Author: Myriam Jessier
Let me tell you about George. George’s last search was for a good vacuum for his house. Potential customers like George are looking for the best, the quietest, the most affordable vacuum out there. Throughout their journey to identify the right vacuum for their needs, they'll conduct informational searches, comparative searches, and visit numerous brand and comparison sites.
With a house full of dogs and cats, George needs the best vacuum for pet hair. But, other customers may want to find the best vacuum for their car or tile floors. Each one of these searches presents an opportunity for eCommerce businesses to get in front of customers so that when it's finally time to buy, they'll be in the running.
But, you only stand a chance if you're able to address your target customer's specific challenges. This is where long tail keywords come in.
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Long tail for SEO, big money for eCommerce
Long tail keywords are search terms that are highly specific to what the user is looking for and generally contain three or more words. The full definition is a bit more nuanced than that, check out “The long tail: A short history beyond keywords” for a more detailed overview.
These keywords mean big money for eCommerce brands. Uncovering them can help your store target customers that are looking for a specific product. Consequently, attracting customers who are almost ready to buy makes them more likely to buy from you. Using these keywords will contribute to increasing your sales.
One of the biggest myths about long tail keywords is that they are easy to rank for—this is not necessarily true, either: They are easier to rank for. However, their key benefit is that they are higher intent queries, queries that lead to conversions more often than head terms.
To help you visualize what this might look like in execution, here are some examples of the long tail for eCommerce SEO:
For an online shoe retailer, instead of optimizing for the head term shoes, it would likely use the longtail keyword men’s white leather shoes, or women’s skate shoes, etc.
A jewelry store might use the head term jewelry, but also use long tail keywords like necklaces, bracelets, and rings. However, these categories could also be considered too generic (or “head”) as they are very hard to rank for and very vague in terms of searcher intent.
Getting back to our earlier example (featuring George), we can use vacuum as a head term and best vacuum for pet hair as a long tail keyword. If you want to go even deeper, here is an even more specific query: best vacuum for pet hair and hardwood floors.
Breaking down a long tail eCommerce search query
Now that we have gone over the theory, let’s dive into what an eCommerce long tail keyword looks like in real life—let’s deconstruct the anatomy of a long tail eCommerce search query. When someone searches for black men’s ripped jeans size 32, they aren’t looking for just any old jeans. This person has provided qualifiers:
Jeans — The core product
Black — Color criteria
Ripped — Style criteria
Men’s — Clothing category type
Size 32 —Size criteria
If any one of the expressed criteria aren’t met, then the searcher is not satisfied and would not necessarily consider buying a product that is the wrong color, wrong size, for the wrong type of customer, the wrong style, or simply the wrong product (i.e., not jeans). This is why it’s important to consider the anatomy of a search query to truly understand what folks are looking for and how they express those needs via long tail keywords.
How to build a long tail keyword matrix for your online store
You may have noticed that the only thing distinguishing some long tail keywords from their head term variants is a few additional characteristics (e.g., embroidered leather blacksmith’s apron vs. apron). Creating a keyword matrix can help you identify potential long tail keywords based on the combination of various characteristics.
With a matrix, you will be able to find keywords that have a high volume (because people seek out the products) and zero volume keywords. Keywords with zero search volume can be high intent long tail queries for things you sell that SEO tools cannot provide data for. If an SEO keyword research tool has no information on a product’s search history because it’s too new or just starting to trend again, you could miss opportunities. A keyword matrix can also help you overcome not having a subscription to a traditional paid SEO tool or not having data for specific products.
Start by listing general and specific characteristics for your store’s product categories, products, collections, etc. Once the list is complete, create a matrix that shows how those characteristics are related to each other.
To help you get started with your own matrix, let’s walk through an example for a gluten-free bakery.
General characteristics: bakery, bread
Specific characteristics for your categories: cookies, bread, etc.
