How to Find and Target Long-Tail Keywords

The long-tail search phrases have always been a bit of a mystery. These low-volume, low-competition terms can be hard to grasp: why spend your time on those keywords if barely anyone is searching for them? Then, there are probably hundreds to thousands of long-tails you can find; how do you pick the best ones? And finally, does any of this even matter in the age of semantic search?

Okay, hang in there. In today’s post, I’ll show you why long-tails are unbeatable sources of targeted traffic, and share a simple framework you can use to research long-tail keywords, optimize your pages for them, and start growing rankings. But first…

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What is a long-tail keyword?

There’s a bunch of (very different) definitions of long-tails on the Web. The one that I’ll stick to for this guide is this:

Long-tail keywords are highly specific search phrases with low search volume, which communicate a certain searcher intent clearly. Because of their specificity, long-tails are usually three or more words long.

So if you look at a list of keywords, you can typically tell which ones are long-tails by asking yourself, “Which of these terms have a clear, unambiguous, specific intent behind them?” To practice, have a go at this list.

#1 is clear — the searcher is looking for an overview of the major trends in SEO for 2017. A great long-tail for a blog post, although it could be useful to make it even more specific.

#2 isn’t specific enough. Is the searcher looking to learn what SEO PowerSuite Cloud is or how it works? Or would they like to sign up for an account? This isn’t a long-tail since we can’t be sure about the searcher intent.

#3 is a solid long-tail — I can assume that the searcher is looking to use a tool that generates disavow files. Great, we’ve got that!

With #4, the searcher must be looking for an explanation of what a Google local pack is. A good long-tail (and a great opportunity for a featured answer!)

#5 is a typical long-tail. Someone’s trying to download the PDF version of our book — bring ‘em in!

#6 is not a long-tail and just confusing. Frankly, they could be looking for anything in the world.

See? But before we get to the steps to research your own long-tails, let’s see what makes this entire thing worthwhile.

Why are long-tail keywords a massive SEO opportunity?

For three big fat reasons.

1. Long-tails make up a major share of your search traffic. Of all search traffic on the Web, long-tail keywords make up around 70%. If you look at the keywords that your website ranks for in Search Console and scroll past the first few terms, you’ll quickly see that the majority are long-tails — most of which you likely haven’t even been optimizing for. And if you are diligent enough to add up the number of clicks your site receives through these more specific keyword phrases, you’ll see that it amounts to a much greater number than the visits you get for the more generic, high-competition terms.

Let me reiterate: more likely than not, the majority of your organic traffic comes through the keywords you haven’t even been consciously targeting. Imagine what could happen if you invested just a bit of effort there!

2. They are easy to rank for. By definition, long-tail keywords are low-demand, low-competition terms. With barely any of your competitors targeting them, it’s very easy for you to step in.

3. Because long-tails are so specific, their conversion potential is high. Whatever your micro-conversion is, smart long-tail keyword research can help you pick the terms that are geared towards that goal. These could be purchase intent keywords (think “buy funky socks in Toronto”) or informational queries to win blog subscribers (think “why are long-tail keywords important”). Whichever kind you are looking for, it’s easy to see if a long-tail term fits into your conversion strategy or not.

Okay, down to the steps!

1. Utilize the long-tails you already rank for.

As I mentioned earlier, the best way to do that is by logging in to your Google Search Consoleaccount. Go to Search Traffic > Search Analytics, and select Clicks, Impressions, and Position to be displayed. This will show you the list of terms you rank for, with the number of site visits, search volume for each, and your ranking for each. By default, the data is displayed for the last 28 days, but you can tweak this if you need to.

At the bottom of the list, you’ll see a Download button. Click it to download the entire list of terms you rank for in Google.

Next, open the spreadsheet you just downloaded, and review the list, making sure to only leave the long-tail keywords. Finally, eliminate the long-tails that you already rank #1 for. You’ll end up with the list of terms that you can improve your ranking for (with a little effort). Save the spreadsheet and move on to the next step.

2. Research new long-tail keywords.

More likely than not, you already have a seed keyword list — the more generic terms that you are targeting with your site. It’s a good idea to look for some new long-tails based on your seed list. For the task, I would not recommend using Google AdWords — their Keyword Planner tool is geared to show the more commercial terms. The keywords that advertisers don’t target (the long-tails with lower search volume) will likely not be there at all.

Instead, let’s use search engines’ Autocomplete and Related Searches. These are brilliant sources of the long-tail gems you’re after.

The easiest way to do that is with Rank Tracker. For this purpose, I’d recommend creating a fresh Rank Tracker project for your site (even if you already have one) to make sure all your long-tails are kept separately in one place. This will make managing your data easier.

