Author: Myriam Jessier
It can be a challenge for brands to show up in Google search results, particularly for their ideal keywords. After all, what car manufacturer wouldn’t like to rank for the term car? But, the results for that search don’t show BMW, Audi, Tesla, or any manufacturer at all. And, even if they did, it’s unlikely that links to car brand domains are what the user may be searching for.
The best approach is to target what we call long tail keywords. In this series, we will be focusing on keywords that can take your SEO to the next level regardless of what industry you’re in.
Table of contents:
The long tail: A short history beyond keywords
What are long tail keywords?
Long tail keywords are terms with low search volumes. They get their name because of where they end up on the search demand curve. This is an application of the concept of the long tail, coined by Chris Anderson in 2006. The concept of the long tail is not SEO-centric. It is a term used in online business, knowledge management, crowdsourcing, and viral marketing.
Most long tail keywords are not simply queries that contain a lot of words—the number of words hardly matters. 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.
What matters for business owners can be summed up this way:
01. You must find search terms that real humans look for when they are searching for a solution to their problems. We don’t mean generic keywords but keywords that truly signal an intent to invest in what you have to offer.
02. You must make sure that you truly have an opportunity to be seen for these keywords. The competition is fierce and you mustn’t waste your time on unrealistic SEO goals.
The key to boosting organic traffic and conversions
Users search for businesses, solutions, and specific products using long tail keywords. These queries help you qualify your audience at an early stage. By using long tail queries, you will be able to reach a more targeted audience more easily than you would if you were aiming to be visible on more competitive queries. This means that long tail keywords can give you better ROI.
Long tail keywords in action
Let’s go through a real-life example: My friend Stéphanie Walter is an avid plant lover. Sadly, she kills her plants with kindness…and overwatering. Here’s a real term she Googled recently: “Why are my Monstera leaves turning yellow?”
This is one of the best long tail keyword examples I've seen. Many people turn to Google to figure out problems like this one. Bloomscape (which earned the featured snippet shown above) is a plant delivery service that answers this question in their common plant questions guide.
Searching for true long tail keywords
Long tail keyword searches have a clickthrough rate 3% to 6% higher than generic (one-word) searches, according to a study by Smart Insights. That can ultimately mean more qualified traffic for your business.
One way to get in front of these higher-intent audiences is to “niche down.” Here’s what I mean:
You want to pursue a more particular search intent—not an alternative word to describe the same thing. For example, the keyword How to make coffee and How to brew coffee beans mean the same thing and Google understands that. So if you write an article on How to brew coffee beans you are still competing with content that talks about How to make coffee.
Here’s why: You are making a choice to go after a less popular way of talking about a topic (How to make coffee has a search volume of 18,100, compared to just 90 for How to brew coffee beans, according to data from Semrush tools). You don’t include the most commonly searched expression in your content, so you may not be considered by search engines very well. That would be the equivalent of trying to describe what a checking account is without ever using “checking account” anywhere in the explanation.
Seek distinct search intents to find long tail keywords that pay
So what does it mean to pursue a particular search intent? If you do this right, you will see competition decrease as search volume decreases. In big money industries, many savvy marketers have already pursued low volume/high conversion keywords. Even so, do not get discouraged, there are still ways to gain visibility.
Finding the right keyword opportunities
As an example, let’s take a look at how a new food blog might go about identifying a more specific intent for a very popular term: Black Forest cake. From Black Forest cake, we can get more specific and target Black Forest cake recipe or easy Black Forest cake recipe.
We’re doing this because it’s very unlikely that a brand new food blog will rank for Black Forest cake. Queries like this one (which are also known as head terms) have millions of results, potentially including recipes, dietary information, product pages, local results, and more.
To maximize your chances of getting your brand in front of the right audience at the right time, you need to find opportunities tied to your keyword. In this example, these keywords could include:
easy black forest cake recipe
black forest cake in a jar
diabetic black forest cake recipe
black forest cake cookies
black forest cookies using cake mix
black forest cake roll recipe
black forest mocha recipe
These are all distinct search intents. Someone looking for a mocha recipe, a cookie recipe, or a diabetic version of the recipe are not seeking the same thing. I was able to pull these keywords by doing a five-minute search on SERPStat to see an approximate search volume and the search difficulty for these keywords (although any number of SEO tools will be able to provide you with similar information).
