The Importance of Long-Tail Keywords

written by William Patton on January 24, 2013 in Case Study with no comments
Image representing HitTail as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Recently I read a post about a paid service that helps you build long-tail traffic. It identifies the under-performing long-tail keywords and helps you to improve the traffic that they receive. It’s called HitTail and I’ll be recommending my clients who can’t afford a dedicated Analyst to, at the very least, take a trial to increase their long tail traffic.

Being one of the few people who actually enjoys web-data analytics I wouldn’t pay for a service that helps me do this. Instead I would pick through my analytics and find the under-performing keywords myself. I’ve already written about a way of doing this using questions people arrive to your site with and actionable data from the report.

Long-tail keywords make up over 70% of searches so it would be foolish not to have goals for the long-tail traffic.

I thought it would be quite interesting for me to do my very first SEO case study on long-tail keywords and how to increase long-tail traffic. I will be doing my case study spanning 3, possibly 4, of my own sites.

What a Long-Tail Keyword is

Long-tail keywords, or phrases, are keywords consisting of 3 or more words. They are much more specific than a standard keyword. They get used in search more often than single or 2 word keywords. I sometimes like to think of them as phrases and you’ll often hear them called key phrases around the internet.

graph showing that 70% of seach terms are 3 or more words long

This is one of the graphs from HitTail’s infographic about “The Hidden Value of Long Tail SEO”.

How useful Long-Tail Keywords are

Think about how you search. When I search a single word it’s normally a brand name. It’s normally the same when I use 2 words too, or I’m looking to get an overall picture of a broad topic. When I’m actually looking for something I use a long-tail search.

When you look though standard reports in Google Analytics the data for those long-tail searches is hidden under all that higher performing searches. The thing is sometimes those higher performing keywords aren’t actually performing better at all. It depends on how you look at the data and the metrics you use in context.

The Value of Long-Tail Traffic

People often undervalue long-tail traffic. Obviously if you write a post titled “Using WordPress Post Formats” you’ll want to show up in searches for “WordPress Tutorial” but that’s only 2 words: our searcher, John Bloggs, isn’t actually looking for how to use post formats so the chances of John clicking, even if your on the first page of the SERPs, are statistically low. On the other hand if John searches “use post formats on my site” and you rank first with the title “Using WordPress Post Formats” then chances are that he’ll click on your link.

And he’ll be more engaged when he does it. He’s are looking for what you’ve got not just browsing for things that interests him.

Google analytics screenshot showing long-tail vs all search metrics

Long-tail traffic is the maybe not the way most people will find your site, it isn’t on the sites I’m focusing on in my case study, but about 70% of searches are done using long-tail keywords.

The Long-Tail Case Study

I will pick some posts on the sites for improvement at random and shall conduct some research into the long tail traffic that the sites already accumulate site-wide and for the posts I plan on improving. I will then publish the numbers in the next post of this study.

In Conclusion

Long-tail traffic doesn’t just make up a large proportion of your search traffic it’s also the most engaged segment of your traffic and you should not be ignoring it. Instead you should encourage long-tail and use it to build ideas and write posts that gives John exactly what he’s looking for when he first does his search.

In the next post we’ll take a look at some of key metrics I’ll use for the study, how and why they imply engagement and demonstrate why looking at each of the metrics in context is a must.

This post has been inspired by a post on WPBeginner detailing how they used HitTail to increase their traffic 20% in 2 months.

HitTail have a wonderful infographic detailing the importance of long-tail which I’ll be covering in a post soon.