The perennial debate in keyword optimization has been the question of whether to target long-tail or short-tail keywords. Short-tail keywords usually consist of one or two words and are, by far, the most popular types of searches on search engines. Typically, they attract hundreds of thousands and even millions of searches.
On the other hand, long-tail keywords see very few searches and have historically been ignored by many SEO professionals. These keywords may not attract more than a few hundred searches in a month. However, in recent years, there has been some hype around long-tail keywords and in this article, we would examine whether it is justified or not.
Keywords in SEO
Keywords in SEO are specific words or phrases people type into search engines to find information, products, or services. These keywords are used by search engines to understand the content of a website and determine how relevant it is to a user’s search query.
Therefore, two integral parts of an SEO strategy are keyword research and optimization. The former is the process of discovering relevant keywords for your niche while the latter covers the strategic practices for including keywords in pieces of content to improve discoverability, search engine rankings, and website traffic.
As an SEO professional, your most important priority is how to balance competition and returns. Keyword optimization gets you putting a lot of thought into this. Short-tail keywords have tough competition (-) but provide immensely high returns if successfully targeted because of their high search volumes (+).
Conversely, long-tail keywords have low competition (+) but discouragingly low search volumes (-). Consider the following results, as extracted from the Eye10 Keyword Planner, and focus on the differences between the search volumes of short-tail keywords and long-tail keywords.
Long-Tail Keywords vs Short-Tail Keywords
Long-tail keywords are better pointers of search intent because they are more specific than short-tail keywords, which often give no additional context. And by targeting specific keywords, you are more likely to attract a qualified audience who is more likely to convert into customers.
For instance, searching for ‘crypto’ seems rather vague because it is not clear whether you want price updates, industry news, or even general education about the subject. However, when you search “US crypto exchanges”, your intent is more precise. Also, “best running shoes for flat feet” is a long-tail keyword, while “running shoes” is a short-tail keyword, and the intent is certainly more precise in the former.
By targeting short-tail keywords, you have the opportunity to rank for multiple related keywords, which can increase your visibility in search results. This is because long-tail keywords have short-tail keywords embedded in them. Therefore, successfully targeting the keyword “running shoes” also qualifies you to rank for “best running shoes for flat feet”, depending on the structure and content of your post.
However, does that mean that short-tail keywords are superior? Not necessarily. For websites with low domain authority in particular, attempting to rank for short-tail keywords can backfire due to the high competition for them.
Factors that Determine Keyword Optimization
Now that you understand what short-tail and long-tail keywords are, it is probably clear that there is no type that is really the best. It all depends on your circumstances and a whole lot of factors, which are explored in this section.
1. Target audience: If your target audience is specific and searching for specific products or services, then long-tail keywords may be the better option. E-commerce websites in particular should explore this. However, if your target audience is more general and searching for a broader category of products, services, or answers to questions, then short-tail keywords may be the better option.
2. Industry and competition: Since long-tail keywords are typically less competitive and easier to rank for, targeting these keywords is a way to counteract the influence of the big names if you are in a highly competitive industry or niche. On the other hand, aim for shorter keywords if your niche is less saturated with competition. If you are not sure who your competitors are, the Eye10 Industry Checker helps you discover the numbers easily and even find keyword gaps where opportunities exist to take up the competition.
3. Goals and objectives: Ranking for short-tail keywords is the fastest way to drive traffic to your website and increase brand awareness due to their broader scope. Long-tail keywords have a more narrow focus and should be reserved for when you need to acquire targeted traffic to your website and increase conversions, say, on a particular landing page.
4. Search volume: In the short-tail vs long-tail debate, the sweetest spot is to find keywords with a high search volume but low difficulty. That is, optimize for keywords that everyone is searching for but only have limited answers. This means watching the trends consistently and monitoring changes to the search volumes of keywords since these are not static. Use the Eye10 Keyword Planner to compare the monthly search volumes of various keywords as well as data from Google Keyword Planner.
5. Budget: Due to high competition, short-tail keywords are obviously more expensive to target. If your budget is fat enough to challenge the competition, then you should go for it. Otherwise, you should probably have the long-tail keywords locked down first before targeting the more competitive ones.
Nothing here suggests that these are hard and fast rules. SEO is a highly dynamic field and the rules of the game are as fluid as they can get. We recommend that you experiment with various types of keywords on your website to discover which ones are the easiest to rank for and that provide high returns.
Monitor the results for a quarter or a half-year and conduct an audit, which you can easily do by subscribing to Eye10 and using the Eye10 On-Page SEO tool. After taking stock of the results, make adjustments as you deem fit for your website.
Overall, since there is no winner here, targeting both short-tail and long-tail keywords seems the best strategy as it allows you to drive targeted traffic to your website while also increasing brand awareness and visibility in search results. By balancing both types of keywords in your SEO strategy, you can reach a wider audience and increase your chances of success.
Are long-tail keywords less expensive to bid on than short-tail keywords?
In general, long-tail keywords tend to have less competition and therefore tend to be less expensive to bid on. However, it also depends on the specific keywords and industry. You can use tools like the Eye10 Keyword Planner to research the average cost per click (CPC) for different keywords.
Are there medium-tail keywords and what are they useful for?
Yes, there are medium-tail keywords which are a combination of long-tail and short-tail keywords. Some people define them as keywords that are made up of 2-3 words, which is a middle ground between the specificity of long-tail keywords and the generality of short-tail keywords. They can be easier to rank for than short-tail keywords, and offer more search volume than long-tail keywords.
Can I target both short-tail and long-tail keywords at the same time?
Yes, targeting both short-tail and long-tail keywords can be a good strategy, as it allows you to drive targeted traffic to your website while also increasing brand awareness and visibility in search results. By balancing both types of keywords in your SEO strategy, you can reach a wider audience and increase your chances of success.
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