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Leverage the Long Tail of Search on Your Blog

This guest post is by Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting.

Not getting all the search traffic you would like to get to your blog? One way to improve your results is to tap into long tail search terms to use in your posts. This is not always that easy to do, so today I will explore some ideas of ways to tap into that data.

One reason why this is such an attractive thing to do is that the long tail actually has more traffic in it than the major “head” terms which are the first thing we all think of for a particular topic. The popular theory is that the long tail represents about 70% of all search traffic. These are the search terms that we don’t normally think of. Here is the four-step process I usually use to explain it to people:

  1. Take your executive staff (or your writing/editorial team) into a conference room. Tell them to list search queries people might enter in at Google or Bing which might indicate that they are interested in your product, service, or content.
  2. In the first five minutes, they will write the most popular terms (these are “head” terms and represent about 10% of all search volume). These terms will generally be one word or two word phrases. An example phrase in the e-commerce world might be “digital cameras.”
  3. In the next ten minutes they will record the next group (“chunky middle” terms that represent 20% of search queries). These terms are a bit longer, two to three words. An example here would be “canon digital cameras.”
  4. After that they will get tired and start checking their emails, texts, go to the next meeting, or whatever. What did they leave behind? The long tail! This is the remaining 70% of search queries. These are longer phrases, using three or more keywords. Examples include: “canon powershot sx230,” “buy digital camera seattle,” or “I want to buy a digital camera now.”

Since this long tail has so much volume in it, let’s figure out how to tap into it.

Develop the right mindset

First and foremost, let’s define the way we should be thinking about the problem. We are discussing how to leverage the long tail within your blog. Blog posts are natural gold mines for long tail search, simply because they contain lots of unique original text that is presumably related to the topic of the post.

The search engines are naturally going to process all of that text to figure out what user search queries your post may be relevant to. They do an excellent job of matching you up with a variety of potential searches already. Our task is to make their job easier and help them match your post up with more relevant queries.

In addition, you probably don’t want to spend several hours doing keyword research for each post. This post is going to focus on the strategy for accessing the long tail, but how to do it with about 15 minutes of keyword research.

Makeup of the long tail

How can I quickly get a sense as to what will be in the long tail for my topic? It turns out that this is pretty easy to figure out. For example, if you are writing a blog post about the deficit in the USA, and you do some keyword research using the Google Adwords keyword tool, you will find that the phrase “balanced budget” has more search volume on it than “deficit reduction.” Let’s look at the numbers for “balanced budget:”

Leverage the Long Tail of Search on Your Blog

Next, here is the output from the Adwords Keyword Tool for “deficit reduction:”

Leverage the Long Tail of Search on Your Blog

Notice the correlation. “Balanced budget” has 1,600 total searches, and the largest variant of “deficit reduction” has 880 searches. In addition, all the variants of “balanced budget” had 7,256 searches and all the variants of “deficit reduction” had 3,341 searches.

This is our first important conclusion: the most long tail terms are associated with the biggest head term. So the first step in leveraging the long tail of search is picking the right head term. You should use this head term in the title of your web page in which the post appears, as well as the post title itself.

An important note on using the Adwords Keyword Tool

I really like this tool because it does give us a crude window into the real data from Google. However, to get the right data from it, you need to configure it properly. To see how to do that, reference my screen shot below:

Leverage the Long Tail of Search on Your Blog

First, notice that I checked the box up top marked “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms”. For purposes of this analysis, I don’t want to have terms which are not closely related in my list.

Also, over on the left, notice that I have picked the “Exact” match type, and unchecked the other boxes. The tool will default to “Broad” match when you first run it, and you can’t even configure this option until you run the tool the first time. So to do the query on “balanced” budget I had to run the tool once, it gave me broad match results, then I was able to scroll down and set the results to exact match.

The reason for doing this is that the broad match setting means that the total query volumes shown for each keyword will include all the derivatives. I tested this and the phrase “deficit reduction” showed a volume of 12,100 instead of 880. The result is that the broad match setting tends to obscure the real data, from my perspective as an SEO.

Implement major synonyms and similar terms

We have already given a good example of this. If we have titled our article using “balanced budget,” we should also find a way to include “deficit reduction” in the title, or if that is not possible, include a discussion of that in the post in a prominent way. That’s a good start, and that was one I was able to think of off the top of my head. How can I find more?

