Welcome to this refreshed installment of our educational Next Level series! Originally published in June 2016 this blog has been rewritten to include new tool screenshots and refreshed workflows. Together we’ll uncover keywords in the vastness of the long tail.
Looking for more Next Level posts? Previously we explored how to create relevant and engaging SEO reports.
One of the biggest obstacles to driving forward your business online is being able to rank well for keywords that people are searching for. Getting your lovely URLs to show up in those precious top positions — and gaining a good portion of the visitors behind the searches — can feel like an impossible dream. Particularly if you’re working on a newish site on a modest budget within a competitive niche.
Well, strap yourself in, because today we’re going to live that dream. I’ll take you through the bronze, silver, and gold levels of finding, assessing, and targeting long tail keywords so you can start getting visitors to your site that are primed and ready to convert.
Quick steps to building a long tail keyword list:
Draw from your industry and customer knowledge
Add suggestions from Google Autocomplete
Explore industry language on social media
Pull relevant suggestions from a keyword tool
Prioritize using popularity and difficulty metrics
Understand the competitive landscape to pinpoint opportunities
What are long tail keywords?
The “long tail of search” refers to the many weird and wonderful ways the diverse people of the world search for any given niche.
People (yes, people! Shiny, happy, everyday, run-of-the-mill, muesli-eating, credit-card-swiping people!) rarely stop searching broad and generic ‘head’ keywords, like “web design” or “camera” or “sailor moon.”
They clarify their search with emotional triggers, technical terms they’ve learned from reading forums, and compare features and prices before mustering up the courage to commit and convert on your site.
The long tail is packed with searches like “best web designer in Nottingham” or “mirrorless camera 4k video 2016” or “sailor moon cat costume.”
This adaptation of the Search Demand Curve chart visualizes the long tail of search by using the tried and tested “Internet loves cats + animated gifs are the coolest = SUCCESS” formula.
The Search Demand Curve illustrates that while “head” and “body” terms typically amass higher search volume, seeming appealing at first. The vastness of the “long tail” presents a more substantial opportunity and larger percentage of search traffic that shouldn’t be ignored. You can really see this illustrated when combined as a percentage of search traffic. While this graph contains no cats, it is still entirely illustrative. However the long tail of search isn’t slowing down anytime soon with voice search and AI integrations we can expect the vastness of the long tail to continue to grow.
While search volume for any individual long tail keyword is typically less, user intent is much more specific and viewed as a group targeting the long tail often enables you to target a larger more engaged audience. Also beautifully illustrated in Dr. Pete’s infamous chunky thorax post.
The long tail of search is being constantly generated by people seeking answers from the Internet hive mind. There’s no end to what you’ll find if you have a good old rummage about, including: Questions, styles, colors, brands, concerns, peeves, desires, hopes, dreams… and everything in between.
Fresh, new, outrageous, often bizarre keywords. If you’ve done any keyword research you’ll know what I mean by bizarre. Things a person wouldn’t admit to their best friend, therapist, or doctor they’ll happily pump into Google and hit search. In this post we’re going to go diving for pearls: keywords with searcher intent, high demand, low competition, and a spot on the SERPs just for you.
Bronze medal: Build your own long tail keyword
It’s really easy to come up with a long tail keyword. You can use your brain, gather some thoughts, take a stab in the dark, and throw a few keyword modifiers around your ‘head’ keyword.
Have you ever played that magnetic fridge poetry game? It’s a bit like that. You can play online if (like me) you have an aversion to physical things.
I’m no poet, but I think I deserve a medal for this attempt, and now I really want some “hot seasonal berry water.”
Magnetic poetry not doing it for you? Don’t worry — that’s only the beginning.
Use your industry knowledge
Time to draw on that valuable industry knowledge you’ve been storing up, jot down some ideas, and think about intent and common misconceptions. I’m going to use the example pearls or freshwater pearls in this post as the head term because that’s something I’m interested in.
Let’s go! Let’s say I run a jewelry business and I know that my customers regularly have questions, like:
How do I clean freshwater pearls
Using my knowledge I can rattle off and build a keyword list.
Search your keyword
Engage google suggested search tool to get some more ideas. Manually enter your keyword into Google and prompting it to populate popular suggestions, like I’ve done below:
Awesome, I’m adding Freshwater pearls price to my list.
Explore the language of social media
Get amongst the over-sharers and have a look at what people are chatting about on social media by searching your keyword in Twitter, tiktok, Instagram, and Youtube. These are topics in your niche that people are talking about right now.
YouTube is also pulling up some interesting ideas around my keyword. This is simultaneously helping me gather keyword ideas and giving me a good sense about what content is already out there. Don’t worry, we’ll touch on content later on in this post. 🙂
I’m adding understanding types of pearls and Difference between saltwater and freshwater pearls to my list.
Ask keyword questions…?
You’ll probably notice that I’ve added a question mark to a phrase that is not a question, just to mess with you all. Apologies for the confusing internal-reading-voice-upwards-inflection.
Questions are my favorite types of keywords. What!? You don’t have a fav keyword type? Well, you do now — trust me.
