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SEO for Growth

Long-Tail vs. Short-Tail Keywords: A Breakdown

Discover the difference between long-tail and short-tail keywords and why you need both for a competitive growth marketing strategy.

10 mins read time
Haley Kuehl
Haley Kuehl

Aug 24, 2022

You have stellar content and an even better product, but your lead generation is lacking. Sound familiar? If so, you are likely prioritizing the wrong types of keywords to attract qualified traffic and potential leads to your site. 

Long-tail and short-tail keywords have entered the chat. 

Don’t know the difference between a long-tail vs. short-tail keyword or when to use one over the other? We’re here to help. Why First Page? Because we’re passionate about bringing brands to the first page of search results through targeted and efficient keyword optimization. 

Sit back and relax while we walk you through the differences of long-tail vs. short-tail keywords, which to target and when, and why both are needed for effective content marketing and SEO

What Are Short-Tail Keywords?

Short-tail keywords, otherwise known as “head terms,” are popular search phrases that have high search volume and traffic potential. These queries are much more general than their long-tail counterparts and consist of only one to two words.

If you’re in the SaaS industry, an example of a short-term keyword might be “file sharing.” As you can see below, the search volume is slightly over 6,000 and it has traffic potentially of 376,000. These are attractive numbers. Earning a top-ranking spot for that keyword could bring in a lot of traffic for your site. 


∫

When doing keyword research, you may be tempted to only go after short-tail keywords since these offer high traffic potential, but it’s also important to note their keyword difficulty. 

Short-tail keywords tend to be more competitive industry terms, like our example above with a keyword difficulty of 77.  It may take months to rank or fully see the impact of creating content around this query. 

What Are Long-Tail Keywords? 

Long-tail keywords are highly intentional search phrases consisting of three or more words. They are often more niche with very specific search intent. That said, they tend to have lower search volume or traffic potential compared to a more general or popular search phrase like a short-tail keyword. 

So why do you need them? While long-tail keywords have a lower search volume, they also have low competition, meaning your content has the potential to rank for this query easily. What’s more, their specific search intent can help drive a user closer to a purchase than from a more general keyword. 

For example, if your short-term keyword is “file sharing,” the long-tail keyword might be “file sharing services for business.”

From the screenshot below, you can see that the keyword has a lower volume and keyword difficulty and a high cost-per-click (CPC) at $25.00. This tells us that this is a valuable keyword that brands are bidding through PPC since it generates more leads, making it a high-converting term to go after.


 long-tail keyword example

The intentional nature of a long-tail keyword can lead a user to specific information to educate them about the exact product or service they are inquiring about on the SERP, resulting in a higher conversion rate. By using effective content marketing tactics, you can rank for this keyword organically without throwing money at PPC campaigns and lowering your cost-per-lead. 

What’s the Difference Between Short- and Long-Tail Keywords?

 

Short-Tail Keywords

Long-Tail Keywords

Search Volume

High 

Low


Competition

High

Low

Focus

Low

High

Cost

High

Low

Conversion Rate

Low

High

An optimal keyword strategy will have both long-tail and short-tail keywords baked into your project plan. Short-tail keywords can help you build authority on an industry topic and a long-tail keyword can help drive conversions for your brand. 

That said, starting with long-tail keywords will allow you to quickly execute on those lower-hanging fruit opportunities that will be more efficient when it comes to earning top-ranking positions as well as converting leads. 

Below is a breakdown of the differences between long-tail and short-tail keywords. 

Long-tail keywords: 

  • Have low search volume 
  • Have low competition or keyword difficulty 
  • Have a high focus with narrowed search terms
  • Have a low cost due to low difficulty 
  • Have a high conversion rate

Short-tail keywords: 

  • Have a high search volume
  • Have high competition or keyword difficulty 
  • Have a low focus with broad search terms
  • Have a high cost due to high difficulty 
  • Have a low conversion rate 

When Less Is More — And When It Isn’t

You know what they say…less is more. This may be the case for things like spending and bottomless mimosa brunches, but not always for keywords. When it comes to SEO, optimizing content or a landing page around a long-tail keyword phrase, with more words and detail than a less detailed head term, could help your brand satisfy a user’s search intent more quickly. 

