SEO Ruler

SEO Keywords: The Long & Short of It

  ●   December 10, 2021 | SEO
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December 10, 2021 | SEO

Keywords are an essential part of any successful SEO strategy. Incorporating keywords in your on-page copy can help search engines better understand your website and serve appropriate content to fulfil a relevant search query.

When implemented effectively, a keyword strategy can help your web pages rank highly in the search engine results and drive high quality, relevant traffic to your site. The first organic result in Google Search has an average click-through rate of 28.5% so optimising for the right keywords can really make a difference to your organic website visits.

There are two different types of keywords, short-tail and long-tail. Each can be used separately or in conjunction with one another however, both have different user intent and will deliver different results. Let’s delve into more detail about the differences between long-tail and short-tail keywords and which is most effective for driving results for your business.

What is a short-tail keyword?

A short-tail keyword, also known as a ‘head term’, is a general search term that typically contains 1-3 words and covers a broad topic. Short-tail keywords generally have higher search volume than long-tail keywords which means that they attract more website visitors.

Although head terms can receive lots of traffic, it’s not necessarily the highest quality since it’s a generic search that may not serve the right user intent for your product/service, which can lead to low conversion rates and a higher bounce rate. Short-tail keywords are also much more competitive, making it more difficult to rank for these terms, especially if your site has a low domain authority.

It’s important to remember that there are multiple ranking factors and keywords only play a part in how your site performs. That’s why it’s important to develop a comprehensive SEO strategy that covers all bases.

What is a long-tail keyword?

Long-tail keywords have a lower search volume than short-tail keywords. In other words, they are the ‘less popular’ search terms. However, they are more specific than short-tail keywords, providing greater detail to search engines and clearly signaling search intent. So, although you may receive less site visits per keyword, long-tail keywords serve more specific results that are more likely to answer user intent and, as such, will attract higher quality traffic that is more likely to convert. Typically, a long-tail keyword contains approximately 3  or more words.

You’ll find that the majority of search terms are long-tail with 92.42% of keywords having less than 10 searches or less a month, so it’s important to get to grips with what they are and how to use them to optimise your on-site copy.

What is the difference between long-tail and short-tail keywords?

Short-tail keywords are generic terms with high search volume and greater competition. For example, short-tail keywords could be ‘travel’, ‘watches’, or ‘coffee’. Long-tail keywords are nicher terms with lower search volume and less competition. For example, ‘family-friendly holiday destinations’, ‘smartwatches for sleep tracking’, and ‘organic decaffeinated coffee’.

So to summarise, the key difference between long-tail and short-tail keywords is that short-tail keywords have higher search volume,  are more generic and competitive, and generally yield lower conversion rates. Whereas, long-tail keywords tend to have lower search volume, are more specific, can be less competitive and, typically, have higher conversion rates. In fact, long-tail keyword searches have a 3-5% higher click-through rate!

Short-Tail KeywordsLong-Tail Keywords
High search volumeLow search volume
High competition in the SERPsLow competition in the SERPs
Generic search termsSpecific search terms
Less than 2 wordsMore than 3 words
Low conversion ratesHigh conversion rates

Here is an example to give you a better picture of what a short and long-tail search would look like:

Let’s say someone is looking to buy a new pair of trainers. When they begin their initial online search and they are not really sure what they are looking for, they may type in a generic term, like running trainers, into the search bar.  On the other hand, if someone knows what they are looking for, they may use a long-tail keyword which includes more detail, such as long distance running shoes for high arches, which demonstrates a higher level of intent. The level of detail included in the search will determine how relevant the search results will be for the user intent.

Depending on the size of your business and your goals, you will want to use either short or long tail keywords, or both. If you are a well-known business with an established site and high domain authority, you are more likely to rank for short-tail keywords and have the opportunity to bring in mass volumes of organic traffic. Whereas, if you are a lesser-known brand with low domain authority, you may want to target longer-tail keywords with less competition and higher chances of ranking. Longer-tail keywords are also necessary to target informational terms and reach users higher up in the customer journey funnel.

There is value in both types but whatever keywords you use, remember to use them sparingly and not to over-optimise your content as this can be penalised by Google and negatively impact your rankings. This is where hiring an experienced SEO content writer is vital.

How do you find short and long-tail keywords?

To begin, think about the services and products you offer on your website and make a list of all the different ways you could search for them online. Let’s use the running trainers example again. If someone is searching for running trainers online, they could be using a range of different terms, such as running shoes, trainers, sports shoes, spikes etc. You will also need to narrow it down to more specific terms which are less competitive, for example trainers for high arches, trainers for flat feet, long-distance trainers, short-distance trainers etc.

It can also be useful to think about location. If you market for specific geographical areas, you can target location-specific keywords, such as running trainers UK, to target a more niche audience.

