What's the Difference Between Short Tail and Long Tail Keywords?

In digital marketing, keywords are words users enter into a search engine to look for something specific. Often referred to as Search Terms, keywords are one of the largest factors in on-page Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and determining whether your SEO strategy will succeed or fail.

There are many different types of keywords that are unique to specific platforms, however, we’re going to cover the two universal keywords used everywhere: short tail and long tail keywords.

Before we jump into short tail and long tail keywords, let’s understand the importance of them.

The WHY

Keywords fall into two main digital marketing tactics: Content Marketing and SEO.

As previously mentioned, keywords are large factors in on-page SEO and determining whether your SEO strategy will succeed or fail. Through keyword research, you’ll discover the most common terms users search regarding different search intentions. Based on users search intentions and terms, you can use your research to create content that will be recognized by search engines; which will increase the traffic to your website.

While creating content, you’ll want to use the keywords throughout the content piece so that search engines can recognize and categorize what you’re communicating.

For example, if you’re creating a blog post you’ll want to repeat the keywords you’re targeting from beginning to end. Of course, there are a variety of other best practices, but for now, we’re sticking to keywords.

The purpose behind these two tactics is to improve your inbound marketing by having customers come to your website for information, then converting them through some type of Call-To-Action (CTA) during that same website session or remarketing to them down the road.

Short Tail Keywords

The first general type of keywords are short tail keywords. These are three words or less and are typically the most generic and commonly searched keywords. Think of these keywords as the first thing you think of when you’re seeking out information online and using the search function of Google, Bing, etc.

Short tail keywords see the highest volume of searches and the shorter the word the higher the search volume. Due to the high-level of search volume, it translates to a high level of competition as many websites are battling for a piece of web traffic. The focus for searches is extremely broad because without additional keywords in a user’s search, the search engine can’t pinpoint what exactly they're looking for. If you were to dive into Google Ads to rank for these short tail keywords, you would be paying a premium due to the high level of competition. Lastly, if you were to rank for a short tail keyword and receive consistent traffic, your conversion rate would be low as many users are not ready to convert at this point.

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Let’s look at the perspectives of both the user doing the searching and the website receiving traffic from short tail keywords.

User Perspective

Picture, Paige, a business owner who's thinking about a new logo for her business. Paige doesn’t have the expertise to create a new logo from scratch, but she has an eye for design and interested to see what is reflective of her business.

So, Paige begins her journey searching for “logo ideas” and “logo designs”, both are short tail keywords. Her search yields many creative websites including freelancer websites, online design firms, build-your-own logo builders, and many others. Since she’s only looking for ideas, Paige bounces in and out of a few different websites gathering some ideas which she sends to her friends for their feedback. For now, she pauses her journey and heads out to enjoy a seasonal latte from her local coffee shop.

Website Perspective

Let’s introduce Daniel who is the new Content Specialist for a design firm called ABC Deisgn. Based on the website analytics, he notices that they have a blog post titled “101 Logo Design Ideas” receiving an exceptional amount of traffic. He is thrilled to see all the traffic but discovers only a limited amount is converting and contacting his firm. While Daniel would like to see more of the traffic converting, he remains pleased to see the blog post doing its job building awareness and driving traffic to the website.

Long Tail Keywords

The next type of keywords are long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are four or more words and typically don’t produce much traffic for a website. However, these keywords are targeted towards users, with a high conversion rate, who are looking for something specific.

Think of long tail keywords as the end of a customer’s journey. Customers have done their homework and are looking for something specific at the end.

https://sherpa2017.blob.core.windows.net/images/contenthub-posts/06-2019/keywords---long-tail.jpg

 

Like what we did for short tail keywords, let’s jump back into the perspectives of Paige and Daniel – this time from a long tail keyword viewpoint.

User Perspective

While Paige was enjoying her seasonal latte, she received a collection of feedback from her friends. She decided it was best to choose a design firm with professionals that know what they are doing but she still didn’t have a clear idea of what she wanted.

After thinking it over for a few days, Paige concluded that she wanted her new logo to target female millennials since those were her primary consumers. She began her search by Googling “logo examples targeting female millennials”. Paige was surprised when there weren’t many search results that looked genuine. However, a website called ABC Design had a blog posted titled “Logo Design Examples Targeting Millennials”, which caught Paige’s eye. After exploring the blog post, Paige was blown away by all the work ABC Design has done in the past for different target groups and decided to contact them for a consultation.

Website Perspective

Daniel was inspired by all the traffic the other blog post was receiving and wanted to create a few new blog posts that leveraged long tail keywords in order to boost their websites conversion rate. After Daniel conducted his keyword research, he discovered that there was a portion of users looking for design examples targeting specific demographic groups. In addition to this insight, he found that no other professional design firm was creating content for these users.

To capitalize on this, Daniel proceeded to write blog posts - which leveraged long tail keywords - targeting Baby Boomers, Generation Xs, Millennials, and Gen Zers. In time, Daniel found these blog posts received much less traffic, but the conversion rates were higher.

Overview

Taking a step back from Paige and Daniel, we can see by the chart below how short tail and long tail keywords differ when it comes to search volume and conversion rates. While short tail keywords receive higher search volume, long tail keywords receive higher conversion rates. On the contrary, there are exceptions and some content will not follow this pattern, though this is unlikely.

https://sherpa2017.blob.core.windows.net/images/contenthub-posts/06-2019/keywords---word-chart.png

 

Head-To-Head

At this point you’re likely asking the question, “So, what type of content should I create?” Well, that all depends on your goals. By the comparison chart we created below, it clearly favours long tail keyword content. However, this is not always the case as short tail keyword content could be more beneficial in different scenarios. 

https://sherpa2017.blob.core.windows.net/images/contenthub-posts/06-2019/keywords---head-to-head.jpg

Deciding what type of content to create, how to go about creating content, and creating content, takes time, resources, and expertise. If you’d like a hand in stepping up your inbound game, shoot us an email and we’d be glad to help!

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