Product characteristics (size, color, type, brand, model, etc.): gluten-free
Target audience (for women, men, children, girls, boys, retirees, new moms, etc.): Gluten-sensitive individuals
Location: Canada, Québec, Québec City
Below, I’ve added an example of a keyword matrix based on this bakery example. Before we use that for our other pages, let’s look at what the bakery’s homepage’s H1 could be, according to some of the characteristics above:
01. BRAND NAME, online gluten-free bakery in beautiful Québec city
02. BRAND NAME, Québec’s very own gluten-free bakery.
03. BRAND NAME, order gluten-free bread, pizza dough and more online
Out of these options, which H1 is the best? It depends on your business. In this bakery’s case, they are very focused on delivering throughout the province of Québec, not just Québec City. This means that the first option is not optimal. The second option is great because it says what the company is (bakery) and where it operates (Québec). The third option is also viable because it goes into detail about the product categories and emphasizes the online aspect. We could go further and even create a Frankenstein of an H1: BRAND NAME bakery: order gluten-free bread online
This is how most optimizations happen SEO-wise. You keep iterating until you find something that feels just right for your store.
Long tail keyword matrix example
You can create a long tail keyword matrix for any type of website. Let’s do this for our gluten-free bakery. You can start with a matrix and do a more refined analysis for specific products or collections as you go.
Type of bread
Type of flour
Other criteria (trends)
People tend to search for longer, more specific phrases in order to find what they are looking for. The best way to find these long tail keywords is by conducting keyword research. You can do this by using tools like AnswerThePublic.com, Marmalead for Etsy, or any premium SEO tools such as SERPstat, Mangools, or Semrush.
These tools can provide you with insights and statistical data you can use to create your long tail keyword matrix. You can also elect to go the free route by asking folks online, checking Etsy pages, Google autocomplete, Pinterest, and monitoring what your competitors are optimizing for.
Figure it out with the TOP framework
If you’re having difficulty coming up with potential long tail keywords for the pages that represent your business and its products and services, try approaching it using the TOP framework, a method developed by eCommerce SEO expert Kristina Azarenko. This framework is a great way to help you think about your products from an SEO perspective. TOP stands for target, occasions, and product attributes:
Target audience — Who are your products for? Include the people who would buy these products for themselves and those who would buy it as a gift.
Occasions — When are your products relevant? Graduation, divorce, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, hockey match, Bastille Day, etc.
Product attributes — Qualities like color, size, trend, etc. Be specific, carmine and oxblood are both red but they’re better long tail opportunities than simply labeling a product as red.
How to pick the right long tail keywords for your pages
The long tail is an important part of SEO because it allows you to rank for your niche instead of competing with all other sites for the same term or topic. You can rank for something specific and get traffic from people who have that exact need. There are many different page types you can optimize for the long tail:
In the following sections, we’ll look at more specific guidance on applying the long tail to each of these page types.
Finding your homepage’s long tail keyword
You need to describe your store in unambiguous terms. For example, a customer looking for a gluten-free bakery that delivers would probably look for one they can find and order from online. As such, you could use online gluten-free bakery if you run a gluten-free eCommerce store.
But, let’s take it a step further by leveraging your brand name and your location. Tell audiences who you are (your brand name), what you offer (the nature of your store) and where you offer it (online but also the country or city you operate from).
Once you have your main keyword, you need to apply rule number one of eCommerce SEO: always optimize the H1. The best place to explain who you are, what you do, and where your business operates is in the big bold title on your homepage. Very often, that main title is the H1 (as it should be). Think of it as a big bold announcement to bots and humans. This is where you let everyone know about your store in a few words.
How to find long tail keywords for your category pages
Rule number two of eCommerce SEO: prioritize category page H1 titles. This is because category pages usually tend to get more traffic than individual product pages.
The key objective to keep in mind for category pages is ensuring that they are not too generic. This also applies to product pages as well.
