One of the most iconic scenes in Jaws is the moment when Roy Scheider comes face to face with the shark. Backing into the wheelhouse he announces, ‘You’re going to need a bigger boat.’ Now most of us wouldn’t want to stare in the eyes of a monster, but we are fishing for something big … a nice large pool of prospects that we can convert into customers. And if you want to need a bigger boat, you might find you need to change your ocean.
Enter long tail keywords – a more productive ocean
Let’s start with the basics. Long tail keywords are phrases that have at least three and up to five words – hence long tail. What makes them keywords? The specific nature of the phrase that limits the number of hits to draw a lower rate of traffic but with a higher rate of conversion. With me? Okay, let’s try this. Back to our fishing boat. You can go out fishing all day for mackerel and catch hundreds of kilos. Then you’ve got to go and find a lot of people who want to buy mackerel in quite large volumes to sell it to. Alternatively you could invest in lobster pots and catch lobster. You’d be lucky to catch a tenth the weight of lobsters that you did mackerel, but guess what? It doesn’t matter. The market for lobster is smaller, for sure, but it’s also richer … and that’s the difference between long tail keywords and ordinary keywords in terms of visitors.
But it’s not the only difference and this is where the failure to understand and appreciate the role of long tail keywords can be crucial.
Long tail keywords – earn more, cost less
Using long tail keywords allows a website to identify and ‘own’ a market that is smaller than those in general competition but that has as much, if not more, potential than those bigger, vaguer and more highly fought over markets. This means that the cost of marketing can be lower. Got it? You’d like another example from the world of the sea? Excellent, because I’ve got one for you. We’ve already talked about lobster, and lobster’s nice. But let’s imagine that you a shore angler and that means you can only put your rod and line out in one place. Perhaps there’s a spot on the beach that’s really popular – you always see a couple of dozen anglers there, fishing and chatting. It’s normal behaviour to tag onto that group because they know what they are doing, don’t they?
Well maybe they do, but perhaps they only fish there because they like the view, or because it’s near the toilets and the tea bar and the ice-cream stall. Or maybe they fish there because when they started fishing they saw a crowd there and tagged onto it, just the way you’re doing.
On the other hand, some research into the habits of whatever fish you’d like to catch reveals there’s a place just up the coast, a bit rockier, not near any kind of amenities but perfect for the kind of fish you’re seeking. Nobody goes there because it’s a bit of a steep climb and there’s no tea or ice-cream. If fish there, one thing’s certain – you’re not competing with anyone. Whatever fish are there, they’re all yours …
In the same way, you’ll find that bidding on long tail keywords in pay per click environments can be substantially cheaper that bidding for popular simple keywords.
The skill of the fisherman, or how to make long tail keywords work for you
First you need to know that your long tail keywords are searched for on the big search engines. That’s what ensures that your smaller pay per click investment – and your focus on writing excellent SEO content around your long tails – will actually generate conversions. There’s no point buying all the best equipment, identifying the bit of shoreline from which you can catch your fish and then baiting your hook with a sandwich you bought from the local shop. Your bait has to be specific to the fish you want to catch and that means specialist research. Get the bait right, and you’ll find your fish come flocking because you’re giving them exactly what they want.
Around 70% of searchers intuitively use long tail keywords from the outset, while a further 10-12% start with a head term eg ‘fish’ and once they see the broad results, move to long tail eg ‘catching Alaskan fish for beginners’. This allows a business to convert many more visitors even though overall visitor numbers could be lower. If I’m a novice fishing in Alaska, then being able to rule out all the fishing in Hawaii or Hong Kong and all the sites for intermediate or expert fishermen is good news for me and good news for the shorter list of sites I end up with because I’m much more likely to buy their goods and services than all the expert fishermen and Hawaiians are!
Long tail keywords – a bigger boat, in the right ocean, with the best bait. Enjoy your fish supper!