long tail keywords

The truth about long tail keywords

In Content Strategy by Rob JohnsonLeave a Comment

Tim Soulo from ahrefs has just published a terrific article on long tail keywords. It’s worth reading and paying attention to for a number of reasons. While the conclusions he draws reinforce general assumptions about long tail keywords, he’s also revealed that long tail to be a lot more robust than you might imagine.

The article has the very SEO-friendly and deeply unsexy title of What we learned about “Long Tail” by analyzing 1.4 Billion keywords.

Keyword tools and long tail keywords

We’ve all used keyword tools, whether it’s the Google AdWords one, or one of the well-known apps like SEMRush or ahrefs. We all take the results of keyword analysis as gospel, even though there are limitations to these tools. Google’s own keyword tool is very much designed to enhance ads. It’s a bit of a blunt weapon for content. The others don’t crawl nearly as many sites as Google does. Although ahrefs appears to do a good job. I don’t know. I’m not a customer. But they seem smart.

And when you start using them to target long tail opportunities, they’re a bit deflating. Monthly search volume on some terms seems surprisingly low. Sometimes too low to tell you anything. There are reasons for that if you’re interested in detailed technical explanations. This post will offer those explanations. It’s still very current (updated in September last year), although I understand some of the technology discussed has moved on since then.

Getting long tail keywords right

Firstly, Soulo’s article is drawing conclusions from a significant data set—1.4 billion keywords. Ahrefs’ point of difference in the market is the comprehensiveness of their data (gathered by their own crawlers, I believe).

He goes into a smart and detailed explanation of what long tail keywords actually are. I’ve heard people describing them as “keyword phrases with more than four words in them”, but that’s too simplistic.

Instead, he uses data to show that the actual number of words in a search query doesn’t identify it as a popular search. If you’re targeting a single or double-word keyword in the belief that they are the most popular, you could be wasting time and money.

The length of the long tail and why it exists.

While there is general agreement that the long tail exists, he can confidently put a percentage value to it. More specifically, 96.54 per cent of all search queries in the US. Yes, that’s right. The vast, vast majority of keyword phrases attract 50 or fewer searches per month. And at the tail, where the search volume per month is so low it’s depressing, you’re still looking at almost 40 per cent of all searches.

In conclusion

What this data teaches us is that people don’t know how to search, and search engines haven’t yet perfected the art of helping them. But this kind of analysis will also help you be a lot smarter with how you use keywords to your advantage.

The name of the post again, in case you’ve scrolled this far and forgotten: What we learned about “Long Tail” by analysing 1.4 billion keywords on the ahrefs blog.



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