Long Tail Keywords: Does Size Really Matter?

09.19.2017 no comments

Are you sure you know everything about long tail keywords? Well, I also thought so before starting to dig deeper into the subject. You won’t believe it, but I have discovered some curious facts about them, and of course, I am ready to share this info with you. It will be fun.

We’ll start with the basics, like definitions and a little bit of history. Then proceed to more practical matters like:

1.How do long tail keywords affect your website traffic and conversion;

2.How to find the long tail keywords that are good for you

3.And finish with a vital question ‘how to make your long tail keywords stand out’.

Have I sparked your interest? Great! Then just follow me. 1

The definition: which one is correct?

Where do you usually go for definitions? We got used to asking Google about everything. Here’s what it says about the long-tails in a featured snippet.

2The size of the phrase is clearly stated. Hmm… So, according to this definition, a keyword consisting of one or two words can’t be called a long tail one. Don’t you think that this approach is a bit moth-eaten and it’s time to throw some light on it?

What is a long tail keyword?

Everything is simple. Long tail keywords are search queries that have very low individual search volume. Though, they can boast huge total search demand as a group. Their funny name comes not from the animal world, but from the so-called “search demand curve”, which is a graph illustrating all keywords by their search volumes.

You can throw a glance at it below. Do you see its “tail”? I am sure everybody understood the origin of the funny term’s name now.


As a rule, long-tails tend to be longer and much more specific than the most common searches, but that’s not a must.

How can you recognize a long tail keyword? By search volume and specificity. In other words, the more specific you get with your search phrase, the less less volume it has? The search volume for many long-tails will be second to none. This happens because around 16-20% of daily Google searches are the phrases that have never been used before.

Notwithstanding the low search volume long-tails should never be neglected in SEO & marketing because they make up around 40% of all search traffic on the web. Can you imagine that?

You see, even with low individual volume, there are so many phrase combinations that we get solid overall volume.

Therefore, it is easy to guess that due to their highly specific nature, you can get your piece of the conversions pie, which should encourage you to read on.

Topics over keywords: the great Google shift

Search engines are getting smarter day by day. At present, Google is able to do the things it was not capable of before:

Group keywords by topics; Understand words having the same meaning; Look beyond the ‘words on the page’ when deciding which content to rank.

This looks like the end of ‘Words On Page’ SEO days… The screenshot below shows that Google understands that ‘photos’, ‘images’ and ‘pictures’ as the same thing. The page ranks for all of them even without the direct optimization.


Yes, you are right, the above are still short/medium tail keywords with relatively high individual search volume. Don’t worry, we are proceeding to the long tail keywords, where the things will become really thrilling.

Do you remember the Google’s Hummingbird & how it has changed the SEO game?

In August of 2013, many SEO pros noticed a traffic increase for content rich sites. This happened due to the roll out of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm.

Google’s Hummingbird was targeted at a better understanding of the meaning behind queries rather than matching specific words to the content on a page.

It can be said that creative bloggers got a kind of freedom to write natural, in-depth posts (or other kinds of copies) for humans, but not the search engines.

SEOs who didn’t grasp the essence had really hard times building and optimising websites with low-quality content.

You probably know that short articles (under 700 words) targeting individual keywords don’t work anymore as well. I have just mentioned that Google’s understanding of content improved, so today it prefers detailed texts that dig deeper into the topics.Here is an image for you to visualize the paragraph written above: 5

Let’s view the real-life example. Our anchor text guide ranks top 5 for all the keywords on the illustration. 6

The long tail keyword ‘how to create anchor text’ is a brilliant example. The point is that the exact phrase does not appear anywhere on our page.

What does an ‘allintitle:’how to create anchor text’ search on Google shows us? It shows that there are 197 pages directly optimised for the keyword.


Why do we rank above them all? Because of our in-depth coverage of the topic. The author of this article did not specifically attempt to rank for any long-tails. He just did his job, wrote an awesome piece of content about ‘anchor text’ and Google automatically associated multiple long tail keywords to the post.

Would you like me to back up this info with any serious data? Well, we recently analyzed over 2 million keywords for our study of on-page ranking factors. Can you imagine that?

Here are two key takeaways from that study supporting the statement that Google is:

Less interested in traditional ‘words on the page’ optimisation; More concerned with associating keywords with overall topicsTraditional SEO asserts that you should include a keyword in your page title to rank for it, shouldn’t you? Do you have a substantial proof?

Here’s what we found: the majority of pages ranking in Google’s top 10 did not contain the keyword (in exact match form) in their title. 8

What about the keywords in content? You won’t believe it. The majority of pages ranking top 10 did not include the keyword anywhere on the page.