It’s not a scientific process. It’s a non-linear, intuitive research process, but it pays off.
What helped me carry out this research? Black Forest cake is the specific cake I want every year for my birthday. I’m kind of obsessed with it.
The best way to find long tail keywords, step-by-step
This has probably been asked a million times because the process is not always so straightforward (depending on your niche). The bottom line is that the long tail keyword must modify the topic. It must show a different or more precise search intent; otherwise, it’s just a variation keyword (more akin to a synonym than a long-tail variant). This is why How to brew coffee beans is not a long-tail variant of How to make coffee.
Here’s another example:
Can my dog eat bones? Yes, but only uncooked ones.
Can my dog eat cooked bones? No, you cannot feed cooked bones to dogs because they are brittle and could cause serious harm.
Can my dog eat BBQ ribs? No, because it is implicit that BBQ ribs are cooked and thus cannot be fed to dogs.
Thisis.dog is a regular dog blog (PSA: it’s my blog!), up against the SPCA and the American Kennel Association for certain topics. However, neither of these authoritative websites specifically answer the BBQ ribs question from above.
This is a prime example of how going the extra mile to answer specific questions can pay off big time. So, this is the content I created to answer common dog owner questions about bones: What Kinds of Bones Can Dogs Eat? We Checked!
The tools you’ll need to discover long tail keywords
No SEO tool can ever replace what you (should) already know about your audience and their pain points. Tools combined with that knowledge will help you capitalize on long tail keyword opportunities. Here are a few recommendations:
Google Ads Keyword Planner: Use this free tool to discover new keywords related to your business, see estimates of the searches those keywords receive by country or by language, and the cost to target them with ads. This is a free tool, but you’ll need to sign up for a Google Ads account.
Google’s autocomplete suggestions: Google autocomplete is not designed as an SEO tool but it can be a great way to find long tail keywords. Simply type your keyword into Google’s search bar and see what recommendations come out before you hit enter.
People also ask: This is a feature in Google search results. If you see a block of questions show up for your query, click on the relevant ones and Google will provide you with even more questions people ask about the topic.
Related search terms on Google: At the bottom of Google search result pages, you will often see a list of related terms. These are incredibly informative when you are seeking long tail keywords because they show you related entities or concepts, not just similar queries.
AnswerThePublic: This is a freemium tool that shows you what people are searching for in Google by country in a very visual and organized way.
AlsoAsked: Similar to Answer the public, this freemium tool offers an amazing visual interface to help you do a deep-dive on your topic.
How to find long tail keywords using AlsoAsked
Go to AlsoAsked, input your chosen keyword and the target country, then hit enter. You will get insights instantly. Here is an example with long tail keywords as the search term.
Using AnswerThePublic to find potential long tail keywords
You can think of this tool as something similar to a Google autocomplete database. AnswerThePublic does not provide search volume, but it's a good place to find ideas.
Just type in the keyword and it gives you all the related topics people search for:
01. Go to AnswerThePublic and enter a query.
02. Select a language and country, then hit the search button.
03. Once data is loaded, find search terms organized by “Questions” (how, what, who, etc.), “Prepositions” (to, near, with, etc.), and “Comparisons” (___ vs. ___).
04. Take the list, group keywords by theme or topic and plan your content around that.
How do you write with long tail keywords?
Offer SEO-friendly solutions content by using headings. Once you find a great question or long tail query, make sure you create a dedicated section for it within your content. You can signal that section to readers and bots by using an H2 or H3 heading. Address the query in that heading and you’re on your way!
If you want an example of this tactic in action, this specific subsection (“How do you write with long tail keywords?”) is a great one!
If you want to target long tail keywords, you must first investigate and understand the challenges that your target audience has. The key to writing content with the long tail in mind is to provide concrete solutions for those problems. Since long tail keywords are more specific, the content is more relevant to your audience, making them more likely to convert.
