Because typing a search term is so easy, it feels like getting a high ranking on a search engine listing is the same. The truth is, search engines run countless, constantly updated algorithms to rank the best and most relevant results. These equations give websites the opportunity to spread their credibility as authority sites. Since it depends more on the content than just keyword-loading, a good site can move up as readers and search engines recognize its authority.
This brings a new question into play. If the idea is to generate organic traffic, when what use are digital marketing tools, such as keywords? Have they become obsolete? No, such tools still have their place. However, they are required to make more sense. This applies particularly for keywords. To understand the importance of long-tail keyword research, we look first at the nature of organic traffic.
As the name implies, organic traffic to a website is traffic that occurs as naturally as possible. People are going to that site because they find it helpful, because it has been recommended to them by a friend, because they like and trust the content. Another way of saying it is that organic traffic is unpaid traffic (not placed in an ad or promoted post) to a website. As search engines develop their services, organic traffic is what websites should aim for.
This does not put digital marketers or SEO experts out of a job. It does, however, require refinement and narrowing down of the marketing strategies. One strategy that contributes to organic traffic generation, while staying in Google’s good graces, is long-tail keyword research.
Long-tail keywords are as different from short-tail keywords as sniper shots are from machine-gun fire. Long-tail keywords are chosen for precision-firing, at web-users who are looking for exactly what your website offers. They are phrases made up of 3 to 4 keywords, that rank high only with users who are looking for what the site offers.
They are less likely to bring in a large number of users in casual browsing mode. But you are likely to get users who are searching with the intent to research (if yours is an informative site), read (if yours is a personal site), or buy (if yours is an ecommerce site).
At the end of the day, these are really the users that you want on your site. From a practical viewpoint, the longer users stay on your site pages (indicating interest), the higher and higher Google will rank you. If users click in and out too fast, you might be suspected of inorganic traffic generation, and be penalized.
Long-tail Keywords and Search Engine Ranking
Search engines may seem all-knowing, especially now. Facebook, Google, and Twitter have this knack of pulling up Ads and Promoted Posts that fall so naturally into the search, news, and Twitter feeds that you barely realize that they are, in fact, sponsored.
However, search engines are nothing more than constantly evolving indices, like those at the backs of encyclopedias and textbooks. You simply input what you are searching for, and like in a paper index, the search engine will pull up every page it can find that is related to your query.
For example, enter “book” into Google Search and it will give you over 6.5 billion results in 0.45 seconds. You can hardly look over every result, despite Google’s kindness in pulling out that many pages for you. So, you enter “mystery book,” which still counts as short-tail.
Congratulations, the results have been narrowed down to 175 million. Looking for “mystery books for teens,” on the other hand, narrows it down to 10.3 million results. Adding modifiers such as “best” or “top” before the phrase bring 2.65 and 2.67 million results respectively.
By this alone, you can see how users narrow down their searches slowly (although it is not likely they would begin with “book”). Say your site is an Amazon affiliate site for books, with reviews, blogs, lists, and other relevant content well-sorted into pages. The more the user knows what kind of book he is looking for, the more specific his searches become, and the better your site will rank for him according to what he needs.
To let Google and web searchers know what your web content is about, a good target for your long-tail keyword phrase is your headline. The challenge is including the actual keyword phrase in the headline, without making it look out of place. The simplest way to do that is to build the title around the phrase.
One example is the search phrase, “how to write a novel.” All but the last 1 of the top 10 results pulled up by Google have the entire phrase in the headline, in different styles. There are some complete phrases: “How To Write A Novel Using The Snowflake Method.” Some use the phrase as the title with a subtitle: “How To Write A Novel: Advice For New Writers.”
Using the keyword phrases for headlines is not risky to your ranking (unless the content has nothing to do with the title). The other places where keywords count are in the introductions, subheadings, and conclusions. Use the phrases naturally: build around and over them, instead of kicking them in randomly. For the subheadings, design them to complement the headlines and keywords.
Long-tail Keyword Research: the Ideal SEO Starting Point
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) lets search engines know where to find and list you. At the same time, it researches and studies what it is the users want, and how they will go about discovering it through a query in a search engine.
The entire SEO strategy can be built around the long-tail keyword. Developing the keyword is part of developing your website’s niche appeal. It is also part of deciding who your target audience is, and what exactly you want them to go to your site for. It decides much of your content. This is what really make long-tail keyword research the starting point for SEO.