Step one is knowing the difference between long-tail and short-tail keywords and the value that each hold. Check. Step two is diversifying your strategy by finding the right keywords to target to hit brand goals and KPIs. 

How to Find the Right Keywords for Growth

By creating a strong keyword strategy, you’ll be able to entice customers on each end of the sales funnel. At the top of the funnel, you’ll have those that are looking for more information about your service or product and at the bottom of the funnel will be consumers ready to decide on a purchase. 

We like to dedicate as much time as possible to keyword research to identify the most efficient search queries that will have a high impact with low competition. These are typically your long-tail keywords. 

Don’t get us wrong, you’ll need to weave short-tail keywords into your strategy as well to target those high-traffic, industry terms to help you build authority in the space. But be sure to set the expectation that these terms can be more of a long-lead game when it comes to earning traffic. 

Here are some of our favorite ways to find impactful long-tail and short-tail keywords for growth: 

Brainstorm Industry Jargon

Best for: short-tail keywords 

Noting popular industry jargon can be a simple way to find short-tail keywords. Don’t know where to start? Take a look at your product features.  If you’re in the tech business, phrases like “user experience,” “customer journey,” or “sales leads” are all great starting points for short-tail keywords to optimize content around.

Leverage Google’s Autocompleting Suggestions

Best for: long-tail keywords

A great starting point for finding long-tail keywords is to simply enter a short-tail keyword or head term into Google and see what search suggestions the autocomplete tool comes up with. 


Google autocomplete example

Add Specific Qualifiers to Your Short-Tail Keywords

Best for: long-tail and short-tail keywords 

Narrowing in your focus on short-tail keywords could help you find your target audience more effectively. For example, if you’re a software startup, adding qualifiers like “SaaS,” “tech,” “in New York City,” or other relevant phrases to your product, content or landing page could help you satisfy your target audience’s search intent quicker. 

Conduct a Content Gap Analysis 

Best for: long-tail and short-tail keywords 

A gap analysis will give you insight into which keywords your competitors are ranking for that you aren’t. This can help you target popular queries within your industry and eliminate gaps between your competitors. 

Do Audience Research 

Best for: long-tail keywords

One of our favorite ways to find long-tail is to look to the consumer. Pull data from sales calls, product reviews, or frequently asked questions to see what common questions your customers have about your service or product. From there, you can create content around answering those questions or providing solutions. 

Use a Keyword Tool

Best for: long-tail and short-tail keywords 

One of the simplest ways to do keyword research is by using keyword tools. These tools will allow you to go down a rabbit hole of keyword suggestions based on a general search phrase while detailing their search volume, traffic potential, and difficulty. 


Ahref’s keyword explorer tool

Keyword data pulled from Ahrefs

Are Long-Tail Keywords Better?

Both types of keywords are necessary to satisfy search intent and educate consumers through your brand’s content. However, the specific nature of long-tail keywords can help users satisfy search intent more quickly and will typically have a higher conversion rate, despite the lower search volume or traffic potential. 

Long-tail keywords can be a great strategy for conversions and for quickly ranking your content due to the lower competition or difficulty of the keyword. 

Are Long-Tail Keywords More Expensive?

Long-tail keywords have lower competition or barriers for ranking on the SERP, therefore making them less expensive than short-tail keywords. Their higher conversion rates can also lower your cost-per-lead, making this a cost-effective tactic in SEO. 

Keyword research is the foundation of a competitive content marketing strategy, focused on beating the competition in search and bringing qualified traffic to your site. 

Knowing the difference between long-tail and short-tail keywords and when to implement each type of strategy will help lay the foundation for a successful content strategy for your brand. Want more? Check out our growth marketing services to help your company reach the first page and its full potential.

Haley Kuehl

After getting her start in teaching, Haley fell in love with SEO because it let her combine two of her favorite things: writing and getting nerdy with data and code. She now has more than 12 years of SEO and inbound marketing experience with clients ranging from small ecommerce brands to huge associations and SaaS companies. She prides herself on being able to see the big picture while also noting the nitty gritty details that make a difference for users and search bots. In her free time she bakes a LOT of bread and cookies and loves to travel.

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