Long Tail Keyword SEO

I’ve seen posts in the past that argue that long tail keywords are not worth the effort. Taken to the extreme, I agree with them. I’ve also seen posts that argue that you should build a page for a tremendous number of long term phrases and reap the benefits. A poor idea in my mind. You don’t need to have a new page for each phrase you are targetting — in some cases yes, in all cases no. Also, there is a big difference between long tail keywords and obscure keywords, and I don’t believe in targeting obscure keyword phrases. However, there are several valid reasons for targeting long tail keywords.

Why Mess With Long Tail Keywords?

Let me start this out by clarifying that working only on long tail keywords is not an effective long run SEO solution for a hopefully successful website. The traffic from long term keywords can be very unpredictable. But under many situations, long tail keywords can be beneficial – a couple obvious examples are:

  • Brand New Websites – New websites are just not going to rank right away for high value keywords as a general rule. Sure there will be the occasional exception, but by and large new websites are just not going to be a top 10 search result for a primary keyword (e.g., for a phrase like “SEO”) — No matter how well optimized the on-page factors or content. Long tail keywords can be the source of traffic needed to tide a website over until the rankings arrive for the primary keywords (e.g., “Richmond SEO firms” can provide a decent amount of traffic until higher value keyword rankings start to show up)
  • E-commerce Sites – Online stores need traffic to generate revenues. These stores can get this traffic via paid search (search engine marketing), but at the same time they should be putting effort in to organic SEO. Free traffic, even if untargeted is good traffic if it can lead to revenues or backlinks. Long tail keywords can often lead to traffic if spread across enough different phrases.

So Why Target Long Tail Keywords?

You should not target long tail keywords per se in my mind. You should target high value keywords, but semantically linked to other words that will create long term keyword phrases that are likely to be searched. For example, as an SEO firm we are obviously targeting terms like “SEO firm”, “SEO consultant”, and “SEO company” (and their plurals). Strategically placing related modifiers around these phrases allows us to expand our targeted keywords to the long tail without sacrificing our base target. So in our example, we can drop our geographic location around these terms to get keywords like “Richmond SEO firm”, “Virginia SEO Consultant”, or “Mid-Atlantic SEO company”.

Obviously these terms will drive far less search volume, but they are valid search terms that will drive traffic, even qualified traffic. This is typically going to be an easier space to compete in. Just a minute ago, a search for “SEO firm” (without quotes) yielded roughly 3.4 million results while a search for “Richmond SEO firm” (again without quotes) yielded 27.3 thousand results. In the absence of being top 10 for “SEO firm”, do you think it is better for your site to be top 10 for “Richmond SEO firm” or top 200 for “SEO firm”?

These are contrived examples, but you can guess how expanding your keyword list via modifiers can start to increase your organic rankings without going overboard on keyword phrases. Obvious keyword modifiers include:

  • geography – city, state, neighborhood (for local businesses like dry cleaners, pharmacies, small engine repair, etc)
  • color – red, beige (for products especially)
  • size – XXL, childrens, big (for products)
  • ethnicity/language – Spanish, Mexican, Asian (food sites or even local businesses can benefit from this)
  • model numbers – there are people who search by specific model or part numbers


Basing your entire SEO plan on long tail keywords is not the right plan. The point being made here is that you must include long tail keywords in your overall SEO plan. Use this portion of the plan to expand the breadth of you keywords, not to exclude high value keywords. And finally, think of long term keyword SEO as a useful tool — a phillips screwdriver instead of just a screwdriver if you will.

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