Have you been struggling to gain traction on the SERPs in your niche?

It seems like no matter what you do, you can’t improve your rankings for your most important keywords. 

While you were able to outpace websites of a similar size and stature, the big boys have you shaking in your boots. 

These are competitor websites with impeccable link profiles, sky-high authority, and scores of loyal fans flocking to their web pages daily (think Amazon, Wikipedia, NY Times, etc.). 

How can you ever hope to compete with these juggernauts?

We’ll deliver the bad news first: you can’t.

However, that’s if you try to beat them at their own game by going after super-popular keywords. 

Now it’s time for the good news. 

If you rethink your strategy and target more obscure, long-tail keywords that don’t get much search volume, you’ll have a FAR easier time ranking in a #1 spot – possibly for multiple keywords at a time. 

Even better, these types of keywords boast higher conversion rates, and they bring in higher-quality traffic than ‘head’ keywords (which have high search volume). 

If you’re ready to corner your niche and start generating more qualified traffic, then long-tail SEO is perfect for you – so read on to learn more.

What the Heck are Long-Tail Keywords?

You may be wondering what long-tail keywords are in the first place. 

Who knew that keywords had ‘tails’ anyway? (What are they, lizards?)

Well, whenever a search term is highly specific (usually containing three or more words, but not always), it’s considered long-tail. 

The ‘tail’ terminology refers to where these keywords land on the search demand curve (more on this in a second). 

Shorter, more general keywords with high search volume are referred to as ‘short-tail keywords.’ They’re also called head keywords because they tend to pertain to entire categories. 

Here are a few examples of each:

  • Short-tail keywords (head terms): SEO, gardening, digital marketing, home renovation, accounting, etc. 
  • Long-tail keywords: ultimate SEO guide, DIY gardening aprons, digital marketing strategies for eCommerce, home renovation for basements, mobile accounting services, etc.

As you can see, long-tail keywords are more specific and provide more details than general head terms. 

Another key difference is that long-tail keywords have a much lower search volume than short-tail head terms. 

It’s for this reason that some SEOs falsely assume that long-tail keywords aren’t worth pursuing.

After all, why would you want to target keywords that don’t have high search volume?

The reason becomes crystal clear once you take a peek at where these keywords appear on the search demand curve.

How a keyword gets its tail 

While head terms are immensely popular, they only account for less than 20% of all search traffic. 

So, if you target head terms exclusively, you’re leaving more than 80% of total search traffic on the table. 

Take a peek at the search demand curve for this concept to make more sense. 

Short-tail keywords make up the ‘fat head,’ which are general, all-encompassing terms that have extremely high search volume. 

Around 11% comes from the ‘chunky middle,’ which contains terms that lie somewhere in between short-tail and long-tail. 

Last but certainly not least, long-tail keywords account for 70% of all search traffic. These are literally billions of search queries with only a small amount of monthly searches.

The true value of long-tail keywords shines through by crunching the numbers in this way. 

If you’re able to focus on highly specific long-tail keywords that relate to your products and services, you’ll begin to generate vetted, high-quality traffic that’s more likely to convert. 

Keyword length is irrelevant 

Now it’s time to dispel a common myth about short and long-tail keywords. 

At first glance, it seems logical to assume that the length of a keyword’s tail directly relates to the number of words contained in a search phrase, but this isn’t true.

As shown in the search demand curve, a keyword’s tail depends on the search volume it receives and little else. 

The proof?

There are plenty of one-word keywords that get less than 100 searches per month, which would make them long-tail

Conversely, the opposite is also true. There are keywords that contain five or more words that get hundreds of thousands of searches per month, making them short-tail. 

To summarize, go by a keyword’s search volume to determine if it’s short-tail or long-tail, not the number of words contained in the phrase. 

Understanding Supporting and Topical Long-Tail Keywords 

Now that you know the difference between short-tail and long-tail keywords, your education isn’t over yet. 

Bummer, right?

Well, there are two distinct types of long-tail keywords, and it’s worth taking the time to know the difference. 

Supporting long-tail keywords are close variants of head terms, whereas topical long-tail keywords are distinct, standalone queries that bear little to no similarity to head keywords. 

Content-wise, you should include supporting long-tail keywords in existing posts focused on related head terms. 

Topical long-tail keywords, on the other hand, are unique enough to be the center of a brand-new piece of content. 

Make sense?

Probably not, so let’s look at a few examples to make the distinction more obvious.

Supporting and topical long-tail keyword examples 

Using our free keyword planner tool, we can see that the keyword digital marketing strategy has a search volume of 8,100. Since it’s in the thousands, it qualifies as a head term or short-tail keyword. 

Alt tag: A screenshot of keyword search results for the term digital marketing strategy. 

Heading over to Google, here’s what the top results for digital marketing strategy are at the time of writing this post:

A screenshot of keyword search results for the term digital marketing strategy.

Heading over to Google, here’s what the top results for digital marketing strategy are at the time of writing this post:

A screenshot of Google search results for the term digital marketing strategy.

Going back to our keyword tool, we can see that the keyword ‘what is a digital marketing strategy’ only has a search volume of 260, so it’s a long-tail keyword.

A screenshot of HOTH keyword planner results.

However, since it’s so similar to the head term digital marketing strategy, it’s likely a supporting keyword. 