Answer the Public is packed with questions radiating out from your seed term
Pop freshwater pearls into the tool and grab some questions for our growing list.
To leave no rock unturned (or no mollusk unshucked), let’s pop over to Google Search Console to find keywords that are already sending you traffic (and discover any mismatches between your content and user intent.)
Pile these into a list, like I’ve done in this spreadsheet.
Now this is starting to look interesting: we’ve got some keyword modifiers, some clear buying signals, and a better idea of what people might be looking for around “freshwater pearls.”
Should you stop there? I’m flabbergasted — how can you even suggest that?! This is only the beginning. 🙂
Silver medal: Assess demand and explore topics
So far, so rosy. But we’ve been focusing on finding keywords, picking them up, and stashing them in our collection like colored glass at the seaside.
To really dig into the endless tail of your niche, you’ll need a keyword tool like our very own Keyword Explorer. This is invaluable for finding topics within your niche that present a real opportunity for your site.
If you’re trying out Keyword Explorer for the first time, you’ll have 10 free searches/mo with a free Moz Community account and even more with a Moz Pro free trial or paid subscription.
Find search volume for your head keyword
To start, enter a broad industry keyword. In my case I’ll type in “pearls” into the Keyword Explorer search box. Now you can see Moz’s Monthly Volume displaying how often a term or phrase is searched for in Google:
Now try “freshwater pearls.” As expected, the search volume goes down, but we’re getting more specific.
We could keep going like this, but we’re going to burn up all our free searches. Just take it as read that, as you get more specific and enter all the phrases we found earlier, the search volume will decrease even more. There may not be any data at all. That’s why you need to explore the searches around this main keyword.
Find even more long tail keywords
Below the search volume, click on “Keyword Suggestions.”
Well, hi there, ever-expanding long tail! We’ve gone from a handful of keywords pulled together manually from different sources to 1,000 suggestions right there on your screen. Positioned right next to that, search volume to give us an idea of demand.
The diversity of searches within your niche is just as important as that big number we saw at the beginning, because it shows you how much demand there is for this niche as a whole. We’re also learning more about searcher intent.
I’m scanning through those 1,000 suggestions and looking for other terms that pop up again and again. I’m also looking for signals and different ways the words are being used to pick out words to expand my list.
I like to toggle between sorting by Relevancy and search volume, and then scroll through all the results to cherry-pick those that catch my eye.
Now reverse the volume filter so that it’s showing lower-volume search terms and scroll down through the end of the tail to explore the lower-volume chatter.
If we don’t have tracked data in our database you can always cross reference with another data set to validate their value.
This is where your industry knowledge comes into play again. Bots, formulas, spreadsheets, and algorithms are all well and good, but don’t discount your own instincts and knowledge.
Use the suggestion filters to your advantage and play around with broader or more specific suggestion types.
Looking through the suggestions, I’ve noticed that the word “cultured” has popped up a few times.
To see these all bundled together, I want to look at the grouping options in Keyword Explorer. I like the high lexicon groups so I can see how much discussion is going on within my topics.
Scroll down and expand that group to get an idea of demand and assess intent.
I’m also interested in the words around “price” and “value,” so I’m doing the same and saving those to my sheet, along with the search volume. A few attempts at researching the “cleaning” of pearls wasn’t very fruitful, so I’ve adjusted my search to “clean freshwater pearls.”
Because I’m a keyword questions fanatic, I’m also going to filter by questions (the bottom option from the drop-down menu):
OK! How is our keyword list looking? Pretty darn hot, I reckon! We’ve gathered together a list of keywords and dug into the long tail of these sub-niches, and right alongside we’ve got search volume.
You’ll notice that some of the keywords I discovered in the bronze stage don’t have any data showing up in Keyword Explorer (indicated by the hyphen in the screenshot above). That’s ok — they’re still topics I can research further. This is exactly why we have assessed demand; no wild goose chase for us!
Ok, we’re drawing some conclusions, we’re building our list, and we’re making educated decisions. Congrats on your silver-level keyword wizardry! 😀
Gold medal: Find out who you’re competing with
We’re not operating in a vacuum. There’s always someone out there trying to elbow their way onto the first page. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because it’s a long tail term with a nice chunk of search volume all those clicks will rain down on you. If the terms you’re looking to target already have big names headlining, this could very well alter your roadmap.
To reap the rewards of targeting the long tail, you’ll have to make sure you can outperform your competition.
Manually check the SERPs
Check out who’s showing up in the search engine results page (SERPs) by running a search for your head term. Make sure you’re signed out of Google and in an incognito tab.
We’re focusing on the organic results to find out if there are any weaker URLs you can pick off.
I’ll start with “freshwater pearls” for illustrative purposes.
Whoooaaa, this is a noisy page. I’ve had to scroll a whole 2.5cm on my magic mouse (that’s very nearly a whole inch for the imperialists among us) just to see any organic results.
Let’s install the Mozbar to discover some metrics on the fly, like domain authority and back-linking data.
Now, if seeing those big players in the SERPs doesn’t make it clear, looking at the Mozbar metrics certainly does. This is exclusive real estate. It’s dominated by retailers, although Wikipedia gets a place in the middle of the page.