Go back to the keyword tool and uncheck the “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms” box, and repeat your search. Here is what you get for “balanced budget:”

Leverage the Long Tail of Search on Your Blog

Note the two items I circled. Two strong additional terms have emerged. Can I work a reference to a budget surplus or fiscal responsibility into my article? Once again, as we showed with the head terms, strong synonyms will feed a solid long tail.

Understand the chunky middle

The rationale here is the same: a solid chunky middle will feed a fat tail. Looking back at our “deficit reduction” screen shot we can some examples of chunky middle terms:

Leverage the Long Tail of Search on Your Blog

These are three great phrases that you might want to include in the article.

Leverage the long tail

The best way to leverage the long tail of search in your post writing can be summarized as follows:

  1. Pick the right head term.
  2. Find major synonyms and closely related terms.
  3. Selectively leverage the chunky middle.

But, the most important thing is not to lose sight of the main task, which is to create great engaging content. Don’t let keyword research be the “tail that wags the dog.” Do some selective keyword research as outlined above, write a great article, and you will surely leverage the long tail effectively, and not had to spend three extra hours doing it.

Also, if you use contract writers, make sure you keep them focused on writing high quality content as well. One of the dangers with providing keyword instructions to a writer before they begin writing an article is that it can bend their mind, and they start writing low quality articles no human wants to read. If you are using writers that can’t maintain that focus then consider replacing them. Another alternative is to not give them the keyword info and have that added in during editing the article after the first draft is written.

Are you leveraging the long tail of search on your blog?

Eric Enge is the President of Stone Temple Consulting, a 20 person SEO and PPC consulting firm with offices in Boston and Northern California. Eric is a crusty old veteran with 30 years working experience in technology and the Internet. STC provides Strategic SEO and PPC services to companies ranging from startups to Fortune 100 companies.

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  1. I really like the ‘Develop The Right Mindset’. I think that’s the whole art of make a great post all about. Very deep meaning.

    Thanks for sharing this

    • If you don’t have the right mindset in this game, you’ll get nowhere. I changed mine recently and everything is going great now .. :-)

    • But the whole concept is just confusing for me.I just try to understand what the issue is.

    • I also believe that developing the right mindset will do it but you made a great point of not creating the keywords then the article as your content will suffer. This article is excellent for people looking to journey into long tails.

  2. Great insight about keyword research, it is the base of your blog or a website.

    Keywords are used to determine market size and competition. Knowledge of your best keywords is the key to build a successful website or blog.

    Generally 3 to 6 words long tail keywords works best.

    Thanks Eric for a great system

  3. Great tutorial on getting more in-depth with your keyword research. It’s something I love to do, and I’m always trying to find ways to make it more helpful for website owners. So many people want to go with generic keywords, not realizing that long tail might have less search volume but higher conversions.

  4. When writing a blog post, I just do a Google search on the topic and use the search terms that pop up as I type the phrase.

    • I use to take this approach until a few weeks ago. Since doing some keyword research on old articles, I realized what I thought were popular search terms were anything but. I feel much more confident in targeting keywords now that I do a little research before writing.

  5. Great information! Longer keyword searches are better than the one word search that I originally thought. Thx for the detailed examples as well.

  6. Awesome tips about SEO. Thank you for sharing all those at no cost.

  7. Very good overview of the whole idea of the “long-tail” and how to use the GKWT to leverage it.

    Of course, the temptation here can be to start “writing for the search engines” instead of for real people. But I have found that if I REALLY write useful content (not search engine fodder), and use the Keyword Tool merely as an aid, I will see my articles really gain authority and rank for a whole range of terms I never would have thought of, and which may well be “one-time” keywords that get searched for rarely or never and which become mine, all mine! Those really add up, and there’s gold in them thar hills, but the catch is that you can’t mine the GKWT for those keywords..!

  8. Eric,
    I have been using adwords keyword tool more often lately. When I come up with a title for one of my blog posts I imagine what a visitor would type into the search box.

    My blog has been getting 80% more visits to my blog through search engines than last month.

