Search engine on a computer

Long-Tail Keywords: What they are, how to find, how to target and why they’re brilliant

In this post, I hope to convince you of the importance of long-tail keywords. I’ll explain (briefly) what they are before getting on to my soapbox and declaring just why I love them so much. What it is about them that makes them, in my opinion, something every business should focus on when creating content for their website.

Perhaps best of all, I will show you that you can do the work yourself. You could get someone like me in, I’d love the work, but there is no great mystery to it. If you can write, you can write pages designed to hoover up long-tail keyword traffic.

Let’s get cracking…

So, what are long-tail keywords

(feel free to skip this part!)

Long-tail keywords are highly focussed search terms that may only be searched for by a handful of people, but those people have a clear intent. They are called long-tail because if you were to view a graph of searches by demand you would see that a small number of searches get huge demand, another group get a good chunk of demand and then there are millions, billions even of terms that each garner only a handful of searches yet cumulatively are account for the majority of search traffic. There may be hundreds of millions of searches for football, but there are far more cumulatively for all the many terms relating to football.

In graph form, it would look something like the below with the yellow section the huge number of long-tail searches.

example of long-tail graph

To give an example:

  • cheese would not be a long-tail keyword, millions of people search for the term cheese every month.
  • specialist shops in Kent selling farm-produced cheddar cheese would be a long-tail keyword.

Why Do Long-Tail Keywords Matter?

When you work in the exciting, no-two-days-the-same world of search engine optimisation it can be easy to forget that not everyone spends their day thinking about what they need to rank for, and then how to rank for said terms.

A lot of business owners, preoccupied with worthless tasks such as making actual things or feeding people, will come in with an attitude along the lines of ‘surely I want to rank for the things A LOT of people search for’.

I had this exact conversation recently with a dentist. He is a dentist who is based in a small town – let’s call this town Holtsby. He is a very good dentist (he’s never once suggested I have them all out and go for dentures) but, realistically, people aren’t going to travel hundreds of miles to use him as opposed to a dental practice local to them. Given the surrounding area is full of other small towns, you’d expect 95% of his business to come from within a 10-mile radius.

We were chatting about his site – this prior to having anaesthetic pumped into my jaw – and he said, with some justification ‘if millions of people search for braces don’t I want to appear for that given I can provide them (I think he’s an orthodontist too – I haven’t pressed him on this point).

It would have been easy to laugh but a) he could easily cause me serious pain by drilling into my teeth and b) I’m British so know very little about oral hygiene.

In his view, high demand for something related to what he provides was a page worth producing.

I see this all the time but there are two problems with trying to rank for these popular, but untargetted terms.

Firstly, you’re probably not going to rank, or it’s going to be bloody hard. How many sites talk about braces? It will be thousands and include several big hitters from around the world. It’s not impossible to rank, but it will take a long time and a lot of effort. For this effort to be worth it, the potential rewards must be huge.

That brings us to the second problem. For every 1,000 people who search for braces, how many are going to be based within a few miles of, err, what was that made up town – ahh Holtsby. Probably none in every thousand, maybe occasionally one per thousand – and, even then you’re not really sure what their intent was for the search.

Google will know they mean braces related to dental concerns from their prior search history, but it could be braces repair, or new braces, or braces for a child. It would be hard to write a page that appeals to all the disparate search intents.

Long tail keywords, when chosen with care, will be for searches where the user intent is both clear and matches what your business does.

The perfect long-tail keyword can be defined as:

Clear user intent + ability to solve that user intent = long-tail keyword gold

Let’s say someone searches for ‘braces for adults in Holtsby’ – the user intent is clear, we have an adult who wants braces and they are based in or close to Holtsby. That person is a potential customer, they would use this dentist if only they knew of his existence.

Equally, good as he is, they may well use another Holtsby dentist if they appear top of the rankings and the page is appealing with useful information. The searcher wants someone who is reputable and answers their query, they probably aren’t going to personally visit every dentist and try to work out which is best.

It may be that there are only five searches a year for this precise term, but that is five potential customers, each looking for a treatment that comes with a four-digit price tag.

The more general term braces might have millions of searches but it’s entirely possible that not a single one of them is from someone actually wanting braces in Holtsby (even if it was a real town).

Braces for adults in Holtsby is just one term. There can also be dental implants Holtsby, best dentist in Holtsby, dentist for nervous patients in Holtsby, NHS dentist in Holtsby… and they’re just off the top of my head (more on how to find the terms to write pages for below). Each one of these may bring in a few new clients per year, that’s ongoing, recurring income that, but for a long-tail keyword page, would likely go elsewhere.

Best of all, actually, I’ll come to that in the next section.

The Benefits of Long-Tail Keywords

These are seven proven benefits of long-tail keywords.

