Long-Tail SEO And How To Make Use Of It – A Beginners Guide

Anyone who has previously researched search engine optimization will have likely come across the phrase Long-Tail SEO.

This article is about how young businesses and content creators can gain relevant traffic to their websites by using the, so-called, Long-Tail of search.

There are two fundamental ways to achieve this. As a content creator you can publish lots of niche specific content across your site and gain a steady stream of visitors to the various pages on your site. Alternatively, as an online business you can gain relevant traffic by optimizing your pages around Long-Tail search terms, rather than generic ones, to make some initial sales. (We’ll get into ways to achieve this later). 

Before we dive into what long-tail SEO is (and clearing up some common misconceptions) it’s worth pointing out what Long-Tail SEO could do for your website. 

Here are Some of the Benefits of Long-Tail SEO

  • It’s easy to do. Small on-page changes can deliver free relevant traffic to your site. 
  • It can work well for start-ups by helping you make those all-important first sales. This means money in the bank for marketing and business growth
  • Long Tail keywords are low volume but hyper specific making them more likely to convert than generic terms
  • It works well for businesses with hard-to-find items or content relating to a specific niche (e.g) ‘Homemade soup recipes’ or ‘cutsom-made planners’)
  • You can rank well on search engines with little or no backlinks for Long-Tail searches

This means that Long-Tail SEO should be a fundamental part of your marketing mix. Especially if you’ve found your content niche, or sell items which are hard to find elsewhere online.

So What is a Long-Tail Keyword? 

A recent poll on Twitter revealed that 51% of people believed that Long-Tail keywords have lots of words in them. Whilst this is often the case, Long-Tail keywords have nothing to do with the amount of words in a search. So over half the people who responded got it wrong. 

It’s important to understand what Long-Tail keywords really are before we can to utilize them to best effect. I’ve often heard people words to the effect of:

Long-Tail keywords have more words in the search term, right?’

No. Let me explain.

Understanding the Long-Tail

The majority of searches in search engines are for specific needs or products. However, the average volume for these terms are fairly low. Sometimes only occurring a few times a year. 

As you can see from the image below there is an extended ‘long-tail’ in the graph. These search terms represent all those specific (not necessarily long) search terms. This is where the name ‘the Long-Tail’ comes from.

The Search Demand Curve: 

search demand curve

According to the graph you have very high monthly search volumes for popular terms, and then a downward graduation of the percentage of total search queries extending into the Long-Tail.  What you don’t see here is the extent of the Long-Tail… it just goes on and on, thus making up the majority of searches overall. 

So, the definition of a long-tail keyword is to do with the volume (how often) they are searched for. A huge amount of searches are made for generic terms for example ‘shoes’. Then a smaller number of people will search for ‘men’s shoes’ and a much smaller number for ‘custom running shoes’. However, the story doesn’t end there. There is also a plethora of niche specific terms related to the latter search and this is how the Long-Tail manages to make up 70% of search. 

Take a look at the suggested results from Google on this query:

google query

This shows that people are searching for ‘custom running shoes’ and a host of other related terms. All of which are Long-Tail.

Keywords in Context

So generic terms are high in volume. For example ‘Diaries’, ‘Watches’ ‘Shoes’. Digging a little bit deeper you’ll find popular searches such as ‘A4 Diary’, ‘Casio Watches’ and ‘Men’s Shoes’. Terms that have less overall volume but can still be hard to rank for. 

Let’s take a look at the example of the ‘Shoes’ search term in more detail:

According to Ahrefs (a superb online SEO tool in my opinion) here is the keyword volume for the following terms.

Shoes: 343,000 Average searches per month

Men’s Shoes: 51,000 Average searches per month

Women’s Shoes: 29,000Average searches per month

Custom Running Shoes: 600 Average searches per month

Now let’s take a look at how hard it is to rank for these terms. 


how hard to rank for a term

‘Shoes’ is a generic search term, and therefore less likely to convert. In addition, it is extremely difficult to rank for. ‘Super hard’ according to Ahrefs. 

‘Custom running shoes’ on the other hand is far easier to rank for. With only a few inbound links, to a relevant and optimized page, you could easily land yourself on the top page of Google for that term.

keyword difficulty and search volume

Furthermore it shows there is a clear demand for these products. And because ‘custom running shoes’ it’s more specific, not only is it easier to rank for, it’s more likely to convert into a sale. 

Remember, whilst ‘custom running shoes’ has more words in the query than the other terms I’ve mentioned it’s the lower volume is what makes it a Long-Tail keyword.

Using the Long-Tail 

I popped out a #journorequest on Twitter looking for SMEs who have used the long tail to good effect. Tim Grinsdale from TOAD Diaries spoke to me about their start up year and how the Long-Tail provided them with some ‘low hanging fruit opportunities’.

He states

‘It’s often considered too difficult or technical by many young businesses. However, optimizing for ‘long-tail’ keywords, that relate to your business, can generate some low hanging fruit opportunities.

Grinsdale suggested starting with head terms which might include ‘Dairy 2020’ and then look for lower volume, but more specific variations. 

‘Build a list [of these lower volume keywords] and run these keywords through a keyword difficulty tool, using Ahrefs, or Moz. Identify those that are popular enough to warrant targeting, but with a low difficulty score. Once you’ve established your long-tail keyword list, some very simple on-page changes can produce powerful results.’

In their start up year some Long-Tail keywords significantly helped make some initial sales. He went on to say:

‘We saw this approach work extremely well with keywords such as ‘custom organizer’ and ‘design your own diary’ in our start-up year. It’s surprising what people will search for… take advantage of it!’ 

It’s difficult to do effective keyword research with Long-Tail keywords. This is because the search volume is too low so online tools can ‘pick them up’ effectivy. But for many companies the mysterious world of Long-Tail keywords can be extremely valuable. So how can we find out what to optimize for? 

The Power of Google Ads for Long-Tail Search

I have quite a distain for Google Ads in general because they make it extremely easy to set up, but give little information (during the setup phase) about how to make your budget effective. 

That aside, it can be a very powerful tool to help you identify Long-Tail keywords opportunities. 

(NOTE: never leave your keywords in Broad-Match when starting out. If you need help understanding match types and negative keywords do some research beforehand.) 

Let’s take a look at an Google Ads account to gain some insight. The below example is a screenshot from an account of an online mixing and mastering service, MusicMixMastering. 

In the account the keyword ‘mixing and mastering service’ has been setup in phrase match (meaning Google can trigger the ads for search queries that have words before and/or after the keyword.

different keyword variations

As you can see from the search terms (the queries that people actually typed in) there are some hyper specific terms that are relevant to their business. For example ‘techno mixing and mastering service’ and ‘trap mixing and mastering service’.

It stands to reason that many other people are searching for a service like this, but with other musical genres in mind. Rock, Pop, R&B, Heavy Metal etc.

It therefore makes sense to optimize the page(s) with keywords that relate to other musical genres. This means those pages are more likely to rank well when these niche/ low volume queries are searched for. A perfect example of how to start ultising the long tail of search. 


This phenomenon exists in every industry, no exception. The Long-Tail provides a low hanging fruit opportunity for new businesses with a niche product, or content creator with a specific target audience. 

Keyword research is crucial, and Google Ads (used carefully) can provide you with a good base line to start working from. As your business grows you can then spend more on marketing, content creation and link building, which in turn will allow your company to start ranking for harder search terms. 

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