Don’t obsess over keyword usage to the point of sacrificing content quality. A good rule of thumb is that your long tail keywords should be in the same sentence, but do not need to be written exactly as-is—feel free to adapt your long tail keyword to fit the structure of your sentence.
The easiest way to go about this is to put your keywords in a different color to distinguish them more clearly. Here is an example from a blog post for the keyword monstera without holes in leaves:
“Baby Monstera has heart-shaped leaves that are intact without holes or splits.”
In addition to the general guidance above, below are some tactics you can use to craft content that effectively targets the long tail.
Get human, get specific, get weird
George, the Wix editor says that inspiration is everywhere: in your product reviews, in YouTube suggestions, on Reddit (I added the last one). Have you ever fallen down a YouTube rabbit hole? Do you get a lot of questions stuck in your head? Write those down!
This is how the big Husky FAQ was born on the Thisis.dog blog! After so many videos of huskies being incredibly dramatic, I had to Google the question why are huskies so dramatic and found that…nobody really answered it in-depth. It was obviously time for me to dig in!
Step 01: Type your question in the search box.
Google wants to provide explanations for its users. If there are no answer boxes for an informational query like this, it means you have the potential to show up there. If you are seeing an answer box, it means that you need to find other opportunities unless you’re confident you can displace the site that currently answers the question.
Step 02: Check out the People also ask questions.
Another question associated with the first one is “Why do Huskies complain so much?” (there are many YouTube videos of huskies loudly crying when it’s time to leave the dog park). This is not fully addressed by the article Google selected. Instead, it focuses on the vocal aspect without addressing the complaint portion of the question. This would be a great opportunity to create unique long tail content.
Rebel against copycat content
Does it feel like every result ranking for a query is the same? If you are faced with an infinite amount of copycat content, aim to offer a different perspective. Google favors different points of view.
Instead of 'what', could you explain 'why'? —Andrew Charlton, managing director at Crawl Consultancy
Instead of “how to improve readability?” you could go with “does readability impact SEO?”
Instead of writing about “how to increase organic traffic,” you could aim to talk about “what to do if your organic traffic drops.”
Instead of discussing what to do to survive a specific Google algorithm update, you could explain how to go about making content update-proof.
Identify and pursue irrelevant answers on the SERP
Just because one competing page ranks well for many keywords doesn't mean it should. Here’s an example in French Canada: You know you have a ranking opportunity when a French website (based in France) ranks in the top position. Very often, it means that no local website has answered this question in an appropriate manner. This scenario occurs when Google doesn’t find relevant results for a specific query and shows you answers for related queries or close variant queries.
The example above is a People also ask question (“What are the conditions for terminating a lease?”). This specific question is answered by a French article quoting a French law instead of a Québec (French Canadian) law, even though the query was searched from Canada.
These cases are quite common in many countries such as Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Monaco. They also occur in German speaking countries in the DACH area, comprised of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Wherever a common language is spoken, but with a distinct local culture and government, you are likely to find long tail ranking opportunities that have not quite been met by existing content.
The best content for long tail keywords
So now that we discussed how to write with long tail keywords, let’s discuss the types of content that work best with them. Not all content types are created equal. Here are the ones that can help you rank with the long tail:
Blog posts are a great way to write for the long tail because they allow you to get in-depth about the topic.
FAQ pages can help you address queries that are related to a product or service. This can be a real convenience for your customer support team and customers, as it offers an online self-help option.
Certain long tail keywords can also be added directly to product or services pages.
Most local long tail keywords (such as “rose delivery seattle”) should be added to contact pages and local store pages.
No search volume, no problem
As you try out some of the tactics I recommended, remember that the long tail is all about targeting distinct search intents. Don’t be fooled by SEO tools that might suggest there’s no search volume—instead, check that information against what you, as a business owner or SEO, know about your target audience.
SEO tools, like the ones suggested in this article, can help you contextualize demand for your content, but they work even better when informed by your experience dealing with customers.
Myriam Jessier - SEO Trainer at PRAGM
Myriam Jessier is an SEO trainer at PRAGM with more than 15 years of experience. She loves going down rabbit holes and figuring out how humans function, how bots behave and what happens when the two meet online.