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The Case for Long Tail Keywords

As a small business SEO specialist, I’m a big fan of long tail keywords.  You see, I’m used to working with clients that have big expectations and little budgets.  They’ve often come to me after being “burnt” by another SEO company and by burnt, I mean, they’ve paid month to month for backlinking services that have essentially landed them on page 5 for a very, very competitive keyword.

In many cases, it is because the average small business owner has only a very limited understanding of SEO and how it works, so they’ve opted, or even insisted to go after the keyword “doctor surgery” when in fact, they’re a one man show, servicing a very limited region, or the keyword “toy shop” when in fact, they only sell toys for 0-5 year olds with special needs.

The lure of the “great big search numbers” puts unrealistic dollar signs into their eyes, and they end up wasting a lot of money on a dream that wasn’t to be.

long tail keywords

Why SEO Companies like the Big 2-Word Keyword

So why do SEO companies target such large, competitive keywords?  It makes good business sense – move them from page 18 to page 14 in a month and they’re happy, it’s $600 well spent, right?  And let’s not forget that those long tails are on page 7!  Even better!  But that $600 a month is never, ever going to get them to that illustrious top five, and even if it did, by some crazy miracle, the conversion rates are low….

Meanwhile that little long tail with its 260 searches a month is hovering around page 5, totally neglected when it could be converting like crazy!

The Long Tail Investment Tipping Point

The difference between a large, competitive keyword and a long tail is more than just numbers.  Getting a large competitive keyword to page one is one thing, but keeping it there is a long term commitment – so if conversions are low, it will eat through a small business budget in no time.

If the return isn’t there, it’s devastating for a small business. The benefit of a smaller, less competitive long tail is that the cost for maintaining a slot on page one is minimal, in fact, it can be free.  Quality keyword research can still uncover great keywords that get clients on page one without any monthly fees (or at worst, an every-few-monthly-fee).  This is great for small business, unless it’s an SEO based small business!

Long Tails for Conversion

There’s nothing like ranking number one for a very specific and extremely relevant keyword.  It means that even though the flow of traffic is much smaller (and less spectacular on those monthly reports) conversions are way up.  The right keyword can take you out of that 1-5% range and in partnership with a great product and website, get your conversions up to the 50% mark.

Long Tails for Big Sales

When the product is an expensive one-off, long tail keywords can offer an incredibly low cost sales tool.  As an example, I worked with a client selling a business.  She had tried a brokerage firm and the leading real estate page (it was a bed and breakfast) and had spent almost $20000 on SEO.

Her former SEO firm had her targeting “business for sale” (49500 exact match local searches with a low conversion rate – obviously) “Bed and breakfast” (2900 local searches, mostly by holiday goers) and “bed and breakfast for sale” (720 local monthly searches and probably the best bet of the three).

She made it to nowhere for the first, page 5 for the second and page one for the “money keyword” – she had some clicks but her bounce rate was nearing 100% and she didn’t get a single enquiry.  The site was fine, well written, good looking, clean, with clear calls to action – it was the keyword.

We rewrote her website copy to target “bed and breakfast for sale State Name” (58 monthly searches) B&B for sale State Name (22 monthly searches), B and B for sale State Name (<10 monthly searches) and Guest House for Sale State Name (0 monthly searches).  She went to slot one for each of these searches overnight (even beating out the big national real estate website she’d paid thousands to appear on) and each page of her website appeared in slot one for each different keyword.

Her traffic remained fairly steady as she now ranked for a handful of highly relevant terms and every page on her site was working as a landing page.  Her bounce rate plummeted to as low as 0% some weeks and after 12 months of attempting to sell her bed and breakfast; she had two enquiries within a few weeks – both from “bed and breakfast for sale state name”.

Within two months, she sold her B&B for $750,000.  Her investment with us was less than $1000 all up, including keyword research and copywriting.  Her investment in large keywords – $18600 with no results.

So, was it the former SEO company laying the SEO ground work to get that slot one result? Nope.  Long tail keywords can be that good if done right – and this is just one simple example.  Plumbers, naturopaths, artists, shops – any small or local business can own Google with the right long tail keywords.

Abut the author: Dana Flannery is Creative Director and SEO Strategist at She specialises in small and local business SEO though high quality content and thorough, manual keyword research.

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