These days almost everyone will be familiar with the concept of search engine optimisation. SEO is the process of tailoring a website’s contents to ensure that it appears as high as possible in Google and Bing searches. However, despite this simplified definition SEO is very complex.
To the initiated, the SEO lexicon comes as second nature. Conversely, to industry newcomers it can often seem full of jargon and buzzwords. For instance, keywords are fundamental to SEO, yet when someone talks about keywords, they mean the phrases (not just individual words) which people type into Google.
Sites looking to boost their search engine optimisation performance have to find keywords that searchers who may like their content will use. Next, they need to ensure their pages rank as highly as possible on Google for these keywords – or at least some of them. And deciding which keywords to focus on generally involves a combination of three factors:
#1. Search volume – How many searches are carried out for the keyword in question?
#2. Competition – How many different sites are competing to rank for that keyword?
#3. Conversion rate – How often does someone who comes to your site after searching for the keyword become a customer?
These three features can be plotted on a graph called the Search Demand Curve, with search volume and competition on the Y-axis, while the number of keywords and conversion rate occupy the X-axis. The curve has a steep left-hand edge near the Y-axis and a long tail, low to the X-axis. Only a few keywords have high search volume, high competition, and low conversion rate. Far more have low search volume, low competition, and high conversion rate. That’s what gives the curve its long tail.
Long tails are keywords that fall within the long tail of the search demand curve are. They’re a breed of keyword with the optimal characteristics of low search volume and low competition, but high conversion rates. They’re typically used by searchers with a very clear idea of what they’re looking for, like someone searching for car exhaust replacement in Manchester or a B&B on Shetland. People will type in a very specific phrase, which is what gives each long tail a low search volume. Not many people will use this exact phrase, so when they find a site which relates to their search, the specificity of that search makes it likely that the site will contain whatever they’re looking for. And that’s what gives long tails their high conversion rate.
Short keywords and long tails
When it comes to SEO, there’s a choice to be made between targeting keywords and long tails. The relative merits of each are keenly debated among industry experts, and like many SEO decisions, there are arguments to be made for either approach. The high conversion and low competition of a long tail make them very attractive as targets, but it shouldn’t take as much effort or expense to rank for keywords. Traffic that comes from long tail searches will also convert highly, though there won’t be all that many referrals. The primary advantage of non-long tail keywords lies in their high search volume. It may take more effort and resources to rank, but you’ll get a far bigger bump in your site’s traffic if you manage it.
In general, experts recommend that companies target a combination of standard keywords and long tails in their site’s SEO. This way, all bases are covered.