If you are anything like I was, you’ve just learned what a long-tail keyword is and you want to make sure you understand what they are and how long they need to be. I’ve been there, but I’ve nailed down long-tail keywords to a science.
How many words are in a long-tail keyword? Most long-tail keywords are five or more words. Long-tail keywords differ from mid-tail keywords and short-tail keywords in that they are very specific searches that often sound more like questions than phrases.
Short-tail, mid-tail, and long-tail keywords can feel really confusing if you are new to keyword research. Everyone has a different opinion on keyword research and when discussing the best approach to defining long-tail keywords, things can get confusing. We can clear up the confusion and help you become a keyword master in no time flat.
How many words are in a long-tail keyword?
In general, a long-tail keyword is a search term that tends to be more specific. A long-tail keyword is generally five or more words. There are many factors that define how LONG a long-tail keyword must be such as competition, search intent, geography, and authority.
Long-tail keyword competition
Keywords that are more competitive aren’t generally considered long-tail keywords. These keywords are shorter and less specific. For example the search “Basketball Shoes” would be a short-tail keyword or the “head”.
As you can see, the first couple of results are companies with serious clout, authority, and popularity. There is no way Google is going to rank your local basketball blog when people search “basketball shoes” over Footlocker, Under Armour, Nike, or or Eastbay. #Nahgunnahapin.
If we narrow our search a bit with the keyword “Adidas Basketball Shoes,” we will get more specific results. However, the businesses on the first page will still be nearly unbeatable for that search term. We call this a mid-tail search term. Very competitive, yet a bit more specific than a short-tail keyword.
If we narrow our keyword search quite a bit more to “The best basketball shoes for plantar fasciitis,” we are on to something. We start to see some blogs popup in the first 5 search results. This long-tail keyword is specific, seems like a question or long phrase, and appears less competitive.
Search intent also plays a role in long-tail keywords. Search intent defines what someone is trying to accomplish by searching. Are they planning on buying something, researching something, or discovering something new?
And some searches have higher demand intent than others such as when people are planning on purchasing something. If a product is popular, a lot of people will be searching for it in preparation of buying it.
For example the keyword “running shoes for men” might seem like a mid or long-tail keyword, but we can use logic and infer that A LOT of people are searching for this. It’s probably not long-tail based on that popularity metric.
A rough keyword traffic guesstimate would put this search at 18,000 searches per month. This is enough to know that it’s very competitive, even though it contains four words.
On the other hand, the phrase “best carburetor Pontiac 400” is also four words, but MUCH less competitive. It’s incredibly specific and only Pontiac 400 car aficionados would be searching for something like this. As you can see by the search, the third result is a forum which is a good sign you could rank for this with a good article. It’s definitely long-tail.
Geography is a type of search that entails a place + search words. For example searching for “best restaurants in New York” are a geography based search. Like popular products, popular places can result in hugely competitive searches.
Going back to the search “best restaurants in New York”, you can imagine how popular this search would be with thousands upon thousands of restaurants in New York. Even though it’s a five word keyword, it’s competitive nature makes it a short-tail keyword.
On the other hand, searching for “the best hiking locations in cascade Idaho” is more of a long-tail keyword that you might have a chance to rank for. Operative word is “might”. See pro tip below.
Pro tip: Be cautious when trying to rank for geography keywords. Google is getting smarter by the day with search intent and will likely show large map results and ranking sites like Yelp, Angies List, and Trip Advisor before showing a local blog.
Authority is a major deal. The more traffic, status, and brand recognition a website has, the more authority it has with Google.
This is why if you decide to start a new restaurant serving breakfast in your local town, Cracker Barrel will outrank you for a while on Google maps. They are bigger, badder, and have been sitting on that corner for longer than you.
This applies to all keyword searches as well. If you search “cheap New York Yankee tickets,” it might look like a long-tail keyword, but Yankee brand makes it crazy competitive. You’ll have no chance to rank for that because it’s a short-tail keyword.
Using popular brands in searches will nearly always result in a short-tail or mid-tail keyword. Because of its popularity, more people are searching for it everyday of the week.
Why are long-tail keywords called long-tail?