NB! The results of the research show that pages could rank for keywords even when you don’t include them in exact match form. However, I would still recommend you to include your ‘focus’ keyword in the usual places (title, header tags, content etc).

The conclusion is: you need to optimize your content for topics. Forget about creating huge lists of keywords, then creating separate pages for each of them. This is an SEO approach from the past. One strong, authoritative page, covering all the ins and outs of the topic can rank for multiple short, medium, and long tail keywords even if those keywords are not included into this page.

Now we will find out how to do it.

How can you rank for hundreds of long tail keywords?

First of all, remember that now you are focused on optimising your content for topics instead of targeting individual long tail keywords.

Currently, Google is clever enough to group individual long tail keywords into topics and subtopics. In fact, now ranking for multiple long-tails is a byproduct of creating a top-quality content. You don’t need to worry about including all possible combinations of the long-tails to rank for on-page. Keep in mind that even though individually those long-tails have poor volume, when added up all together, they bring considerable search traffic.

Combine your in-depth writing with link building

Sorry to say this, but creating cool content only is not enough. It’s super efficient to combine mind-blowing content with strategic promotion and proactive link building.

The same study of 2 million keywords also found that backlinks continue to be the single biggest SEO ranking factor:


Let’s utter this: as soon as you’ve created your terrific piece of content, it’s time to build links if you want to rank high.

So how do you go about creating super in-depth content that (with the right promotion) can rank for tens or hundreds of long tail keywords?

There are 2 methods, but I will tell you about one of them. Just don’t want to overwhelm you with the abundance of information.

How to rank for multiple keywords

Do competitor research. Here are the steps you should take:

Find your competitor’s top content & find the keywords they are ranking for.

1.Analyze those keywords.

2.Filter and group keywords into subtopics (this is necessary as the last thing you want to do is stuff your content with hundreds of keywords). You’ll get a two-digit (or less) number after the procedure.

3.Write an outline of your new article using grouped keywords as headers. You already know that these are the main subtopics that Google associates with the parent topic of your future blog post. So, if you cover all of them, you will be able to rank for all the variations you found when analyzed the full list of keywords. Those variations will be long tail keywords.

4.It’s time to write your killing blog post. The keyword research process above made it simple to outline your post and create keyword targeted subheadings. You will be able to rank for hundreds of long tail keywords without even thinking about them provided that you will diligently write up each section.

5.Get the post to rank. Unless the topic of your article is not of the ones with very little competition, you will need to promote it and build links to it. Here is an extensive link building guide that will tell you everything you need to know about the subject.

When should you target long tail keywords?

You are absolutely right if you think that you can benefit from optimising your content for head keywords and topics rather than taking time to pick out individual long-tails.

Though, a good SEO expert should know that creating content that specifically targets a long tail keyword is a win-win solution in some particular cases.

Let me explain you why. Do you agree that the reason why we worry about traffic is that our revenue depends on it?

The point is that some long tail keywords are so valuable (yes, we are talking about money) that it would be stupid to ignore them.

I’ll give you an example. It is pretty extreme but demonstrative. Please take a look at the following long tail keyword: 11

With a zero of US search volume and a total traffic potential of 450, it seems like the one not worthy of our attention.

But do you know that McLaren P1 LM is a $3.7 million sports car, the most expensive car in the world in 2017?


What does that mean to you? That any car dealer would be happy to sell such kind of product even, say, once a year. And if somebody is looking for a luxury car you want to be sure that they will find your offer.

I gave you this exaggerated example on purpose. It’s easier to get the gist of the technique with it.

Now let’s get down to earth and say the same in other words. If a certain keyword is crucial for your business in terms of revenue, then you’ll want to rank at №1 and you don’t give a damn for their ridiculously small search volume.

Most likely you’ll start creating content which specifically targets that long tail keyword, then you’ll build links to it.

As you understand, that was a kind of exception, so other than that place the topics over keywords!

Speak up!

Have you already switched to optimizing your content for topics, not keywords? Or do you still torture yourself making time-consuming long tail keyword researches?

BTW, do you know or maybe even use a Keyword Generator tool that finds loads of relevant keyword ideas from the industry’s biggest keyword database for you making the whole process a walk in the park?

Or maybe you stick to the time-tested tactic and believe that specific optimization for multiple long tails works best and is still a key part of SEO?

In any case, drop me a line in the comments. You know where to leave your questions about the info and the processes described above, don’t you?

Written by:

Helga Moreno is a passionate content creator and marketer at Ahrefs bold enough to believe that if there’s a book that she wants to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then she must write it herself.

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