There are also a variety of useful tools available to help you, many of which are free. Some example include:

  • Google Adwords Planner: A good place to start if you are looking to identify keyword ideas and ranking opportunities. Here, you can explore how your own site is performing for certain terms or even spy on competitors to see what words you have potential to rank for.
  • Google Search Console: Shows how your site is performing for specific search terms and how users are coming to your site. This enables you to gain visibility on which pages are getting clicks and use this to inform your keyword strategy, and optimise the appropriate pages.
  • Google’s Autocomplete Tool: make use of Google’s Autocomplete Tool to see what other terms users are searching for. To do this, type your main service or product into the search bar and then leave a space, and see what Google comes up with.
Google Autocomplete

  • People Also Ask: it’s worth checking out the People Also Ask section in Google to see what similar terms people are looking for and the types of questions they may be asking.
Google People Also Ask
  • Google’s Related Searches: take a look at the Related Searches section in Google to see what other search terms you can optimise for. This is usually at the bottom of the results page.
Google Related Searches
  • Answer the public: AnswerThePublic is a keyword tool that visualises search queries and the autocomplete tool into ‘search clouds’. They are similar to mind maps but for keywords. The tool is particularly beneficial for generating question-based long-tail keywords, such as ‘what are the best running trainers?’ or ‘why do you need spikes for track?’, for instance.
Answer the Public - Running Shoes
  • SEMrush: SEMrush is an industry-leading SEO tool that enables you to carry out in-depth keyword research. The platform identifies relevant keywords with search volumes and reveals how difficult it is to rank for these terms. There is also the capability to filter keywords based on these factors to ensure the suggested terms are relevant to your businesses and realistic.

How to balance between short-tail and long-tail keywords?

Achieving balance between short-tail and long-tail keywords necessitates a solid grasp of your objectives, target audience, and market dynamics. Depending on your niche, industry, and product, the ratio of each keyword type may vary. To strike this equilibrium effectively, consider employing short-tail keywords for primary topics, categories, and pages to rank for broader terms and attract a wide spectrum of visitors, such as top-of-the funnel content and navigational queries. Long-tail keywords should find their place in subtopics, subcategories, and blog posts, enabling you to rank for niche terms and draw in hyper-relevant, engaging visitors. These long-tail keywords will target users with specific user intent and can be used to optimise product pages with specific product features or blogs that answer niche customer questions and pain points.

Tools such as Google Keywords Planner, SEMrush, and Ahrefs can all be useful for assessing both short-tail and long-tail keywords. Some crucial factors to consider include search volume, competition, cost-per-click (CPC), and keyword difficulty. For example, when searching for keywords within Ahrefs, each keyword will be given a score between 0 and 100, based on how likely your site is to rank for this term. Anything between 0 and 30 is low difficulty and will be easier to rank for but will typically attract minimal organic traffic. Between 31 and 70 is medium difficulty and strikes the balance between search volume and competition, and are typically more attainable for sites with reasonable authority. Keywords with a difficulty of 71-100 are highly competitive and are often dominated by established websites with significant authority.

When it comes to balancing between short-tail and long-tail keywords, pay attention to where you put the keywords on your webpages, ensuing your primary, short-tail terms are in the meta data and H1, and longer-tail keywords are dispersed evenly throughout the body text and other headings. Also, make sure not to ‘stuff’ keywords in your webpage. There’s no need to repeat the same words or phrases to the point that it sounds unnatural! 

Which are better: long-tail or short-tail keywords?

Neither long-tail nor short-tail keywords are inherently better than the other. The effectiveness of a keyword depends on your specific goals, target audience, and the context of your website or content.

Long-tail keywords are highly specific and cater to users with a clear intent or question. If you want to provide precise answers or solutions, long-tail keywords are valuable. They often have lower competition, making it easier to rank for them, particularly if you have a newer website or are in a niche market. Not to mention, they can result in higher conversion rates because they attract users who are closer to making a decision or purchase.

Short-tail keywords can help you cast a wide net and increase your website’s visibility in search results. They often have higher search volumes, which can be beneficial for brand exposure. This is ideal if your goal is to boost awareness, as you are less likely to rank and convert from short-tail keywords.

The choice between long-tail and short-tail keywords depends on your SEO strategy. Many websites benefit from a mix of both.

Should I be using long-tail or short-tail keywords?

As a business, you need to decide which terms are most relevant to your website and your ideal customer. After all, you know your business better than anyone. However, when it comes to actually developing your keyword strategy and choosing the right long and short-term keywords, we always recommend getting the experts involved. Our SEO specialists can help you navigate the ever-changing search landscape and identify attainable keywords with the potential to rank, stripping out any unrealistic or irrelevant keywords. An effective keyword strategy can set you up for long-term success.

If you’re looking for more information regarding keyword research or are in need of Technical SEO support, get in touch with our team today.

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