  1. The pages are ultra-targeted. A good long-tail keyword relates to very clear user intent, whether that is car repair Bolton, accountant for freelancer in Truro, or gearbox repair service Enfield. If you offer this service and match any geographical qualifiers you want to be ranking – this is someone putting their hand up and saying ‘please help me!’

  2. The pages last forever. If your page ranks prominently for a long-tail keyword and appeals to users, then it will remain top or close to the top of the rankings.

    This one page will deliver business year after year after year. What do I mean by appealing to users? Just that Google senses it solves the user query, i.e. they don’t immediately hit back and go to another of the listed results. If your page is about something you do or provide it should be fine.

  3. There is low competition for these terms. At most, you’ll be competing against other similar local firms and national firms who cover the broad search term but not the long-tail part.

    For instance, if you are writing a page for accountant for freelancers in Bury, an online accountancy service may well have pages related to the freelance service, but not the town of Bury. The fact your page is local will help you rank above the national competitor.

    Often there is no real competition to speak of, or the competition that does exist is a poorly written page with limited information. Just create something better.

  4. Results are often seen within weeks. Unlike trying to rank for broad, popular terms, you can often surge up the search rankings. There isn’t much competition so there’s not much to beat.

    I have seen new pages rank in the top three on Google inside two weeks.

  5. You can create the pages yourself. If you have access to your site’s CMS – typically a WordPress site – you can simply create a new page and bash – err lovingly craft – the copy. Then, when you’ve written your first page you have a template for future pages.

    I would, of course, say there is value in hiring a professional writer who can also help you to understand exactly which pages you should target first – the pages that will have the biggest impact – but there is no barrier to entry.

    You could stop reading now and start work on your first long-tail keyword page.

  6. Unlike paid results within search engines, there are no ongoing costs. If you’re using PPC then as soon as you stop paying, you disappear, you also run the risk of slipping down the rankings as others increase their budget.

    Organic search is different, if you rank number one for a term you will stay there up until the point Google thinks another page does a better job of answering the intent. With long-tail keyword searches, that may well never happen.

  7. Coming up with page titles is easy – it’s really just case of thinking about what you do. If you could listen in to someone’s private conversation (just imagine you’re a tabloid journalist for a while) what would make you think they are your perfect customer?

    Oooh, Dave, did I say I’m looking for someone to service my car in Truro? That sort of thing.

    This can also be services you would like to offer, perhaps items that will grow in importance. Using our accountancy example, digital tax is becoming a big thing in the UK, with ever-more filing done online. Companies will have to go fully digital with their tax returns and so a page such as ‘Digital Tax Help for Small Business in Truro’ could help you pick up future business.

    If you do need help finding terms, read on.

How to find Long-Tail Keywords

There are a few ways to find suitable long-tail keywords but one thing I would advise would be to not spend too long researching at the expense of actually just making a start.

They are pages that relate to your business and possibly your location and so you should be able to quickly get a good general idea about the type of pages you should be considering.

I would recommend the following approaches.

  1. Just make a list. Write down the services you provide and the areas you cover and then start turning these into long-tail keywords. If you repair watches and you are based in Macclesfield then ‘watch repair Macclesfield’ would seem a good starting point.

    You could then have clock repair Macclesfield, third might be watch repair Congleton (a small town a few miles away). This approach will often be adequate, you can come up with 10 or 20 pages, each one the source of future business.

  2. Simply use your offline marketing as inspiration. You may have regular adverts in the local paper for ‘loft conversion Exeter’. If this term is worth paying for in print listings it is definitely worth writing a page for online.

    Compare the two. How many people who glance upon your offline marketing actually want the service? Think of the cost of having leaflets printed to then be put through letterboxes in a completely untargeted manner. Most homeowners will simply bin them.

    Anyone typing ‘loft conversion Exeter’ is interested in having this work done. You may be a click away from a £30,000 contract. If a term is worth paying to have printed it is definitely worth creating a web presence for.

  3. Use Google suggests and Google’s Related Searches.

    When you start typing a search query into Google it will offer auto-complete suggestions, these based on what others have searched for.

    If your business is selling home-made scented candles (plug for friend’s business – visit wildscents.co.uk if you do want a candle!) then you can start by just putting scented candles homemade into the search bar and then seeing what comes up.

    I tried that and just added a letter at a time after, so scented candle homemade a… etc. After a couple of blanks f brought up some great results and I’d be able to list:
    – homemade scented candles for the kitchen
    – homemade scented candles for relaxation
    – homemade scented candles for weddings

    and many, many more.

    Google’s related searches are similar, appearing at the bottom of the listings page. When I searched for homemade scented candles for weddings, the also searched for results were as below, throwing up further inspiration for future pages, or terms to be included in one page focussing on wedding candles.

    search terms related to wedding candles
  4. Use other free resources. The Answer The Public site is a superb resource – go check it out if you’ve never used it.