To confirm this, we can head back over to Google and type in what is a digital marketing strategy. If the results are practically the same, it’s confirmation that the top-ranking sites included it as a supporting keyword in their post focusing on the primary keyword ‘digital marketing strategy.’ 

Sure enough, the results are nearly identical to the head term:

A screenshot of Google search results for the term 'what is a digital marketing strategy.'

Is it a supporting or topical keyword, though?

Let’s head back to Google to find out:

A screenshot of Google search results for the term Ecommerce digital marketing strategy.

The results are completely different, making this one a topical long-tail keyword. 

In other words, you’d want to create a new piece of content centered around Ecommerce digital marketing strategies instead of including it as a supporting keyword for your piece on general digital marketing strategies. 

How to Find Long-Tail Keywords 

Okay, now that you’ve officially graduated keyword school, how can you find long-tail keywords to use in your content strategy?

While most articles online will tell you that using Google autocomplete is a fantastic way to find relevant long-tail keywords, this isn’t really true

Don’t get us wrong, we love Google autocomplete for uncovering short-tail keywords and head terms, but it’s not very effective for finding genuine long-tail keywords. 

Why is that?

It’s because the keywords that pop up in Google’s auto-suggest feature almost always have a high search volume

While this makes perfect sense from Google’s perspective (after all, suggesting obscure, highly specific terms wouldn’t be of much use), it effectively makes the feature long-tail proof. 

As you know, a long-tail keyword MUST have a low search volume; otherwise, it won’t appear on the ‘tail’ of the search demand curve. 

Here are some far more effective ways to find authentic long-tail keywords. 

HOTH keyword planner 

As demonstrated earlier, you can use our free keyword planner to uncover relevant long-tail keywords. 

Just pop a few general head terms related to your niche into the search bar, and wham! You’ll have a wide range of keyword options at your fingertips. 

Here are a few pointers on which metrics to look out for:

  • Remember that true long-tail keywords receive low search volume, so look for keywords with a volume of 200 or less. 
  • The trend graph on the side is extremely important, as it represents the level of interest a keyword has over time. If the line points up, the keyword is gaining popularity, which is what you want (avoid keywords that are trending down). 

When a long-tail keyword checks both these boxes, it’s worthy of making your list. From there, separate the supporting keywords from the topical ones into different columns. Trust us, taking this step will make content creation a lot easier down the line.

HOTH keyword extraction tool 

Besides researching keywords on your own, it’s also wise to check which long-tail keywords your competitors are using. 

This is beneficial for two reasons. 

For one, it can help you identify valuable long-tail keywords that you might not have found otherwise. 

For two, you can pinpoint which long-tail keywords to avoid by finding the ones top-ranked competitors are using (think the legacy websites we mentioned before that have impossibly high DA scores). 

By knowing what to target and what to avoid, you’ll enjoy an airtight keyword strategy. 

But how can you find long-tail keywords used by your competitors?

It’s effortless to do so using our completely free keyword extraction tool. Simply enter the URL of your competitors into the tool, and it’ll work its magic. In no time, you’ll have an organized list of all the head terms, short-tail keywords, and long-tail keywords a competitor is currently using. 

Your audience’s online hangouts 

Another way to find long-tail keywords is to check out the websites that your audience frequents the most. 

These are the places that your audience hangs out online, such as social media groups, forums, and sites like Reddit and Quora. 

This tactic will help you get inside the minds of your target customers, as you’ll get to read their thoughts, opinions, and most importantly … their questions and hassles. 

When browsing Reddit and Quora pages, pay close attention to common questions and pain points that keep popping up, as these are prime long-tail keyword/topic ideas. 

Using Long-Tail Keywords in Your Content Strategy 

Once you have a beautiful list of long-tail keywords that are sorted by supporting and topical queries, you’re ready to start creating content. 

The most CRUCIAL thing to consider when creating new pieces of content around topical long-tail keywords is to understand their search intent

To keep it short, search intent refers to the reason why a user conducted an online search in the first place. 

In general, search intent falls into one of these four categories:

  • Informational. The intent behind these keywords is to learn something. ‘What is a digital marketing strategy’ is an example of an informational keyword. It’s clear the user wants to learn about digital marketing strategies, so a blog post breaking down the topic will satisfy their intent. 
  • Navigational. These queries are meant solely to navigate to a certain website or web page. An example would be ‘Ahrefs login page.’ 
  • Commercial. A keyword has commercial intent when it’s focused on researching a purchase. An example would be ‘Is ClickUp better than Trello?’ Product comparisons and buyer’s guides are perfect types of content for commercial keywords. 
  • Transactional. Whenever a user is ready to make a purchase, they search for transactional keywords, such as ‘buy coffee mugs in bulk.’ Your product pages, landing pages, and paid ads should focus entirely on transactional keywords. 

You should carefully examine your list of keywords to determine the intent behind each one. As soon as that’s done, it’s time to start creating some stellar content that satisfies your users’ search intent.  

Diversify Your SEO Strategy with Long-Tail Keywords 

Remember that if you only target head terms, you’re leaving out a massive amount of search traffic that you can easily capitalize on with long-tail keywords. 

In fact, one of the best ways to dominate a niche is to use a calculated long-tail keyword strategy. 

Not only do they provide high-quality traffic that’s more likely to convert, but they’re also easier to target than their short-tail counterparts. 

If you need help devising a long-tail keyword strategy for your website, don’t wait to check out HOTH X, our managed SEO packages (featuring your own dedicated SEO guru).