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Tips for Long Tail Keywords: Balance is Best

Posted on by Kent Yunk

In my recent article on How Blogging Helps Your Site Rank, I touched briefly on different types of keywords, including long tail keywords. I’ll use this opportunity to discuss keywords in more depth and offer Roaring Pajamas’ view on the ideal keywoBalance is Key for BLOG FINALrd optimization strategy.

The fluidity of SEO and web optimization lends itself to different trends. At present, some in the SEO space speak of the value of natural language usage on every page as a preferred keyword strategy rather than the use of discrete keyword optimization. The downside of natural language keyword optimization – as the keyword is presented as a sentence – appears in the usage of stop words, conjunctions and modifiers. Instead, we believe this strategy works best with the use of long tail keywords.

Let’s begin with basic definitions:

Keyword: Keywords – whether one word or a phrase – act as shortcuts to summarize an entire web page and help search engines match an appropriate search query with a page. To be effective, keywords should show up in a few places on a web page or in the HTML code, including:

  • In the header tag, or the <h1> tag in HTML, usually the title or major headline of a post
  • In the title tag (<title>) of a post or page, which appears on a search engine results page (SERP)
  • In the meta description, which also appears on a search engine results page (SERP)
  • In the content on the web page optimized for given keywords – the keywords must be used in relevant and appropriate context on the page

Within the broad category of keywords, a few types of keywords exist:

Head keyword: The reference to “head” in search keywords refers to an animal’s head – the most popular or well-known association most people have with an animal. In the world of search, these words garner the most search demand in the search engine results. This keyword or phrase can be the generic use of very commonly used phrases such as “shoes” or “running shoes” and prevail as the most relevant word or phrase to describe the content on a page. Due to the level of competitiveness, receiving a prominent ranking for these keywords in a short timeframe may prove difficult.

Mid or middle keyword: Continuing the animal reference, this group of keywords is larger but less exciting than the head. Consisting of three to five words, these chunky middle terms generate lower search volume than head terms. These middle keywords also tend to have far less competition than head terms and thus may be easier to rank for in a shorter timeframe.  

Long tail keyword: A phrase with five or more words, often forming a question, long tail terms are highly specific to the content on a given page. Long tail terms drive a smaller volume of searches but more interested prospects; if one optimizes for a long tail term, then the tendency to convert from a visitor to a customer can be much higher. These keywords tend to have the least competition in the search results and can be especially easy to rank for in a reasonably short timeframe.

By way of example, consider these different types of keywords for the topic of computers:

  • Head keyword: computer
  • Middle keyword: laptop computer
  • Long tail keyword: where to buy a laptop computer in San Carlos

Finally, to further understand these different keywords, take a look at this graphic:  


Source: Moz

With the definitions explained and the foundation set, let’s consider how and when to use head keywords, middle terms and long tail keywords. We recommend a balanced approach when employing the various types of keywords; on a website, some pages should be optimized for head terms, others for the middle and still others need to be optimized for very specific long tail keywords. Employing a balanced strategy allows a website to attract a broad audience with head terms and then attract viewers further down the sales cycle with more specific keywords and phrases.

We often advise clients to start their SEO programs by first optimizing main pages for the most relevant industry or product-related (head) keywords. Then, use articles or a blog to build on these keywords using topic terms that include modifiers to enhance a visitor’s view of the site owners as thought leaders and innovators. Adding to this strategy, easily begin long tail keyword use by taking a Frequently Asked Questions page and breaking it into separate pages for each question. This practice removes the often long, continuous FAQ page that addresses a wide variety of questions. This single page FAQ also makes addressing topics in a single, specific phrase more difficult. Update that long page and the site by adding 10 – 20 additional pages on very specific topics – with very relevant and specific long tail phrases. And remember, you will likely run out of pages to optimize before you run out of keywords.

These tactics only scratch the surface of web optimization and keyword strategies, but the bottom line remains – as with so many things – a balanced approach proves best. Please let me know if you have more specific questions on the benefits of long tail keywords versus the use of other keywords and phrases; website optimization endures as a fascinating and dynamic field.

About Kent Yunk

Kent is currently Advisor and SEO Strategist to Roaring Pajamas a boutique digital-strategy company located in San Carlos California. His in-house SEO experience spans GoDaddy, QuinStreet, Ask.com, Dictionary.com, Adobe and IBM where he did extensive audits and optimization for local and international web properties. He and his team also execute reputation management, link building and social media campaigns.

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