    Using our candles example, if I enter a term as broad as scented candles and hit enter, I then get hundreds of potential search terms. I see scented candles to relax, scented candles to help with sleep, scented candles to keep flies away, scented candles without paraffin, scented candles with no label.

    Some of these would have been obvious to anyone with a business making and selling scented candles, others maybe less so. Each term represents a group of people who are potential customers.


    Another site you should consider is keywordtool.io as this will generate a lengthy list of ideas for pages.

    It is worth noting that this list won’t be any discernable order so you’ll need to pick the ones that seem relevant to you. For scented candles, 307 results were generated of which I’d estimate 20 to 30 were of interest, follow-up searches for homemade scented candles and luxury scented candles creating a few more ideas to consider.

    Most free tools, including the two mentioned here, have pro, paid options but I would advise against splashing out simply because you like the basic version. They are great free tools and the paid versions are good, but there may be better-paid options for your needs.

    I’d also need convincing that you should be paying for any premium programmes, I think the lists you can create for free will be great in most cases and, if you do want a more refined list, you’d be better served asking an SEO expert to spend a few hours creating a plan for you.

  5. Look on forums and local Facebook groups.

    The Facebook group for my small town has a few hundred posts per day and 98% of them seem to be either people complaining about the bin collections or people asking where you can get something. The replies to the latter are a mix of helpful advice and ‘learn to use Google’.

    The people writing ‘learn to use Google’ are clearly unhelpful idiots, but maybe they have a slight point. If you want to find a great dentist in your town, typing a relevant search into Google makes sense and, if these searches happen, and you are a dentist, you want your site to be appearing.

    Anywhere you see people asking questions relevant to your business which could transfer to a Google search make a (mental) note as they may be worth a page. The long-tail keywords are not creating demand, they are answering demand, i.e. somebody wants to know something that you can answer. Answer it.

How To Write Long-Tail Keyword Pages

These pages are relatively easy pickings for any professional writer but if you don’t have the budget to hire someone, or simply prefer doing things yourself you can still have great results.

The page of course has to be about the title, so if your page is shoe shop in Holtsby, this is the focus, don’t start going off on to tangents about all the other things your shop sells.

You also have to remember that you are writing for people, not Google. It used to be that the algorithms had relatively little sophistication and so repeating a phrase multiple times was a good tactic, if we go way back you’d even have pages with the term hidden away in invisible text for Google to read.

Now, though, these tactics won’t work and spamming your page with endless mentions of the key phrase will actually see search engines demote it.

What the pages need is context and terms related to the page title.

Using our shoe shop in Holtsby example, you would want to go into further details about the shoes available (within reason) – perhaps that you have shoes for adults and children as well as walking boots and trainers. You could mention that there is a shoe-fitting service and also the option for gait analysis – this information is useful to the reader but also keeps telling the search engines that, yes, this page is very much about shoes.

Then, you could add in details related to your location – the street you are on, that there is local parking, even the sat nav details to help people find you, you could say that you’ve been established in Holtsby since 1907. Including your phone number with dialling code further confirms that you are based in the location you are writing about.

Many pages now bolt on a section at the end of the page with a subhead of About Holtsby (or relevant town) – my personal view is that this will die out as it is clearly a tactic to appeal to search rather than people. Nobody searching for shoe shops in Holtsby really wants to know that an actor from Casualty was born there 40 years ago.

In my opinion, the key is subtlety and working in as much information as possible but only in a way that is of genuine use to the person reading. If you follow this approach you can never fall foul of algorithm changes as your page only has useful information. That’s all any search engine wants – to match user searches to pages full of information or answers to that search.

You also want to take a look at the pages that currently rank for the term, though don’t set out to copy or mimic their style – they might be top almost by default as few pages target the term. It is likely you can do far better.

Adding in credentials is a great tactic – when I write a page for any site I try to find as many sources of positive reviews as possible and also testimonials – being able to state that a restaurant is the top-rated eaterie on TripAdvisor, or that the business has 95% 5 star reviews on Google can only impress browsers. I also suspect, though have no empirical evidence, that linking out to Google reviews must boost a page’s authority with Google.

A final tip would be to remember that the page should encourage action, whether that is to get in touch, or to pop into the shop. It may not be a hard sell, but don’t completely neglect the selling aspect.

Five Final Tips for Long-Tail Keyword Pages

  1. You don’t need separate pages for terms that are essentially the same. As an example, garage for services in Holtsby and Holtsby garage that provides services.

    Search engines know that these are the same search, just make sure your page answers the general query – you also don’t need to worry about including every variant of the search term, fun fact doing so is likely to be detrimental.

