What is long-tail keyword research and why is it important?

The foundation of any successful marketing or SEO campaign is thorough keyword research.

And as seasoned marketers know, there’s one type of keyword that is effective at driving traffic, conversions, and positive site metrics.

The long-tail keyword.

If you ever decide to launch your own online business or niche site, this is the keyword type you should focus on, rather than broader generic short-tail keywords.

The long-tail keyword isn’t what you think it is

If you ask most marketers, they’d readily tell you that long-tail keywords are keywords that consist of more than three words.

But they’d be wrong.

Long-tail keywords aren’t keywords that have a lot of words or characters in them. Rather, they are keywords characterized by their uniqueness. There are many keywords that have 10 or more characters that aren’t long-tail because they have a high daily search volume.

The keyword “Best Netflix movies” is an example of this. Although it has three words, the search volume of this keyword falls between 1k-10k monthly searches. Because it has such a high monthly search volume, it is NOT a long-tail keyword despite its three-word length.

Again, long-tail keywords are defined by their uniqueness and rarity.

The history of the long-tail keyword

The concept ‘long-tail’ was first popularized by Chris Anderson back in 2004 when he argued in an article that products in low-demand or products that have a low sales volume can take up a greater part of the market and rival or even exceed the so-called ‘bestsellers’ and ‘blockbusters’ if the medium of distribution is large enough.

His argument translates to keyword research too.

As data from Ahrefs show, the vast majority of Google searches are very specific and unpopular (i.e, long-tail). In fact, they found that many of these unique searches get fewer than ten searches a month. But collectively, they constitute 92.42% of all searches.

Whopping eh?

What a long-tail keyword actually is

Now that we’ve established that a long-tail keyword isn’t defined by the number of words in a phrase, let’s look at what it actually is.

“Long-tail keywords are low-volume, highly focused search queries that tend to convert well because of their specificity”

They’re typically longer, more detailed phrases that visitors with high search intent use.

Since they’re so unique, they have low monthly searches. This makes them less competitive than shorter keywords. As they’re less competitive, they allow you to rank quickly for specific topics. Long-tail keywords are also specific and detailed so they attract highly qualified visitors that are more likely to become leads and customers.

Benefits of long-tail keywords

Long-tail keywords have many benefits. And we’ll look at some of those benefits below.

Long-tail keywords:

  1. Are less competitive
  2. Are better sources of high-quality traffic and conversion rates
  3. Help you stay agile
  4. Are the most popular type of keyword
  5. Help you optimize for semantic search

Less competitive

As we’ve already established, long-tail keywords aren’t as competitive as shorter keywords. And when it comes to SEO, long-tail keywords are MUCH less competitive than head terms.

A short tail keyword like “Keyword research” reveals over 1.5 billion results in Google.


In other words, if you wanted to compete and rank for that query, you would be competing with and need to outrank 1.5 billion other sites.


On the other hand, if you wanted to rank for more specific keywords like “keyword research tools for bloggers”, you can see that the competition is much less.


Better traffic

Long-tail keywords aren’t just longer. They’re also more specific. Because they’re specific, they indicate strong user intent.

Assuming it’s time for Halloween and you want to buy costumes for your kids. You’d type in “Halloween costumes for kids” rather than “Halloween costumes”. This is because you’re not ambling around the internet looking for just any old Halloween costume. You’re being intentional. Y1ou need a cool costume so your kid will be the coolest on the block. You want your kid’s costume to blow the other kids costumes out of the water.

Because the content is more relevant to the searcher, a higher percentage of that traffic generated through long-tail keywords is more likely to make a purchase or convert.

Helps you stay agile

If you’re lucky enough to rank for short-tail keywords, optimizing for only short-tail keywords is the equivalent of putting all your eggs in one basket.

But if you optimize for long-tail keywords as well as short-tail ones, you reduce the risk of losing all your SERP footing at once. If you lose ranking for short-tail keywords as well as long-tail keywords, you can still stay afloat with some of the long-tail keywords you optimized for.

Even if Google rolls out another update.

Most popular type of search

As Google gets better at delivering relevant search results to users, users in turn become more confident in Google and more frequently use more specific search queries.

In the past, users would type in shorter keywords and then sift through the resulting muddle of search results, looking for the result that best fit their query.

Savvy SEOs take advantage of this and optimize most of their content around long-term keywords and entries.

Help you optimize for semantic search

As anyone with a hand on the pulse of the SEO industry knows, the future of search is voice search.

According to statistics, 55% of teenagers use voice search on a daily basis. And when they use voice search, they don’t use one or two-word phrases. Rather, they use lengthy specific phrases just the way they’d speak normally if they were asking for directions.

The future of SEO is voice search. If you want to be part of the future, optimize for long-tail keywords

How to find long-tail keywords

Now that we’ve talked about the many benefits of long-tail keywords, let’s talk about how and where to find them. There are many places you can find long-tail keywords. Some of them are even unexpected sources.

Searches related to….

Did you ever notice that when you scroll to the bottom of the Google search results page, there is a small section called “Searches related to”? That small section is a gold mine for long-tail keywords.

