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Long-tail vs short-tail keywords. Layering your keywords in order to climb search engine results pages (SERPs)

A performer with hula-hoops illuminated by lights.

Cirque Bijou – Collaboret in the Big Top; Photo © Andre Pattenden

We’ve all made our website and then searched Google for our most profitable keyword. Only to be greeted with the frustration of our website not being visible anywhere.

You’ve then discovered the dark alchemy of Search Engine Optimisation and your favourite YouTuber has told you that you need to “optimise for keywords”.

What does that mean?

Let’s delve deeper into it.

Here’s what we will cover in this article:

  • Why choosing the right keyword is vital for your website
  • What are long-tail and short-tail keywords?
  • Choosing a root keyword.
  • My strategy to get a 1000 website visitors in your 1st year.
  • Optimising your blog for long-tail keywords.
  • FAQs

Why choosing the right keyword is vital for your website

Improve website ranking

The right keywords and content are there, essentially, to promote your website. You should try your best to increase website traffic and the user experience in order to make your website rank higher in the eyes of Google. The higher your ranking, the more chance you have of content appearing on the first of the results pages in any search.

Create online visibility

Selecting the right keywords also impacts online visibility. The difference between improved online visibility and website ranking is slight. But what it means is that your website is more likely to be found when related topics are being explored.

Keyword research basics

Search intent, keyword difficulty, traffic potential

When choosing keywords, it’s important to consider search intent, keyword difficulty, and traffic potential. A quick explanation for each is below:

  1. Search intent refers to the reason why someone is searching for a specific keyword.
  2. Keyword difficulty measures how difficult it is to rank for a keyword.
  3. Traffic potential indicates how many people a keyword can bring to your website.

Each of these different aspects can have a huge impact on what your website does and how well it performs in relation to your goals.

Understanding long-tail and short-tail keywords

Long-tail and short-tail keywords are not created equal. Short-tail keywords are broad and competitive, while long-tail keywords are specific and less competitive.

For example, “art” is a short-tail keyword, while “contemporary African art” is a long-tail keyword.


Target Keywords or Root Keywords.

They are short, generic phrases with high search volume. Think of them as the product or main topic for your website. Long-tail keywords are derived from root keywords. They are longer, more specific phrases with lower search volume and more focused intent to convert for a specific purpose. It is important to consider all of this as search engines have become more sophisticated. They are better at interpreting search queries and categorising content. Businesses need to create content that matches the searcher’s intent, you should learn the customer journey and the funnel, this will demonstrate to Google that you know the subject matter.  Ultimately, long-tail keywords are extremely useful for this as they help to target a niche market, as well as bring in more qualified traffic, increasing the chance of conversion and engagement.

On the other hand, short-tail keywords are essential for building brand awareness and driving high traffic volume. They are also less targeted and more competitive, making them harder to rank for.  An optimal keyword strategy should incorporate both long-tail and short-tail keywords to maximise traffic and ranking.

Incorporating all this into your content strategy will help you reach a wider audience, generate more traffic, and encourage growth.

How to start your keyword strategy: choose your root keyword

When creating a keyword strategy for your organisation, it’s important to start with a strong root keyword. This keyword will help to define your organisation and attract your target audience. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to select your root keyword.

Step 1: Understand your organisation

Before choosing a root keyword, you need to have a clear understanding of your organisation. What is your mission? What sets you apart from other organisations in the country? What is your target audience? Answering these questions will give you a better idea of what your root keyword should be.

Ultimately what is the main topic or product you want to promote?

Step 2: Research keyword difficulty

Once you have an idea of what your root keyword should be, it’s important to research its keyword difficulty. Keyword difficulty is a measure of how difficult it is to rank for a particular keyword. Using tools such as Google Keyword Planner or SEMrush can help you determine whether your root keyword is too competitive.

Step 3: Analyse your competition

Researching your competition can give you insight into what root keywords they are using and how they rank for those keywords. Analysing your competition can also help you identify gaps in the market where you can target your root keyword.

Step 4: Refine your root keyword

Based on your research and analysis, it’s time to refine your root keyword. Make sure it accurately reflects your organisation and target audience, while also having a reasonable level of keyword difficulty. Choosing the right root keyword is the foundation of a successful keyword strategy.  By following these steps, you can ensure that your organisation is well-positioned to attract its target audience and rank for relevant keywords.

Building out your long-tail keyword strategy

After you have chosen your starting root keyword, then you need a  comprehensive SEO strategy, by building out long-tail keywords stemming from a short-tail keyword.

Let’s look at a step-by-step guide on how to build out a long-tail keyword strategy for your organisation.

