When you design your website and work on its content, you can also optimize it for online visibility – a process known as SEO (search engine optimization). No doubt you’ve heard that keywords are important to SEO, but you’re just not sure how to pick the right keywords.

We feel your pain…we work on websites all the time and still obsess over keywords. So we’d like to share how to go about the process, starting with the difference between short and long keywords. Here’s a little bit about how keywords affect SEO and your incoming traffic:

Ideally, to get the most incoming traffic, you’ll need to be listed among the first results that a person sees when they search for something related to your business.

If you’re in a popular industry, it’s a lot harder to make it to those first results. That’s especially true if you’re concentrating your SEO efforts on a short keyword.

For example, let’s say you’re a wedding planner, and focused on optimizing your site to get found by anyone who searches for the term “wedding planner.” The problem? There are over 84,000,000 pages for wedding planners that a search engine can choose from– all vying for a top 10 spot on the first page of the search results. (Most of us never venture past the first page of the search results.)

However, what if we refine that search to “wedding planner destination wedding colorado”? Magic happens. Search results drop from 84 million to just over one million results, and local businesses like Custom Weddings of Colorado or Marry Me in Colorado have a chance to appear in the results.

This is the power of long tail keywords. Allow me to introduce you.

What are Long Tail Keywords?

Long tail keywords are longer keyword phrases. Compared to a short, one word keyword (also known as a “head” term), a long tail keyword is usually comprised of between three to five words.

Long tail keywords have the luxury to be much more specific than a short tail keyword.

Why use Long Tail Keywords?

Most of us use long tail keywords in our daily searches. Haven’t you ever started a search with a short tail keyword (e.g. “shoes”) and then, frustrated by the unfocused results, refined your search for specificity (e.g. “hiking shoes for women”)?

You were using long tail keywords even though you probably didn’t know it by name.

This is the reason why you need to incorporate long tail keywords into your SEO strategy. Most customers, when they’re in the buying (and not just researching) phase, use long tail keywords to find the solution that best suits their needs.

If you’re trying to rank on search engines for a generic short tail keyword, you’re likely to get lost somewhere on page 52.

If, however, you focus on ranking for long tail keywords, you have a chance to get high in the search results for an array of keywords.

The bottom line? Going generic is a bad strategy for search engine optimization. You’ll never break through the bigger companies that are listed on page one for a short tail keyword. Depending on your industry, that includes Wikipedia, Twitter, and news organizations. But, if your strategy is to use long tail keywords, you’ll get better results.

Here’s the downside to long tail keywords

Long tail keywords don’t pull in as much traffic as a short tail keyword– there’s less traffic for a more specific query. However, a whopping 70% of search is made up of long tail keywords. That’s thanks to savvy search engine users who understand that being specific with their query will get them the answer they need a lot quicker.

Although there may be less traffic for a keyword, it doesn’t mean that your website will suffer. If you build up content around a topic that answers many of the questions reflected in long tail keyword phrases, you will increase the amount of traffic that comes to your site.

More good news? The traffic that you get will be much more targeted. These visitors are likely to stick around and eventually engage with or buy from you. That’s because you’re not just targeting all customers, you’re targeting customers who align with your specific offerings (i.e. the difference between wedding planner and wedding planner destination wedding colorado).

You’ll convert more visitors into customers because you can engage (through your long tail keywords) buyers who are ready to commit, not just browsers who aren’t completely sure of what they’re looking for yet.

Rather than trying to out-rank the big businesses that have big bucks to spend on head terms, your website can appear in the search results for a wide array of different terms, especially if you incorporate your local town into your long tail keyword. By the way, it’s easier to rank for a long tail keyword because most people are trying to rank for single word keywords.

Finding Long Tail Keywords

How do you find the right long tail keywords for your business?

The answer depends on what you’re hoping to rank for. Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What makes your service special? What sets you apart and would make people want to work with you? For example, are you a woman-owned business?
  • What is your niche? Who are your customers? What services do you offer?
  • What words would people use to find your service? How would customers search for and find your website through Google or Bing? Once you find out, you’ll incorporate these words into your long tail keyword strategy.

Make a list of potential keyword phrases and don’t be afraid to get specific.

Let’s say you’re Dr. Smith, psychotherapist. But, Dr. Smith, there are a ton of psychotherapists in your town. You want to stand out from the rest by focusing on long tail keywords that describe who you are (psychotherapist, therapist), who you cater to (divorce counseling, couples counseling, young adult counseling), and words that people would use to find you (NYC, Manhattan). Putting it all together, you could rank for the following long tail keywords:

  • NYC divorce counseling psychotherapist
  • Manhattan couples counseling therapist
  • NYC therapist young adult counseling

Remember that you don’t have to limit yourself to one keyword phrase. The point is to explore many long tail keyword phrases.

For an easy way to build your list:

  • Use a free keyword tool, such as SEO Chat
  • Use Answer the Public
  • Search for your desired long tail keyword and then check out the “searches related to…” at the bottom of the search results page. Update: Google now supplies related searches for each web page in the search results; when you click through then use the back button to return to the search results, you get a list of related searched specifically for the page you clicked on
  • Start typing your desired long tail keyword and then use Google’s auto-complete tool to find new ideas for long tail keywords

Take your list and sort the keywords into logical groups for the different pages of your website. Invariably, this process helps us better understand what customers are looking for. What we thought was important often isn’t on their radar. This is a great chance to learn and take your content in the right direction.

There are advanced methods for homing in on keywords, by analyzing the quantity of searches and the difficulty to rank for a term. Our favorite tool for inbound marketing is SEMrush, but there are many others when you need a deeper level of information.

Final Thoughts

We hope we’ve demystified keywords and how longer (or long tail) keywords work differently than short, one word keywords. We’re not done with keywords just yet. In our next post, we’ll discuss how to use keywords to focus your content, putting this theory into action.

The creatives I work with ask provocative questions about the latest trends in website marketing. Strategic Team is where we work out the answers (and have a little fun).