Here’s how to use it to find more keywords for your website.

First, type in a keyword that you want to rank for.  Say you want to rank for “Keyword research”.

Type in keyword research and then scroll to the bottom of the page and then take a look at the keywords in the “Searches related to…” section and you’ll get a bunch of nice keywords that you can target.

But why stop there?

You can take it two steps further and then pluck a keyword from the resulting “searches related to…” section and then pop it into the Google search bar. When you do this, you’ll get even more variations of the keyword you originally input.

Repeat the process and you’ll have a basketful of keywords to target and play around with.

Forums and boards

Forums are a great place to find keyword ideas

Think about it….

Where else will you find a bunch of people asking and answering questions in your niche?

The logic behind browsing forums for ideas is that if someone is asking the question in a forum, there’s a high chance that many others are asking the same questions on Google.

If you want to use forums to find new keyword ideas, head over to a forum where your target audience hangs out. However, if you don’t already know some of those forums, you can use the following search strings to find some of them:

  • “Keyword + board”
  • “Keyword + forum”
  • “Keyword + powered by vBulletin”

Google Autocomplete

You’re probably familiar with this feature.

You know that dropdown menu that gives you a helping hand when you want to search for something? Yeah, that one.

The beautiful thing about autocomplete is that suggestions come straight from Google. To use Google autocomplete, just type a keyword into the search bar and Google does the rest for you.

You can try as many letters as you want…

If you want to take this a step further, simply type your keyword and a letter and Google brings up even more variations of the same keyword.

People also ask boxes

If you wanted to find question keywords, this is another way you could find them.

First begin by typing in your keyword in Google search and then keep an eye out for the “People also ask…”. This is another dropdown feature—just like the “searches related to…” feature.  If you click on one of the questions to expand, you will see excerpts that contain answers to your query.

Even better, Google will display more questions. You’ll have a long-tail keyword party.


Just like the forums and boards we talked about earlier, Quora is a wildly popular crowdsourced Q&A site that has more than 2 million visitors per day according to statistics.

When you log into your Quora account, type in your keyword, and then Quora will show you some of the most popular questions on that topic (keyword).

Some of the more popular questions can be so high-volume that you can actually add them to your list of potential keywords. And the other questions that aren’t as popular can help you brainstorm new keyword ideas in your niche.

How do you use keywords in your content?

Now that you know how to find keywords for your niche, how do you actually go about using those keywords in your content?

Well, there are two options.

The first thing you can do is to create content optimized for those keywords. But the downside to this option is that long-tail keywords do not have a high enough monthly search volume and so you need to pump out a lot of content before you see any sort of traction with your SEO strategy.

If you can outsource the writing or can write a lot of content by yourself, this is a viable option.

On the other hand, instead of optimizing content around one long-tail keyword, you can optimize for short and medium-length keywords, and THEN sprinkle the content with a lot of other long-tail keywords. This way your content takes advantage of both short and long-tail keywords.

Analyze and improve your long-tail strategy

After you’ve found viable keywords and used them in your content, the next step is to critically look at your content and evaluate the effectiveness of the keywords.

Get a benchmark figure

When you’re starting out, make sure to measure the amount of traffic that you’re getting from each keyword. This is important so that you can determine whether or not you’re gaining traction for that keyword month over month.

After all, what you can’t measure, you can’t improve

Establish the value of the keywords.

Whether you run a niche site or you sell software through your website, you ultimately have some goals in mind. And when you go through the entire process of keyword research, you want to use the resulting traffic to drive those goals.

With this in mind, you need to find out if those keywords are helping your bottom line. If you’re getting a ton of traffic but are not seeing enough conversions, start making some adjustments; A/B test your calls-to-action and landing pages. If you don’t see any improvement, it means that the keywords you targeted probably aren’t as profitable as you thought they were

Look for more profitable keywords

Evaluate your level of success 

When you do create long-tail optimized content, make sure you evaluate the success of each piece of content. Some metrics to consider are bounce rate,  time spent on page, social reach, and inbound links. If those metrics aren’t going up or (going down), then maybe your long-tail keywords weren’t targeted enough.

Duplicate your success

When you do find a keyword that drives traffic, conversions, and other positive site metrics you’d do well to duplicate the success of that keyword simply by finding synonyms of that same keyword. For example, if you write content optimized for “Halloween costumes for children” and it does well, look for synonyms of the same keyword like “Halloween costumes for kids’ or “Halloween costumes for little children”…If a certain keyword works you can almost be sure that variations will work as well.

In addition, you should also look for gaps in your content. If you discover that users land on your website through relevant search terms you hadn’t considered, use the opportunity to your content for that keyword.

The long and short of long-tail

While your SEO strategy is dependent on a lot of factors, there is no doubt that long-tail keywords are very effective. They provide much more targeted traffic that usually leads to conversions.


2 thoughts on “What is long-tail keyword research and why is it important?”

  1. Jon,
    How do you approach going back to add content to an article that you hired out to write?
    Do you try and blend the style or do you simply add you’re normal style to their existing content?

    I need to refresh a lot of articles but my writing style is very different than my writer.


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