The term long-tail is used because it represents a trending line on a graph that tails off. Essentially, most of the searches are filled with long-tail keywords (see graph below).
As you can see above, the short-tail searches only make up a small portion of total search inquiries (<5%). Mid-tail make up a measly 15%. Long-tail keywords make up the majority of all searches online (80%+). Most of the time, people are searching for very specific things. They tend to search Google like they ask questions.
When is the last time you searched for “actors?” That is short-tail searching. It rarely happens.
But you might have searched for something like “What was the name of the actor in Avengers End Game?” This shows why it’s important to win the long-tail game. It’s very nature is search intent and specificity. It gives you an opportunity to answers questions better than other people.
How can I use long-tail keywords for my business?
Long-tail keywords are best used for companies who want to rank on the first page of Google search results. Being on the first page of a search engine page is very valuable. Being in the top 3 search results is INCREDIBLY valuable.
But, for smaller businesses to have any chance to rank, you have to produce content that is less competitive: long-tail keywords. As discussed above, these are longer (5+ words) questions or phrases that people type into their search browser. The tend to be on search topics that are less competitive.
The are two core reasons that long-tail keywords are good for your business: 1) Rankability and 2) Long-tail stacking
Rankability. Longer and specific search keywords will finally give you a chance to appear on the first page of search engines if your content is the best answer. The better your content, the more likely you are to rank #1 for long-tail search terms.
This is big news for you because a search engine like Google might actually send free, organic traffic to your website. There is no better web traffic than free traffic. And the best part is Google will continue to reward you as you prove your content is engaging and helpful.
Also, because short and mid-tail keywords are probably out of reach for immature websites, it gives you a solid chance to win at something.
Long-tail content stacking. Long-tail content stacking is when you produce a lot of content for long-tail searches that add up to big traffic over time.
While there are some big authority sites that can get away with writing less content and still experience huge traffic boosts, your site probably isn’t one of them. You aren’t going to win the game by trying to out-write huge brands for short-tail keywords. You’ll be wasting your time.
So, if you can’t beat them at short-tail keyword articles, beat them with long-tail stacking. Sure, each long-tail article might only bring in 50 searches per month, but those brands aren’t writing content for these searches—so you can win. And, if you have 100 articles, that could mean thousands of people looking at your content.
Not to mention, every so often, one of your long-term articles will hit the jackpot and bring in 12,000 visitors, not 50. Our advice: get busy and start writing long-term articles immediately.
How do I find long-tail keywords?
Finding great long-tail keywords to write about is an easy process. You are probably already familiar with searching using long-tail keywords, you just aren’t aware of it.
There are a few great ways to find tremendously valuable long-tail keywords with relative ease. You don’t need any fancy software, though we will discuss one.
Look at your browser search history. See what you typed in. Chances are you are going to find quite a few long-tail keywords.
70-80% of all searches online are long-tail keywords and you are most likely searching for keywords 70-80% of the time. If you are writing for your website, you are also likely interested in that topic and search the nitty-gritty details often.
Google auto-suggest is one of the best tools to use when searching for long tail keywords. For an in-depth guide to this, check out our keyword research article here.
The auto-suggest feature by Google starts by you typing in a few words into the browser and then Google begins to suggest more specific keywords.
As you can see above, when I start typing “best fishing rod,” Google fills in the rest with more ideas. This is crazy powerful tool. Google is giving you ACTUAL keyword searches that real people are typing in.
As you can see above, Google suggested to me “best fishing rod and reel.” That is a bit more specific and on the road to long-tail city. If I continue typing “best fishing rod and reel,” Google will give me even more specific keywords like “best fishing rod and reel for trout.”
They think that you must be like other people searching for similar things and so they present a menu of options. Google will make every effort to be helpful to you because they want you to come back.
At the bottom of every search page will be Google Suggestions. These are suggestions that Google gives you if you scroll down the page and don’t see what you are looking for.
This is Google’s attempt to give you more options that might better suit your needs. Most of the time, they are long-tail in nature. I have found some really uncompetitive long-tail keywords this way.
