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Optimizing SEO with Long-tail Keywords


If you’ve read our guide on How to Improve Your SEO, have built a good landing page that’s been optimized, then you’re ready to dive into long-tail keywords.

Marketing pros know that it’s clever to use keywords that target potential customers through Google, but most of them target the obvious keywords that everyone is searching for. Since Google Ads works as a bidding machine, this ends up driving up cost for everyone for the same amount of conversion. Not good.

Popular keywords are bunched up in a huge group to the left while descending to the right is a long descending line of less popular keywords – and it’s an ever-growing list. It’s important to master this part of SEO since 15% of search queries are “long tail”, new and never searched before. Mastering long-tail keyword targeting will help you stand out, save money, and increase your sales.

What exactly is a long tail keyword?

Long-tail keywords are those two-four keyword phrases that are very specific to whatever you are selling.

Let’s take a look at the typical step-by-step buying path that a customer travels on the way to making a purchase to understand the advantage of long-tail keywords:

  • Step 1: The consumer becomes aware of a product.
  • Step 2: The consumer seeks information about that product in preparation for possible purchase.
  • Step 3: The consumer evaluates alternatives to product (features, pricing, etc…).
  • Step 4: The consumer makes their purchase decision.
  • Step 5: The consumer pulls out their credit card and completes the transaction.
  • Step 6: The consumer then evaluates the product after buying it and decides if they want to keep or return it.

Using the above six-step path to purchase as our model, you can probably already see that you want to target the consumer who is somewhere around step four: Consumer makes their purchase decision.

When a customer uses a highly specific search phrase, they tend to be looking for exactly what they are going to buy. In virtually every case, such very specific searches are far more likely to convert to sales than general searches that tend to be geared more toward the type of research that consumers typically do prior to making a buying decision.

What’s the advantage of using long-tail keywords? Why not use the popular ones that everyone is searching for?

Highly specific multi-word phrases tend to be far easier to rank well for than the more generic single keyword or double keyword phrases. One way to tell if a long tail keyword phrase is worth pursuing is by the PPC competition.

Let’s use an example: your site sells guided mountain climbing tours in California. At first, you might consider targeting a generic phrase like travel. After all, an adventure tour is generally the type of excursion people like to participate in while traveling on vacation.

However, if you tried to go after that phrase, you’d be facing direct competition from big sites like, and It’s unlikely you’d be able to knock any of those sites out of the top ten unless you’re willing to invest a pile of money and a mountain of time – and you have neither.

And travel/adventure might not be the best phrase for you to target anyway. That’s because many people who search using that phrase are looking for items such as plane tickets, ocean cruises or just doing very general research on where they might like to go. They’re probably not saying to themselves, “I’m looking for someone who sells guided tours for beginners to climb Mount Shasta so I can take my family on a fun trip this summer.”

If they were, they’d be entering something other than travel. Instead, let’s look at some of the keywords that are specific to what you’re selling — keywords that you can start ranking for and generating traffic and sales right away.

Here are a few highly specific key phrases that relate to customers who are much later in the buying cycle (most likely step 4):

  • California mountain climbing tours
  • Beginner mountain climbing in california
  • Guided mountain climbing tours
  • Mount Shasta family climbing tours

These are just some examples, but the point is two-fold:

  • Long tail keywords are much easier to rank for.
  • People who search by using long-tail keywords know what they want, and are far more likely to become buyers!

In general, long-tail keywords can be difficult to optimize for. Google’s said that 15% of search queries are new, and by definition, new search queries are the long tail. How does one optimize for a keyword that’s never been seen before? You can’t predict the future.

The only approach is to create content with these four qualities:

  • Avoid ambiguity
  • Be precise
  • Avoid going off-topic
  • Answer the question, meet the needs of the search query.

Which long-tail keyword is right?

Some long-tail keywords are very competitive because success is lucrative. For example, very few people are looking to hire a mesothelioma lawyer, and so this keyword becomes more valuable. That value is reflected in the PPC bid competition for that keyword phrase. Many keyword tools tend to distort the real demand of the keywords real people are searching for by having their rankings checked by publishers. The unnatural distribution of the keyword phrase is an indication that the amount of keyword searches being reported is not from real people seeking answers.

The map below is an example:

The above is a Google Trends illustration showing where certain keywords are popular. Apparently, according to the keyword map above, Google Trends shows that Oregon has more people searching for mesothelioma lawyers than maid services. Is that the case?

Let’s dive deeper.

The list below shows how the keywords “mesothelioma lawyer” are distributed between the top five states:

According to the list, California, one of the largest states by population, has a third of the keyword volume as the much smaller state Oregon, as measured over five years.

But, according to state statistics from, Oregon had ~700 deaths from Mesothelioma from 1999-2015 compared to 4,000+ deaths in California during the same period.

Based on the numbers above, one would that that Oregon would have a third of the search queries that California has – but that’s not the case! That seems to point out how unreliable search data can be due to competitive factors.

The cherry on the cake

Long-tail keywords can bring you customers that are looking for a very specific product, and in most cases, are ready to buy.

It’s best to think of it this way: would you rather rank for one keyword which sent you 1000 visitors a day, or 200 key phrases, half of which sent you 1 buyer a day?

Long-tail keywords are the cherry on the cake of your optimized site and existing SEO—and this is where the opportunity lies.

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