The Long Tail & Short of It

By: Taylor Daine

When I tell people that part of my job is improving clients’ SEO by writing web copy, very few of them understand what goes into it. While a large number of people have heard of SEO, most of them will think that it’s some one-off task to improve a website’s Google ranking. While I’ve written before about the many pervasive myths that surround SEO, I didn’t go into much detail regarding long tail search — an area that nearly all SEO experts will tell you is where online marketers should be spending their time. Long tail keywords are defined as those typically 3–5 word long phrases that people use when searching for a specific item, whether it be a product or a piece of content used to answer a question they may have.

So why should you be focusing on these keywords? There’s a number of reasons for doing it, so let’s go over a few.

People (And Computers) Are Smarter

Back in ye olden days, typing one or two vague words into a search bar may have been all you needed to get where you wanted to go, as you’d wade through myriad results to find your destination. Nowadays, people know what they want before they ever open up Google — and they usually know what string of words will get them there. Gone are the times when Uncle Ralph would search “furnace problem” into a search engine, now he’s super smart and whips out his phone to type in “replace pilot light in Bryant furnace” to get the answers he needs. Because people are searching smarter, you need to publish content that addresses their needs and questions.

Just like people are getting smarter, so too are the search engines. Google isn’t just going to look for how many times your page says the word “furnace,” it’s going to look for the words that are associated with it, like “installation,” “repair,” “ventilation” or “filters,” and may recommend your site in its search rankings based on what the human typed in. Beyond strict keyword rankings, Google’s SEO algorithms will also take into account user experience, readability and link indexing — all of which are things that can be built on when focusing your web content on long tail search.

Competition is Lower

Ranking in Google is a constant competition, and even one spot’s shift can make the difference whether someone sees you on page 1 and clicks, or if they never know your name because you’re on page 2. All too often businesses will focus on short tail keyword rankings, and will inadvertently create competitors for themselves where none existed before.

Take for example a client of ours — Tish Flooring based in Central Indiana. They specialize in selling and installing flooring of all types for homeowners and home sellers. Now, if we focused all of our efforts in ranking for the phrase “Indiana flooring,” we’d be competing with every business even tangentially involved with floors: carpet cleaners, antique wood refinishers or just really exciting stuff going on in Indiana that was “flooring” people.

On the other hand, if we focus our efforts on ranking highly in Google for “replacing carpet after flood,” not only do we jump on some primo keyword real estate with a lot less competition, but we’re also tapping directly into an immediate customer need, something we’ll get into in the next section.

People Doing Long Tail Search are Closer to Buying

Remember that person searching for replacement carpet after a flood? Turns out they don’t like the smell of mildew coming up from their basement and they need new carpet now-ish. Finding an article about what to do if my carpet smells like mildew will certainly attract their attention. The more specifically someone is searching, the more likely they are to be past the information-gathering phase and closer to choosing to do business with you. Now if that person doesn’t sound like a quality lead, I don’t know what is.

So don’t fret if you’re not the top result for your incredibly common search phrase — most successful businesses aren’t, and it’s no reason to panic. Take the energy you’re putting into panicking and think about the kind of problems your ideal customer has that you want to solve — and then use your web content to tell them how you can solve it. That’s the basis of writing for long tail search.

Stuck on how to do that last part? Don’t fear — we’re here to help.

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