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Part Two: Choosing the Right Keywords to Target – Long versus Short Tail

You will often hear the term “short and long tail keywords” mentioned, but what do they mean and why are they an important concept to grasp?

To put it simply, every search query involves a series of words, be it a single word or a longer phrase. “Short tail keywords” refer to 1-2 keyword phrases like “party” or “party supplies”; “long tail keywords” refers to longer versions like “kids party supplies” or longer. Of course, knowing what they mean is of little use if you do not know how to utilise them in your keyword decision making process.

Determining which keywords to target is one of the most important steps in designing your website or SEO campaign. You need to find a niche that is not only low in competition, but also provides enough search volume that it will make the website viable. The lower the competition, the more likely your website will reach high ranks in a shorter time frame, but it is no use ranking on Page One if nobody is using those keywords to search. Generally, the short tail keywords are higher competition but higher search volume, while the long tail keyword are the opposite; the trick to good keyword selection is finding long tail keywords with low competition and good search volume.

We discussed how to assess keyword competition  in Part One, but how do you determine search volume for a keyword? There are many programs and methods to find out search volume for a particular keyword, but the cheapest way is to use tools provided free by Google. Simply sign up for an Adwords account and use the keyword planner. It can be a time consuming process, so if you are unsure or lack the time, hire a local SEO provider to help.

Using the keyword planning tool, we can give a quick example of how to narrow down your keyword list. In our example, let’s assume we are creating a kid’s party supply store, and need to determine our targets. Initially, we look at the most obvious keyword, “party supplies”; the monthly search volume is excellent at over 18,000 searches per month, but when we look at the competition it’s quite high at 138 million, so would be difficult for a new site to gain traction quickly. Added to that, the term is very general , so a lot of people searching for that term would not be interested in simply kid’s party supplies – so even once ranked, the traffic it might produce would not convert well.

Knowing that the niche obviously garners traffic, we then need to find keywords more targeted to our website, but with good volume. The next step is to look at the specific niche keyword itself, “kid’s party supplies”. Right away the competition is halved, and it gets good volume at 1,300 searches per month. The volume is not as high as the shorter tail version, but it’s very targeted in that all the traffic would be looking for your product, hence would make a much better target. You can also look at specific product lines to see if there are opportunities for good keywords; for example, let’s say the proposed store stocks “Peppa Pig party supplies”: the competition is only 1 million and the search volume is higher at 1,900 searches per month.

Searching to determine the best keywords and phrases can be a long process, however a few hours spent working out good targets can save you months down the track in working towards your site ranking and being profitable.