Let’s get into the mind of Google for a second. It — or should I say “they” (I can’t decide if it’s more creepy for Google to be referred to as a singular or plural pronoun. Let’s go with “they”) — anyway, I digress. “They” are guessing that we’re looking to buy pearls, but they’re also offering results on what they are.
This sort of information is offered up by big retailers who have created content that targets the intention of searchers. Mikimoto drives us to their blog post all about where freshwater pearls come from.
As you get deeper into the long tail of your niche, you’ll begin to come across sites you might not be so familiar with. So go and have a peek at their content.
With a little bit of snooping you can easily find out:
how relevant the article is
if it looks appealing, up to date, and sharable
be really judge-y: why not?
Now let’s find some more:
when the article was published
when their site was created
how often their blog is updated
how many other sites are linking to the page with Link Explorer
how many tweets, likes, etc.
Learn more about how to do a competitor analysis in our free guide, and don’t forget to download the handy worksheet.
Document all of your findings in our spreadsheet from earlier to keep track of the data. This information will now inform you of your chances of ranking for that term.
Manually checking out your competition is something that I would strongly recommend. But we don’t have all the time in the world to check each results page for each keyword we’re interested in.
Keyword Explorer leaps to our rescue again
Run your search and click on “SERP Analysis” to see what the first page looks like, along with authority metrics and social activity.
All the metrics for the organic results, like Page Authority, goes into calculating the Difficulty score above (lower is better).
And all those other factors — the ads and suggestions taking up space on the SERPs — that’s what’s used to calculate Organic CTR (higher is better).
Priority is all the other metrics tallied up. You definitely want this to be higher.
So now we have 3 important numerical values we can use to gauge our competition. We can use these values to compare keywords.
After a few searches in Keyword Explorer, you’re going to start hankering for a keyword list or two. For this you’ll need a paid subscription, or a Moz Pro 30-day free trial.
It’s well worth the sign-up; not only do you get 5,000 keyword queries per month and 30 lists (on the Medium plan), but you also get to check out the super-magical-KWE-mega-list-funky-cool metric page. That’s what I call it, just rolls off the tongue, you know?
Okay, fellow list buddies, let’s go and add those terms we’re interested in to our lovely new list.
Then head up to your lists on the top right and open up the one you just created.
Now we can see the spread of demand, competition and SERP features for our whole list.
You can compare Volume, SERPS Features, Difficulty, Organic CTR, and Priority across multiple lists, topics, and niches.
How to compare apples with apples
Comparing keywords is something our support team gets questions about all the time.
Should I target this word or that word?
For the long tail keyword, the Volume is a lot lower, Difficulty is also down, the Organic CTR is a bit up, and overall the Priority is down because of the drop in search volume.
But don’t discount it! By targeting these sorts of terms, you’re focusing more on the intent of the searcher. You’re also making your content relevant for all the other neighboring search terms.
Let’s compare the difference between freshwater and cultured pearls with how much are freshwater pearls worth.
Search volume is the same, but for the keyword how much are freshwater pearls worth Difficulty is up, but so is the overall Priority because the Organic CTR is higher.
But just because you’re picking between two long tail keywords doesn’t mean you’ve fully understood the long tail of search.
You know all those keywords I grabbed for my list earlier in this post? Well, here they are sorted into topics.
Look at all the different ways people search for the same thing. This is what drives the long tail of search — searcher diversity. If you tally all the volume up for the cultured topic, we’ve got a bigger group of keywords and overall more search volume. This is where you can use Keyword Explorer and the long tail to make informed decisions.
You’re laying out your virtual welcome mat for all the potential traffic these terms send.
Platinum level: I lied — there’s one more level!
For all you lovely overachievers out there who have reached the end of this post, I’m going to reward you with one final tip.
You’ve done all the snooping around on your competitors, so you know who you’re up against. You’ve done the research, so you know what keywords to target to begin driving intent-rich traffic.
Now you need to create strong, consistent, and outstanding content.
As Dr Pete confirmed:
We don’t have to work ourselves to death to target the long tail of search. It doesn’t take 10,000 pieces of content to rank for 10,000 variants of a phrase, and Google (and our visitors) would much prefer we not spin out that content. The new, post-NLP (Natural Language Processing) long tail of SEO requires us to understand how our keywords fit into semantic space, mapping their relationships and covering the core concepts. Study your SERPs diligently, and you can find the patterns to turn your own long tail of keywords into a chonky thorax of opportunity.
Here’s where you really have to tip your hat to long tail keywords, because by strategically targeting the long tail you can start to build enough authority in the industry to beat stronger competition and rank higher for more competitive keywords in your niche.
The various different keyword phrases that make up the long tail in your industry are vast, often easier to rank for, and indicate stronger intent from the searcher. By targeting them you’ll find you can start to rank for relevant phrases sooner than if you just targeted the head. And over time, if you get the right signals, you’ll be able to rank for keywords with tougher competition. Pretty sweet, huh? Give Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool a whirl and let me know how you get on 🙂