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The Long and the Short on Keyword Strategy

Posted by in SEO

A number of my clients recently have had some really good questions based around what keywords to target as part of their SEO campaigns. The predominant belief is that one should go hard and fast for the shorter and most competitive keywords to bring traffic to a site.

However, this is usually not the best option, as industry data and our own experience shows that we can much better serve the purpose of a website by having a good blend of long and short tail keywords.

But first thing’s first: what exactly do I mean when I talk about short tail, long tail and the competitiveness of keywords?

Short tail keywords

  • keywords 3 words or less, e.g. ‘branding consultants’
  • higher traffic volumes
  • more competitive

Long tail keywords

  • keywords 3 words or more, e.g. ‘where can i find branding consultants in sydney’
  • lower traffic volumes
  • less competitive
  • generally more qualified

These are the keywords that have lots (millions in most cases) of other pages to compete against in the search engines and many competitors trying to rank for that one keyword, i.e. ‘office furniture’ or ‘buy car’.

There are some Search Engine Marketers who focus their attentions mostly on the short tail – the shorter, more generalised keywords which have the biggest search volumes and highest rates of competition. There are other SEMs who work on the longer keywords, which being less competitive are easier to rank for, but also generate less search queries.

The SEM writing this post believes, as with most things in life, the balance between the two must be found. Targeting a smart and thoughtful array of short and long tail keywords will give you a well-rounded SEO campaign, capable of bringing in large amounts of qualified traffic.

To focus on only highly competitive, short tail keywords is putting all your eggs in one basket. These keywords require a lot of resources and, depending on the size and authority of your website, will take much more time to get decent rankings. The long tail keyword strategy enables your site to rank quicker, but requires more keywords to be able to generate a similar amount of traffic that you would see from a smaller amount of more competitive keywords.

Benefits of targeting both short and long tail keywords

  • Long tail keywords rank faster therefore bringing traffic in the early days of a campaign
  • Quality of traffic will vary between keywords and only targeting short tail keywords reduces your ability to get the usually more qualified traffic from the long tail keywords
  • Depending on how large and competitive your site it, it might be a relativity that it will take a very long time to rank for short tail keywords related to your business
  • Focusing efforts on the two strategies give you a good spread across the search demand curve (see image below)
Search Demand Curve
Search Demand Curve

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