Keyword research tools
I can’t mention long-tail research without mentioning keyword research tools. Let me start by saying—you don’t need them. Fact.
There are so many sites I’ve encountered by site owners who do not use keyword research tools and rank on the first page time and time again. They use what Google gives them, makes a judgement call on the competitiveness of the search results, and starts writing.
As far as search tools are concerned, I’ve used long-tail pro, Serpstat, AHREFS, Keyword, Keywordtool, and KWfinder. They are all good. They all provide decent results.
But here is the thing…THEY ARE ALL GUESSING!
That’s right. They are using Google data to estimate the competitiveness of the keywords. They might have a fancy ranking algorithm, but they don’t actually know the true traffic of a keyword nor do they really know exactly how competitive a keyword is.
I have seen keywords bring in THOUSANDS of visitors to a page when they estimated the keyword would only bring 100. I have seen huge competition for a keyword when they estimated very low competition. They aren’t perfect, they aren’t accurate, but they are good idea generators.
If you are looking for one that is less expensive and provides decent ideas, I’d suggest Serpstat. For the price, it gives you keyword suggestions, related keywords, website analysis, and some visual feedback tools. We will go over this tool more in depth in another article.
What are some good long-tail keyword examples.
When we say good, we mean uncompetitive. These are keywords that you have a fighting chance to rank for on the first page, if not the first spot. And yes, this is fairly predictable.
Please be aware that it takes 8-9 months for your page to achieve quality ranking. This isn’t set in stone, but it’s a pretty good rule of thumb. If you write something today, it’ll take a while to achieve maximum performance.
Without further ado, here are some good examples of rankable long-tail keywords.
“how to find a couch cover for a sectional” – As you can see, the results are mostly stores and pinterest. No one is answering the question sufficiently. They are teaching about measuring or making a slipcover, but no one directly answered the question. This might be a good one.
“what is the best time to water bermuda grass”- This is a long-tail keyword that didn’t return any big brands and most of the results are from small company websites or blogs. I visited the first result and it was only a 500 word article. With a solid 1500 word article, you could probably rank first for this one.
“when is the best time to look for seashells”– This long-tail keyword again returned mostly blogs and the first search result only had a 500 word article. There isn’t any result here that would prohibit you from ranking with a great article.
Should I worry how much traffic a long-tail keyword might bring in?
We wouldn’t. We would instead only focus on producing as much long-tail keyword content as possible. The reason for this is because there really isn’t any way to truly predict the outcome of your chosen long-tail keyword.
Because there aren’t any truly accurate tools to predict long-tail keyword suggest, you need to throw as much mud at the wall to see what sticks. There is a good chance you will write 100 articles and 5 of them will be responsible for 80% of your traffic.
Don’t be disheartened by this. It’s a numbers game. We’ve never encountered a website with over 150 long-form articles that didn’t have some good traffic traction. As your site matures, more and more traffic will filter in.
You need to look at writing content like investing. I’m sure you’d be happy if you invested in 20 stocks and 1 of them soared to millions of dollars. Would you care about the other 19? Probably not. Creating great blog content is the same way. Just focus on writing great content for uncompetitive long-tail keywords and the results will come.
Can a keyword be too long-tail?
Absolutely. Here is the deal: there are good long-tail keywords to write for with low competition and then there are bad long-tail keywords that NO ONE is searching for.
A good example would be the keyword search “how to pick the lint from my socks with tweezers”. Sure, this might be how you want to do it, but no one else is searching for that crazy non-sense.
A good rule of thumb is if Google isn’t auto-suggesting it to you, it doesn’t understand the intent of your search. It also probably means no one else is searching for it either. Notice below how there are no suggestions popping up? In fact, Google is only asking if you meant something else.
If you want traffic, you need to solve other people’s REAL problems, not your own sock issues. Stick with long-tail keywords that you feel are good questions or inquiries that other people would REASONABLY search for as well.
Pro-tip: If you went down a rabbit hole that was too deep and non-competitive, see if the search results gave you videos first (like sock lent example above). These are good long-tail keywords to go after in many cases. When I took the video title “how to fix dryer lint trap problems,” Google returned some results, but none overly competitive.