As a web user, a “keyword” is the word you enter on search engines when you’re looking for something on the web. As a website owner, this keyword dictates the topic of your website and is used largely in marketing the site. Search engines like Google and Yahoo weigh how many times a keyword is searched and ranks specific websites according to relevancy, popularity, and other metrics.

Keywords have been an integral part of search engine optimization (SEO) and internet marketing for years. If you’ve been a blogger, affiliate marketer, online store owner, social media influencer, SEO practitioner, content developer in the last 15 years, you know the importance of keyword research in the success of any website.

Evolution of Keywords

Source: Yoast – Focus on long tail keywords

To understand the value of long tail keywords (we’ll talk about what it is later), let’s take a trip back memory lane about the history of keywords as a SEO technique.

  • Wild Wild West of Keyword-Stuffing (Late 1990s) – Search engine giants Yahoo (’94) and Google (’97) began improving how we access websites and how data is indexed. Because there are no rules in place for SEO yet, some people used keywords excessively on their websites in order to game the premature search engines and land high rankings in search.

  • The Peak of EMDs, but Google Knows What’s Up (2000) – Since its birth, Google updated its algorithm multiple times to improve how data is delivered and indexed. Google knew about the unethical use of keyword-stuffing and spammy link-building (collectively known as blackhat SEO techniques), but couldn’t address the problem just yet since the search engine was busy building the groundwork for Internet rules that we follow today.

    Keywords were needed in the development of mini sites. During this time, a website with exact-match-domain (EMD) as its main keyword automatically ranked first place in search results. It was around this time that the peak of EMDs occurred, with many people buying these domains in the hundreds to create keyword-targeted websites.

    Once it felt like no more exact-match domains were available, the concept of long-tail keywords became a hot topic around the internet marketing space.

  • Slowly Filtering Spam from Not (From 2001 to 2005) – Aside from publicly denouncing blackhat SEO practices, Google began ranking pages with quality content that are relevant to the person’s searched topic. The search engine also launched its own keyword research tool, analytics and Trends – all of which helped website creators improve the quality of their content.

    Keyword density (the number of times a keyword is used in one page) became a requirement on all content creation because search engines considered texts with high keyword densities as spam.

  • Game-Changing Panda Update (2011) – Google launched its algorithm update Panda, or what many now call the low-quality content killer. As a result, many websites and private blog networks with subpar content fell off search engine results, while those with in-depth and useful information were rewarded by higher rankings.

    By 2012, long-tail keywords became the norm. Those who thrived on mini sites slowly dumped their portfolio and focused on a single website with in-depth content, opting for quality than quantity. Becoming an authority in a particular niche became the goal of many internet marketers.

  • Updates Galore (2012 to present) – Google regularly updates its search engine algorithm every 4 to 6 months, and each update affects the SEO world and how keywords are to be used. In March 2017, a new algo update penalized EMDs with low-quality content, pushing content creators to prioritize user experience and leave behind SEO spamming for good.

So, What exactly are Long-Tail Keywords?

Long-tail refers to the longest section of the search demand curve, which is used in visualizing and developing keyword strategies.

Source: Webmag – Search demand curve

As you can see from the illustration above, keywords can be grouped into three:

  1. Head keywords – These keywords are the most generic terms, such as “jewelry,” which is why the number of monthly searches and competition are highest.
  2. Middle keywords – Slightly more specific (example: “local jewelry”), but still have high competition and sizable monthly searches.
  3. Tail keywords – These keywords make up 3 or more words and are highly specific (example: “local gold jewelry buyers”). Tail keywords have the smallest number of monthly searches, but with the least competition.

The idea of using long-tail keywords may seem absurd, since lower search volume equals less traffic, but their very-specific nature results to higher-quality traffic. Plus, it is thought that people who search using (3 or more) long-tail keywords are more likely to buy a product/service because they’ve already set their criteria of what they’re looking for.

How to Use Long-Tail Keywords

The benefits of long-tail keywords to a blog, ecommerce site, company website, and any other online property have been well-documented. If you’re still not implementing them into your on-page and off-page SEO strategies, here are reasons why you should start now:

  1. PPC Advertising – PPC (pay-per-click) advertising is used by companies to widen their reach and expose their products to a highly-targeted audience. Advertisers use keywords when bidding for a PPC spot on Google (For example: a jewelry store may bid “gold jewelry with emerald stones”).

    The cost of PPC ads depends on competition, traffic and monthly searches of keywords used, which means long-tail keywords are often priced lower than head or middle keywords. When a person uses Google to search for the long-tail keywords “gold jewelry with emerald stones,” the jewelry store’s ad shows up at the top of search engine results.

  2. Content creation – The problem with using head or middle keywords on content in the past is that it is easy to turn any article into a spammy-sounding piece and risk being banned by search engines. Long-tail keywords can be incorporated to content without sounding unnatural. And since there are virtually endless variations of long-tail keywords, this could benefit sites with a long-term content plan.

  3. Traffic Building (Link Building) – Long-tail keywords have impressively low search volumes, less competition, and high conversion rates, making them exceptionally high-performers when it comes to increasing traffic to a website.

  4. Targeting Specific Markets – As a business, it is ideal for site visitors to turn into leads or buyers. But if people visiting your website has no intent in buying, or no interest in the information you’re offering, your high-quality content, PPC ads, and traffic building become pointless. By using long-tail keywords effectively, businesses can attract and convert site visitors into loyal, buying customers.

  5. On-page, Off-page SEO – On-page (tells what your site is about) and off-page (tells how authoritative your site is within your niche) SEO are both important because it helps search engines rank your site appropriately.

    On-page SEO involves numerous tasks, such as META description, website title, image description (alt-text tags), URL structure, tags, content, and a whole lot more. All of these tasks use keywords that search engines record (for future use). When you use multiple long-tail keywords for on-page SEO, you’ll be able to attract search engines and visitors to your site based on the keywords you used.

    Off-page SEO involves content shared on third-party online properties, such as other blogs, social media accounts, and more. Every time an outside source links content from your site, you earn an authority point in the eyes of Google. The more links a certain post gets, the higher authority your website becomes. This is particularly important since changes in Google’s algorithm have made authority sites rank higher than generic info sites.

You may read other SEO “experts” dispute the effectiveness of long-tail keywords in SEO strategies, but results speak for themselves. As long as you use long-tail keywords properly, maintain publishing high-quality, share-worthy content, and practice recommended link building techniques, you’ll be able to attract an audience interested in what you have to offer.

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