Step 1: Start with your root keyword

Your root keyword should reflect your organisation’s mission and the needs of your target audience. Begin by conducting keyword research using tools such as Google AdWords to identify relevant keywords and phrases.

Step 2: Create an ad group for your root keyword

Once you have identified your root keyword, create an ad group around that keyword. This group should contain specific, long-tail keywords related to your root keyword. Focus on phrases that accurately reflect the questions and needs of your target audience.

Step 3: Analyse keyword competition

Once you have created your ad group, it’s crucial to analyse the keyword competition. Focus on long-tail keywords with low competition to maximise your chances of ranking well in SERPs.

Step 4: Expand your list of long-tail keywords

With your ad group in place, it’s time to expand your list of long-tail keywords. Use tools such as Google’s “related searches” feature to identify phrases that are relevant to your ad group.

  • Look at the most asked questions
  • Think about location specific keywords
  • Utilise the terms ‘Top 10’ or ‘Best’
  • Use websites like ‘Answer the public’ to find out variations

Step 5: Incorporate long-tail keywords into your content

The key is to optimise each article for one specific long tail keyword along with the primary root keyword.

Tip: Don’t just try and optimise for a short-tail keyword. This is because your website will have an extremely low chance of ranking in the searches with high difficulty keywords. Therefore won’t end up with traffic to increase the authority of your website.

Focus on getting one niche user in with each long-tail keyword.

You will end up showing Google that your website knows even the most niche topics and with multiple articles optimised for your main keyword, you’ll be able to climb the rankings.

Remember to focus on creating informative, useful content that answers your audience’s questions while naturally incorporating your long-tail keywords.

Optimising your blog for long-tail keywords

Now that you’ve got your strategy, it’s important to actually know how you can optimise your content to reflect that strategy.

This is where optimising your blog for long-tail keywords becomes essential for generating relevant traffic. Here are some best practices to follow:

  1. Choose a long-tail keyword for each blog post: Start with your keyword and build content around it. Think about whether there are gaps in the market for certain questions or topics that people want information on. Work on providing those answers whilst using your detailed keyword strategy and you’ll begin generating traffic.
  2. Incorporate the root keyword in each blog post: While the focus is on long-tail keywords, it is still crucial to include the root keyword throughout your blog post. Doing so will help search engines associate your content with your organisation and help you rank better for your primary keyword.
  3. Optimise on-page content: Ensure that your blog post includes the long-tail keyword in the page’s headline and a few times throughout the article. Be sure to avoid keyword stuffing, as this can negatively impact your ranking. It is also essential to include latent semantic indexing (LSI) words, relevant to the topic of the blog post.
  4. Optimise your meta tags: Meta tags are essential components of your blog post’s HTML code that provide information to search engines about the content on your webpage. Ensure that your meta tags include the long-tail keyword, the root keyword, and LSI words, and provide a concise and compelling description of the blog post.
  5. Optimise alt tags: Alt tags describe the content of images on your website. Including the long-tail keyword in your alt tags can help search engines identify your content’s relevance to user queries. It is also essential for accessibility purposes.

Do the above and build these practices into your content creation and all you’ll have to do is wait to see your traffic come in.

Frequently asked questions about long-tail vs short-tail keywords

What can I do to find long-tail keywords?

Looking at related searches on Google can be a great start but you can also go into more advanced SEO tools like Semrush, Ahrefs.

Often it can be as simple as looking for the most FAQs around your niche, adding a location or narrowing down your keyword with adjectives.

What is the difference between long-tail and short-tail keywords?

The main difference between long-tail and short-tail keywords is the search volume and competition. Long-tail keywords have a lower search volume but are also less competitive, while short-tail keywords have a higher search volume but are more competitive.

What is keyword difficulty and why is it important?

Keyword difficulty is a metric that estimates how difficult it is to rank for a particular keyword. It’s important to consider keyword difficulty when conducting keyword research, as targeting highly competitive keywords can be challenging and time-consuming.

What is user intent and how does it relate to keyword research?

User intent refers to the reason behind a user’s search query. When conducting keyword research, it’s important to consider user intent and select keywords that match the intent behind the search query. This can help to increase engagement and drive relevant traffic to your website.

What next?

The Digital Culture Network is here to support you and your organisation. Our Tech Champions can provide free 1-2-1 support to all creative and cultural organisations and individuals who are in receipt of, or eligible for, Arts Council England funding. If you need help or would like to chat with us about any of the advice we have covered above, please get in touch. Sign up to our newsletter below and follow us on Twitter @ace_dcn for the latest updates.

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