Long tail search results are those keywords that have a bit more specificity to them than the normal generic keywords. “Cereal” isn’t a good keyword, but “Whole grain organic GMO-free cereal” is a much more specific keyword. When it’s more specific, it’s easier for you to rank highly for the term, and thus easier to pull in a larger percentage of the traffic coming through.
The wave of the future, what we’re already seeing, is a special variant of long tail keywords, called semantic search. Functionally, it’s the same as long tail keywords, with one critical difference; they tend to be actual, real questions. The cereal option above is long tail, but not semantic. Semantic may be more like “Where can I buy organic whole-wheat cereal?”
Ideally, your site will be pulling in as much semantic and long tail traffic as possible. Here’s a few suggestions on how to do it.
The first step is to find semantic and long tail keywords that work with your content and industry. There are a lot of ways to find these – we’ve written a guide on the subject – but one of the best ways is just to run Google searches. Google’s autocomplete and autosuggest features give you some ideas, and you can use various third party tools to run variant searches for even more ideas.
That gives you ideas, but then you need to check the traffic of those keywords. Once you have a list, run it through keyword traffic estimation tools and get a reading of how much traffic each keyword gets.
You’re looking for keywords that have a reasonable amount of traffic, but don’t have much competition. This means you’re not likely to target the highest traffic keywords, because competition in those keywords will be strong. Others in your niche are performing keyword research the same way you are, and they may have capitalized on a niche before you.
Start at the top of your list of keywords sorted by traffic and check the strength of the competition. If you think you can do better than the top three results for a given keyword, go ahead and put it on the list. Any time you can out-do the competition is a chance for you to grow.
Once you have your list of long tail keywords, it’s time to start creating content. Remember, the source of the value of long tail keywords is in being specific. No matter how tempted you are to write a generic article plugging in the keyword a few times, it won’t work.
For one thing, such efforts are transparently keyword stuffing. Google doesn’t like it when you plug a keyword into otherwise unrelated content, and will demote your site for it. At the least, that particular piece won’t do very well. At worst, it can earn your entire site a penalty.
For another thing, users don’t like overly generic content. If someone comes to your site looking for answers to “What are the healthiest whole-grain cereals?” they don’t want to see a blog post that covers the generic benefits of whole grain. They want a list with rankings and reasoning. You’ll be able to tell if your content isn’t matching the keywords by the time spent on site and bounce rate metrics.
As an aside, it’s not good for you to cover content too generically as well. If you cover one long tail keyword with a generic post, what happens when you get another related topic keyword? If you’re too generic with it too, you end up with two very similar posts. This can then trigger copied content penalties, not to mention making it harder to write more content on the same subject.
Essentially, what you need to be doing is drilling deep into topics and making the best possible resource post to cover the niche topic as possible.
Once you have a sufficiently large catalog of niche topics, you can create overview posts that act as tables of contents for your blog. Users can use a site search, or they can browse categories, or they can use your related titles feature, or they can check with these tables of contents.
Be proactive! You don’t always need to wait for a keyword to receive a high search volume in order to capitalize on it. Once you’ve covered the most urgent keywords, you can go for related keywords with lower volume. It’s easy enough to cover similar topics and refer to your main post for more details.
There’s a lot to measure with any content marketing campaign, but with long tail keywords, it can be difficult to see at first glance how well they perform. Get measuring them early so you have data for later.
Keep an eye on your posts. If they have high volume but aren’t at the top of the search results, look into it and see if you can figure out how to make them better and beat out the competition. In particular, study the competition and figure out what they’re doing that you aren’t. If it’s something you can implement, go for it.
On the other hand, if you have posts that reach rank 1 in the search results but don’t bring in much volume, you’re free to basically ignore them until such time as the volume kicks up. It’s not important that you focus on improving them, because you’re not getting much out of them. They might prove to be valuable in a supplemental way, but as direct sources of organic traffic, they fall flat.
Finally, set up user tracking. Figure out which users come in through long tail searches and track them in their careers on your site. By doing so, you’ll come up with statistics for conversions and revenue specifically based on the keyword, rather than page or traffic source. This way you’ll be able to see, long term, how well your long tail focus has performed.
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