    There is, of course, a huge grey area as to what might be considered a duplicate and what would justify a separate page, my advice would be that when you start out writing pages have topics that are clearly separate and then, later on, start thinking about filling in the gaps. For instance, a garage that provides services and also sells second-hand cars might have ‘car servicing in Holtsby’ as an early page and then ‘second-hand car dealer Holtsby’ as a second.

    You could then move on to specific makes of car that you tend to have in stock ‘Used Ford cars in Holtsby’ etc. Only later on would you need to worry about whether ‘used cars Holtsby’ was worth a separate page (it wouldn’t be as second-hand Holtsby would have covered this off).

    One ponderable is how good Google is at linking locations – using the Macclesfield and Congleton example, two towns a few miles apart, could you have one page for watches that covers Macclesfield and Congleton (and other places in between).

    For now, I would have separate pages, this doesn’t lead to the page being penalised, and, with each page specific, it allows you to really focus. Your Congleton page in this example can mention that the shop, in Macclesfield, is just five miles away along the A57, it can even link to a ready-filled Google map of the route and location for parking.

  2. Don’t worry that the pages get low traffic.

    If done well, they will have a spectacular conversion rate (even if this is hard to track, you won’t always know that someone carried out a search and then popped into your shop).

    If they provide just one or two customers per year they can still be an excellent use of time.

  3. You can add them one at a time over a lengthy period.

    These are not blog posts, there is no commitment to regular content, you don’t have to get three up a week or stick to any other schedule. You can write a page, then get distracted by other topics for weeks, and finally add a second months later. At other times, you might be able to produce five in a week.

    Nobody is waiting for them, nobody is reading them all, they simply exist as unique entities each designed to scoop up targetted traffic from a search relevant to your business. If you have time today, why not make a start?

  4. They may not bring in business quickly.

    I would see long-tail keywords as long-term planning, they are pages that will hopefully each deliver a few customers per year, each at no cost (bar the time spent writing the page, or fee of hiring a writer).

    What they won’t do, or at least may not do, is bring in business this week or next. If you need to rank prominently on Google right now, you need business this week, today even, then you need to invest your time elsewhere. In the field of search that would be PPC.

    In general though, unless you have that urgent need to rank right now, I would say investing in organic search is always a better use of time and money than paid search. You may disagree, but you will never convince me!

  5. The first version doesn’t have to be the final version.

    A page is better than no page – the page only exists to bring in new business, people who are searching for what you offer. If it ranks eighth that’s better than having no presence for the term.

    However, if it does get stuck at eighth in the rankings or a similar position (or, horror of all horrors, outside the top 10) then you can refine the page.

    Perhaps it needs expanding a bit with further information, perhaps it isn’t focussed enough. You may also be able to look at other pages you have produced that rank higher for their terms – what is it about those pages that is better (it may be nothing, it may be that the competition is easier to beat).

    The long-tail keywords are a project.

Why Might You Ask Someone To Write and Research Pages?

You can definitely go it alone and research and then write your own long-tail keyword pages and have great success, I’m not about to scare you into thinking you definitely have to pay to get someone in.

However, I also don’t want to completely downplay the importance of expertise, that sort of attitude leads to Brexit.

An experienced SEO and writing professional can come with a watertight plan of pages to produce and also ensure they truly are written for purpose.

For the planning stage, they are likely to have access to better (read expensive) tools – one example is ahrefs, this factors in search volume and also the difficulty of ranking for any term, it helps you find the perfect combination of pages that will be easy to rank for and yet deliver significant targeted traffic.

The extra professionalism and rigidity to the plan removes all guesswork, it provides certainty that you are targeting phrases that will be effective, rather than you hoping they will rank and that there will be demand.

However, perhaps the bigger benefit lies in the quality of writing. The professional writer has that degree of separation from your business, they can put themselves in the mindset of your customer and so write the page that will appeal to them and entice action. All too often, the pages written by the business owner are that bit too technical, a bit too close to the business.

That may or may not be you, you will have as view on how compelling your copy is likely to be, you may believe, with justification, that nobody can sell your business like you can.

Should you hire someone? I sort of have to say yes as someone who provides the service of researching and writing the pages – I’d say that a few hundred pounds will deliver pages that will deliver new customers for years to come. It’s not essential though, it really isn’t.

Still, if you do want to give someone a try, I’ll happily write a free page for you to use as you see fit on your site. Just get in touch via the Contact Page.

Either way, I wish you luck. If you have any questions bang them in the comments or mail me at hello@jonbarbuti.net


A Request: What are your tips or thoughts on long-tail keywords – please let me know in the comments or, if you’ve found this page at all useful, please do me a favour and like it or similar! It all helps!

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