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SEO today is more competitive than ever. Sometimes, it can seem like getting good rankings and growing website traffic from organic search is an impossible task. But here’s the good news... it is possible.
And there’s one tactic in particular that you can use to reliably generate qualified traffic from search engines: focus on long-tail keywords.
In this post, we’ll explain long-tail keywords—what they are, how they can support your website's SEO, and how they can help your marketing team drive conversions. Plus, we'll take a look at how long-tail keywords have played a role in successfully bringing millions of users to Matmatch, a materials search platform that connects engineers and suppliers.
Let's get started!
When we talk about SEO, we often divide keywords into two groups: head keywords and long-tail keywords. Head keywords represent more general topics, and they usually tend to have a high monthly search volume.
Long-tail keywords are more specific words or phrases that draw fewer searches. It's important to make it clear that a long-tail keyword is not defined by its length, but by its search volume and the search intent behind it. Such terms are hyper-focused and reveal a clear picture of what the searcher is looking for. But because fewer people are typing in these exact phrases, they also tend to exhibit a low search volume. It's the combination of these factors that is key.
Let’s compare two different search queries: ‘cheap vacations’ and ‘best vacation spots for couples on a budget’.
We can see that ‘cheap vacations’ is a general query because it is not possible to understand exactly what somebody using this search phrase is looking for: do they want to know what a cheap vacation is? Do they want to go on a cheap vacation? Do they want to know how much money they need to go on a cheap vacation? All of this can be addressed by the term. That is why it gets a lot of search traffic.
However, with the search term ‘best vacation spots for couples on a budget’, the intent is much clearer. We can already imply that the searcher is looking for a budget-friendly holiday location for two people.
That being said, because this long-tail keyword is more specific, this term is likely to get less monthly search traffic than the head term.
Although long-tail keywords attract fewer searches, there are several compelling reasons why they should play a key role in your SEO strategy. Here are five of them.
Let's go back to the ‘cheap vacations’ example. As we previously mentioned, this term does not show us exactly what a person wants when they type it into Google. That means it can be difficult to optimize content—and ultimately rank—for it.
On the other hand, the ‘best vacation spots for couples on a budget’ phrase tells us much more about the searcher's intent. It's typically much easier to create content or to offer a product / service based on this term because you can assume much more information about what these searchers want: they want to know the best places for a couple to go on a low-budget trip.
Therefore, the closer your content gets to what the users want, the more likely it is for them to click on the link, to have their problems resolved, and for you to become an authority for that keyword (recognized by both searchers and search engines).
Given that head keywords have a higher monthly search volume, the most obvious thing to do to boost traffic would be to try to rank for them, right?
Well, the truth is that it's increasingly difficult to get good rankings in Google for these terms because there is a lot of competition for them. So it's very likely that you would put in a lot of time and effort creating optimized content over several months with little (or nothing) to show for it down the road.
Long-tail keywords, on the other hand, are easier to rank for by virtue of being less competitive. Of course, the amount of traffic you can potentially generate from a long-tail term is much smaller than you could generate from a head term. BUT, in reality, you’ll get more website visits with a Page 1 ranking for a keyword with 100 monthly searches than you will for being on Page 28 for a search term with thousands of monthly searches.
Because they are very general, head keywords can drive a higher bounce rate. Bounce rate refers to the percentage of visitors who enter a website and then leave without performing another action—like clicking through to another page, filling out a form, playing a video, etc. In many cases, the content isn't going to deliver what the searcher was looking for when they used a generic head term. And unfortunately for your website, a high bounce rate can negatively impact your overall domain authority, and you'll see your rank slip farther and farther down the SERPs for other keywords around your core topics.
Optimizing your website content with long-tail keywords can help to reduce a high bounce rate, by driving the right "qualified" visitors to your website. Plus, these searchers are likely to spend longer on your site because you've provided a good answer to their inquiry—and they’re more likely to remember your brand and return in the future.
What’s more, according to Moz research, long-tail keywords comprise up to 70% of all search traffic of a website:
Therefore, if you ignore the long-tail, you’re also ignoring a huge opportunity.
In addition to improving the ranking of your website, long-tail keywords are good for your visitor-to-lead and lead-to-customer conversion rates. That's because they home in on a specific niche, problem or solution, as opposed to a general concept.
In fact, according to recently updated research by WordStream, the top ten percent of landing pages across all industries only convert at an average of 11.45%. But marketing guru Neil Patel has reported that users arriving on landing pages after performing a long-tail keyword search convert at an average of 36%. That's a big difference!
So if your business offers a piece of content, product or service that is more focused on a particular niche and you optimize your website content using proper long-tail keywords, people who search for that specific content, product or service are more likely to consume and/or buy it from you.
Although long-tail keywords generally have lower search volume than head keywords, they tend to get more qualified (or good-fit) clicks. This is because they do not lead to vague results. When you understand what the real intent behind the keyword is, you can tailor your content to fit the searcher's needs and guide them towards a conversion.
It's no secret that content creation and promotion takes a lot of time. And depending on who is creating that content, it can cost a lot of money. In both organic and paid advertising scenarios, conversions directly influence your return on investment. Because long-tail keyword searches tend to boost conversion rates, optimizing your content with the right long-tail variations can have a very positive impact on your ROI.
As previously mentioned, Matmatch is a search platform that helps engineers find the right materials suppliers for their businesses. At Matmatch, an effective long-tail strategy enabled Marketing to attract over 800,000 organic page views in the first year following the company's launch in September 2017. In the last 12 months through July 2019, that number almost doubled to over 1.5 million page views.
Matmatch is a comprehensive platform that lists engineering materials, and we used our know-how to build over 50,000 pages targeting important long-tail keywords related to materials. For example, Matmatch has thousands of material pages that list properties of different materials (e.g., this one about a specific steel grade). Alongside that, there are more text-heavy pages designed to answer specific questions or search queries, such as this one comparing cast and wrought aluminium.
It is important to note that we haven’t used auto-generated content. Instead, we streamlined the content creation process, enabling us to create a large number of high quality pages. Of course, we combined our content creation efforts with typical SEO activities such as link building to improve our domain authority and on-page optimization. But targeting and ranking for long-tail keywords has proven to be a successful way to generate organic traffic at scale.
Do you already employ a long-tail keyword strategy in your SEO efforts? If so, how does it work for your business? Post in the comments below!
Ben Smye heads up the marketing team at Matmatch, an online platform for finding materials and suppliers. Having been involved in digital marketing for more than 10 years now, he enjoys learning about the latest technologies and figuring out how to use digital channels and tools to solve marketing challenges.