  9. Ya developing the Right Mindset is important along with the task of finding and filling the gap.

  10. This is excellent information! Thank you.

  11. Great post although everything is very obvious and there is nothing new. Almost all IM products these days talk about long tail keywords. However a very useful tip I learned was using the exact match checkbox. I always used default settings and was wondering why I got so few visitors even if I ended up on 1st page in Google for a 2 or 3 word phrase. Now I see a huge difference between ‘broad’ and [exact] global monthly searches. Eg. ‘blogs’ 9M vs 300K etc. Wow, if I knew this I would have never registered a lot of — what I though were great — keyword-rich domains.

  12. I have used adword keyword tool before but your post has opened my mind to great possibilities. My previous approach was amateur at best but thanks to your great post, am now a Pro.

  13. Nice article, Eric.

    I am still trying to get my Head around the whole Keyword research thing. What is fascinating is how making even slight adjustments to the words being used, can produce some very interesting results.
    Agree that the quality of the content is of great importance and should not be neglected.

  14. When if first began blogging I had no idea what the term Long Tail Keyword meant. Now I do and my blog traffic has increased accordingly.

  15. Excellent post. The right mindset is definitely the key.

  16. I guess the long tail terms are always naturally happening, but I’m definitely going to try this on my next post. I have one site that when I check my analytics it’s all long tails, but I hadn’t planned for it to be like that.

  17. Good point, don’t let key words drive what you want to say; but be aware of phrases that people are likely to use to search for material that relates to your topic, and use these whenever possible.

  18. Another great article. Thanks.

    The key message is to be creative and target those keyword combinations which others might not use or think about. I have used this with success on a number of blogs. It takes time and effort to research but can be rewarding.

  19. I don’t always trust the keyword tool. I currently get a ton of traffic ranking first for a few keywords that apparently get very low monthly searches, whereas some terms I rank well for that generate massive numbers of searches according to the tool barely leads to any traffic at all.

    I think exploring non-competitive keywords in your niche is far more profitable for you time, but if your site is well established trying to hit specific long-tail keywords may be an important thing to do.

  20. Thanks for this piece of very useful information. Also, you explained the whole process of selecting long-tail keywords very well.

  21. About six months ago, I started working with long-tail keyword phrases. It is rather easy to get top page search results, using them. SEO is very powerful, when you use it collectively.

  22. Thanks for this tutorial! This is really a mind-opener.

    Some people actually don’t see the real importance of keywords and this post is a great way to inform the readers and writers alike that keywords are indeed what make a website get high traffic and rank higher in the search results.

    This is also a good way of tutoring how to use Adwords! Good job! :)

  23. Long tail keywords have been responsible for driving a lot of tracking to my site. I make it a priority to take that into consideration when selecting a title for my site.

  24. Great advice. I have been guessing titles to use however,getting real time stats on keyword is an excellent and much more strategic approach.

  25. Descriptive post with many takeaways. this post is like SEO gold mine for me. Had never bothered about the long tail of search. The examples and images used are convincing.

  26. I use Market Samurai and Google Suggest to find out long tail keywords to base my articles on. But this article has given much more insight into the whole keyword research stuff. I like the head term and the chunky middle and their relation to the long tail. I believe including the head term or the chunky middle in the long tail should ensure better traffic numbers over the longer term.

    I am going to try this in my keyword research for sure. Thanks.

  27. Hi Eric,

    Excellent post on Keyword Research,
    Which keyword tool you prefer to do keyword research? Google Adwords or any one else?

    i love to recommend long tail keywords for blog or site, not a generic keywords, i know that they have minimum searches but they also have minimum competition and high conversion as compare to generic keywords

    Thanks for sharing such a useful post

  28. Awesome article on the keywords research and useful information.
    Explanation fot the entire process of selecting long-tail keywords are totally great.
    Thanks for sharing this amazing article :>

  29. I like that you pointed out the exact rather than the broad match. I know so many marketers teach by using the broad and I find that misleading especially for beginners and I question why you would do that instead of going for a more accurate result.

  30. Great article on long-tailed searches. Google has a product that can be added on to just about any website called “Google webmaster tools.” There is a section called search queries within webmaster tools that allows you to view impressions your site has made on long tailed search phrases. I would suggest every website owner add this to their website as it has show to be a great tool to see what types of search queries are being performed through Google in which your site holds relevancy. Not only will this show you impressions made for specific long-tailed searches performed but it will also show you clicks, click through ratio (CTR) and average website position. We have used this tool for some time and it has helped us measure the effectiveness of our blog article content in how we target our search audience.

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