Fire up Rank Tracker, create a project for your website, and go to the Keyword Research module. Click Suggest Keywords. For starters, let’s select Google Related Searches as the research method.

At the next step, paste your list of seed keywords, and let the tool do its job. When it’s done, you’ll get up to several hundred new terms you could target.

Repeat this process for other research methods, such as Google Autocomplete, Bing Search Suggestions, and so on. When you’re done, still in the Keyword Research module, select Added Today in the drop-down next to Keyword Groups to see all the terms you’ve just researched (by default, you’ll only see the results from the last search you made).

Now, look through the terms you found to spot long-tails that are a good fit for your content. Think of the keywords you could use on some of your existing pages, and the ones that you can create new pages for. You can either browse through all the terms that have been found by clicking on All keywords on the left, or look through the semantic groups Rank Tracker has automatically created for your keywords.

Whenever you find terms that are a good long-tail fit for your site, select them and hit the Move To Target Keywords Module button.

These keywords will now appear under the Target Keywords module, where your Rank Tracking and Keyword Map dashboards are.

3. Do the mapping and tagging.

Okay, now you’ve got a whole bunch of long-tail keywords that you can rank your pages for with relatively little effort. Now it’s time to assign those keywords to landing pages and do some tagging so you can navigate through your data easily.

First, let’s go to Keyword Map and have a look at your keyword groups. It’s probably a good idea to reorganize those a little so that you can map entire groups to specific landing pages (use the Move To Another Keyword Group button to do that). Or, if your list of keywords isn’t too long, you can do that under All keywords for your long-tails one by one.

To map a keyword to a page, select a term (or several terms at once) and hit the Assign Keywords To Landing Page button.

Done with that? Now, open that spreadsheet you created at Step 1 for the long-tails you already rank for, and copy all the terms from it. Next, back in Rank Tracker dashboard, click Add keywords and paste the list. Make sure to add a tag to the entire list you import (e.g., “Google Search Console”) to make navigating through your long-tails easier.

Even though these are the keywords that you already rank for, it’s still a good idea to assign a landing page to each of them (using the same pages that already rank for the terms). This way, you’ll be able to easily see the entire list of long-tail keywords associated with each landing page in your keyword map — this will make optimizing the pages at the next step quicker and easier.

4. Optimize your pages.

By now, you should have a pretty extensive list of long-tails mapped to each of your landing pages in Rank Tracker. To review the keywords associated with each page, go to the Keyword Map dashboard and switch to the Landing Pages tab.

This is a great reference for the actual optimization process. If you use a CMS to manage your site’s content, open that and start editing. If you don’t, the easiest way to make changes is using WebSite Auditor — its Content Editor dashboard lets you optimize and edit your pages in live view.

Obviously, if you have a few dozen keywords in your keyword map, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to optimize the page for each. Instead, I’d recommend that you start small — by incorporating a few long-tails into your content, ones with distinct meaning — and see if your rankings improve for the synonyms as well over time. Look for groups of synonyms and related terms — using only one variation will typically be enough, as Google is pretty good at figuring out synonyms and topics. Have a look:

See? Most of these results don’t even have the exact keywords in their content. But they do include close synonyms that Google knows are a good fit for the query.

As you edit your content, try to use the long-tails in headings, subtitles, and bullet points. If a part of your content directly addresses a certain query, it’s a good idea to use it as this part’s heading. Or, if there isn’t a part that addresses that but it can be included — throw it in!

You may find that a variation of some of these long-tail keywords could actually be the one you’ll want to include in your page’s headline and title tag. If you’re struggling with the headline, it’s often helpful to go to Buzzsumo and type in your keyword (e.g., “how to target long-tail keywords”) that you want to use in your headline. You’ll typically get plenty of examples for inspiration, which are also sorted by social media shares with the most popular posts showing first.

Additionally, don’t forget about internal links — those are also great spots for your long-tails. Use the keywords in the anchor text when you put a link to a page on another page, and make sure to keep the anchors diverse and natural in the meantime.

The same is true for the backlinks you can control. Whenever you link to a page from an external resource (be it a guest post or another website of yours), remember the long tails you researched for the page and use a variation of one of them for the backlink’s anchor text.

Final thoughts

These are the simple steps you can use to successfully target long-tail traffic. Hopefully, they’ll help you win lots of targeted visitors to your site and become one of those exemplarycase studies for long-tail keyword targeting 🙂

As you optimize your pages for the newly found long-tails, remember to regularly measure your rankings and traffic for the terms so you can see which of your tactics are working best.

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