking for SEO information, you can always find plenty of articles on how to research keywords. You can find tons of tools as well, such as WordTracker, Keyword.io, SEMRush, Moz and many others. What you get is a list of potential keywords, information on how often they’re searched and, basically, whether they’d be a good choice for traffic.

Sounds helpful, useful, informational and all those words ending in the “ul” sound. Now, here’s the question – have you thought about how many others will be using the same optimization methods and tools? When I say “others”, of course, you realize that I mean “millions of others”. In fact, the question quickly moves from “How do I get into the search engines” to “How do I compete and get my website in the top 3 slots of the search engine results pages?

The secret is: Go for the long tail.

Keyword Phrases: Short Tail; Long Tail

Even if you’ve been working on optimizing your site for awhile, it’s easy to miss nuances. The difference in the usage and quality of key phrases is a prime example. Although many understand the need to focus the on-page content and choose the topic of the content, just as many don’t understand that how you do that matters, and depending on the reason for the page.

About the short tail…

The short tail general has one or two keywords, tops. It’s generic, like “shoes” are generic until you start getting into brand names. The short tail doesn’t care whether searchers are buying shoes, selling shoes or just looking at shoes; all it cares about is whether “shoes” is in the search query.

About the long tail…

The long tail has more than two keywords. It’s not generic. It’s long, detailed and accurate to a “t”. It’s a mouthful, but darned if it won’t bring targeted traffic. The really cool thing about the long tail is it doesn’t just care if “website optimization services” is in the search query. It also cares about:

• Website optimization
• Optimization services
• Real estate websites
• Real estate website optimization services
• Real estate website optimization
• Real estate optimization services

In other words, it cares about variations of the search query as well.

Pros and Cons

Both options have pros and cons. For example, the short tail gets more searches than long tail – major pro. However, it’s harder to be ranked high for short tail – major con. Why is long tail easier to rank for? Fewer people are optimizing for them. Period.

So why would you want to go to all the trouble of optimizing for long tailed search queries if they have fewer searches? Two serious reasons:

1. More exposure at the top of the SERPS
2. Searchers are more detailed, which means searches are more targeted

The Two Camps of Searchers

Searchers tend to be either lookers or buyers. Lookers search for free stuff, information, are “just looking” or are bored. You’re going to have to work hard to convert lookers into buyers.

Buyers, however, are looking for a purpose – they already know the product and are there to buy it or they’re performing pre-buying research. Let me be clear: you want these people on your site. Let me also be clear: they tend to use the long tail, because they’ve already defined what they want (Example: Nike golf shoes, size 9, Miami Florida).

Which Keyphrase Type Do You Go For?

That’s easy to answer – both. For example, if your short tail is “website optimization” you obviously want to rank for it. However, you increase your search exposure if you sit down and think about the end user. If they want to buy, what other words might they add to that short tail? The list you come up with is your list of long tail key phrases. Optimizing for both gives you potential high ranking for numerous searches.

A well thought out keyword strategy containing key words, short tail phrases and long tail phrases will not only have you ranking high, but also will having you ranking high in several places. Take your time; don’t rush. Once you get started, you want to keep the momentum going.

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