Each category can be an opportunity to engage potential customers based on their intent. For example, if we create a matrix for “stud earrings,” we can see that there are many different search intents tied to that category. People are looking for colored stud earrings, where to buy stud earrings, different shapes, materials, etc.
Here’s another form a keyword matrix can take—a mind map. For some, a mind map might help them visualize the strategy more easily than a standard matrix chart.
Taking advantage of the way shoppers search, you could create category pages or ensure that certain filter pages are optimized for search. An example of a filter page would be when someone uses a color filter to pick out blue, black, red, or white stud earrings. In that case, the category page would be Colored stud earrings for women. You could also optimize the “gold stud earrings” category page or the “bar stud earrings” page.
So, why are some keywords preferable for category pages? Because when folks look for something, they aren’t necessarily looking for a specific product—they may want to browse options. If we are shopping for “black stud earrings,” we have a need but not a desire for a specific product. As such, Google will tend to present pages that offer variety, as opposed to pages that showcase a singular product. This is why prioritizing category page optimizations makes sense if you are an online store.
Finding keywords for your product pages
Some keywords are incredibly specific: they 100% describe a specific product in your store. Any long tail keyword that sounds like it describes a single product available in your store should be that product page’s main keyword. It should be used in the H1 of the page. An example of this would be: Gold and Black Art Déco Statement Necklace.
The difference between product and category pages (and when potential customers use them) is the main thing to keep in mind here. Again, someone looking for women’s stud earrings would want to see multiple options (i.e., a category page), whereas someone looking for Canadian designer black bar stud earrings would probably be looking for a specific product. So, ensure you’re using the right keywords to appeal to potential customers at the right time.
Sale pages can also harness the long tail
Creating a sales page is an SEO boon. Focus on long tail keywords there as well.
When creating a sale page for SEO purposes, it is important to keep long tail keywords in mind from the start (if possible). These keywords should reflect two distinct search intents:
Customer is looking for a specific brand’s sale
Customer is looking for discounted products
By using long tail keywords that are tailored to these two search intents, you can maximize the likelihood that your sale page shows up in relevant search results and helps attract more customers that are more likely to convert.
Keywords such as “discounts on apparel” or “Black Friday sale” target customers that are generally looking for discounted items with no specific brand in mind. This way, you can ensure that your sale pages are receiving the maximum amount of qualified organic traffic from search engines.
If you do not have active sales going on, you can use that page to tell people when your next sales are. Offer them a form to sign up for sales notifications. That way, you will be able to capture price-sensitive customers that can be more easily nudged towards buying your products.
Blog posts can capture long tail search intent, too
What do you do when the keywords clearly point to a search intent that does not belong on a category page? First, determine if it is something that describes a specific product you sell.
An example of this would be the term black triangle stud earrings for women. Is the searcher looking for the best place to buy stud earrings? Or, could they be searching for the best earring shape for a specific hairstyle?
In cases such as these, you are higher up in the customer funnel. Your customer is still on a journey to find the perfect product for them. You should produce content in your blog or resource center to help them find the right product, thus moving them closer to conversion while potentially ranking for those types of queries.
Product pages have a transactional nature and cannot satisfy this type of long tail query. You need to provide useful information to help folks make a choice in their online shopping journey.
Long tail keywords: Low volume, big opportunity
The key to harnessing long tail keywords for an online store is to figure out what type of keywords belong to what type of page. After reading this article, you should be able to figure out what type of keyword belongs in a category page, in a product page, or in inspirational content like a blog article. Any store or site owner can build a keyword matrix, all you need to do is ask yourself and your customers the right questions to map things out.
It can be a challenge for brands to show up in Google search results, particularly for their ideal keywords. While they may not be the highest volume queries, long tail keywords offer businesses of all sizes a way to optimize their content for more specific keywords that more than make up the difference with higher conversion rates.
Myriam Jessier is an SEO consultant and trainer with 15+ years of experience. She loves to share her knowledge because it helps everyone make the web a bit more human and bot-friendly. Twitter | Linkedin