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SEO Website Audit

Using Keyword Research to Find Long-Tail Keyword Phrases

June 27, 2012

Long Tail! (Image Credit: Rega Photography)In my article "Getting Ahead in Google," I mentioned finding and using less competitive keyword phrases that still bring targeted traffic as an SEO strategy. Well, one of my Twitter followers asked me what they were supposed to do if there weren't any long-tail keywords for their niche. He told me that his site focuses on video game reviews and the only related keywords were highly competitive because they were all variations of "game review."

That didn't make much sense to me because every site or topic must have long-tail keyword phrases that could bring it traffic.

Long-tail Keywords Defined

Before I go any further, let's review. Many people mistakenly believe that long-tail keywords must contain 3 or more words. That is sometimes true, but many 3-word phrases are not long-tail while some 2- or even 1-word keywords are. That's because long-tail keywords are really words or phrases that are rarely searched upon. The idea is that, in aggregate, they could make up a significant portion of your website traffic. The reason every site must have long-tail keywords is that they're just words you're naturally using on your pages that just may happen to be searched by someone.

Unlimited Long-tail Keywords for Content Sites

In terms of the video game review guy, as I said, he writes reviews of video games. That's pure content. A site like that is a perfect natural long-tail keyword generator by its very nature. And I bet if he looked carefully at his Google Analytics, he'd find hundreds of phrases already bringing him traffic. But you can often get even more traffic if you can figure out more variations of words that people interested in your site might be using at Google.

To explain this to him, I hopped over to Google's keyword research tool and put in a few character names from some Nintendo games that I remembered from when my kids used to play them (Mario, Peach, Luigi, Toad). Then I sorted them in reverse order of number of global monthly searches. That way I would see only long-tail words because they were those that were searched at some point, but hardly ever. (As with all your organic keyword research, be sure to change "Broad Match" to "Exact Match" whenever you perform it.)

What I found were hundreds of phrases that used these character names like: "Mario saving Peach," "Peach from Super Mario," "Princess from Mario Bros," "Super Mario World Peach," etc. These are all the types of phrases you might naturally use when you write about the Nintendo games that contain these characters.

Dig Deeper for eCommerce Sites

Granted, it's a lot easier to find zillions of long-tail keywords for a content site than one that sells something like specialized file cabinets. But that doesn't mean it can't be done in a similar manner. The trick is that you try some different, somewhat obscure words, and then sort the results in various ways. Be aware that the default is for the tool to sort by relevance, but for long-tail purposes you typically want to sort for the *least* number of Global Monthly Searches along with the least competition.

For example, to start, I put something random like "blue print filing cabinet systems" into the tool (again, always with Exact Match) and got this:

Keyword Research Screen Shot

This is the type of keyword research that's helpful for your actual product pages, but it's not what we're looking for in terms of long-tail research or trying to figure out what you might write about in a blog post. However, if you sort it by Global Monthly Searches (in reverse) you see a different story:

Keyword Research Screen Shot 2

Still, these aren't necessarily long-tail keywords because many of them are showing *high competition*. If lots of people are bidding on the keywords in AdWords (which is what the high competition would mean), they're probably competitive organically as well. But if we then sort by competition (from low to high) we may be able to find some low-competition keywords with few searches overall. (Note: You may see a bunch of returns that don't say what the competition is and instead show a dash (–). That's not unusual with low-volume keywords, and it may mean that there's not much competition. Use your own judgment when deciding, however.)

This last stage is where you have to carefully look through all the keywords to choose ones that might make sense for writing marketable content that applies to what you offer on your website:

Keyword Research Screen Shot 3

I found phrases such as "system of filing," "organize your files," "draw storage systems," "what is lateral filing," "efficient filing," "how to set up filing system," "proper filing system," "efficient filing system," and a few others.

Sounds like good blog post fodder to me!

While it's true that eventually you're going to run out of interesting things to write about filing systems, you can then put some other phrases that relate to your products into the keyword research tool and start the process all over again.

Putting All the Pieces Together

I advise that you do the following:
  • Put this keyword research method together with mining your own analytics for questions that people are already asking to find you  (as I mentioned in the last article), and
  • Use my "67 Blog Ideas" post for inspiration on what to write about that relates to the long-tail terms.
Now you should be able to start putting together a content marketing strategy and an editorial calendar that can last for quite some time!


Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings,Jill Whalen an SEO Company in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen

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Post Comment

 Justin said:
Hi Jill

There are loads of lovely ideas there on ways of finding long-tail keywords.

You mention Google's Keywords tool, which is a great source of data. But, could I also recommend Wordtracker's free keywords tool. It's a much better source if you're looking for long-tail terms. Google tends to show mainly head terms, not the long tail. Wordtracker shows up to 2.000 keywords per search, so you see more of the long tail. You can use the free version of Wordtracker here:

Separately, you might want to check out Wordtracker's Keyword Questions tool. Again, it's free, and can be a great source of ideas for your blog posts. It tells you the questions that people are asking in your industry. So, you'll get phrases like "how to create a filing system" and "how to setup an effective computer filing system" These are terms that Google might not generate, which means you'll be one step ahead of people who are only using Google's tool. You can find Keyword Questions at:

I hope that's useful.

Kind regards

CEO, Wordtracker
 Clyde said:
Dear Jill,

I'm a novice, but I believe that I understand your strategy above, and it seems totally logical to me. My question concerns the statement "The idea is that, in aggregate, they could make up a significant portion of your website traffic."

If I am optimizing a single Section Page (for product sales) with long-tailed keywords, how many terms can I optimize on/for that section page? If the answer is "one or two or three," I wonder if this will drive enough traffic. If not, would it make sense to optimize for a different but relevant long-tailed term per sub-section product page in order to drive more traffic from many long-tailed terms?

Your faithful reader,
 Jill Whalen said:
@Clyde, you don't optimize product section pages with long-tail keywords, imo. Long-tail is for blog posts and articles and the like.

You optimize your product categories for the more competitive keywords (or what I refer to as "keyword gems"). They should be keywords that get a decent number of searches.
 Clyde said:
Thank you Jill. After reading your snippet directly above, I went to back issues to really understand keyword gems. Got it. Now I'll use this knowledge big time and see what happens. Thanks again. BTW, your approach to the topic of SEO is straight-forward and direct - no bull - teaching at its best.
 Margus Internetiturundus said:
Hi Jill,
Whenever a customer uses a highly specific search phrase, they tend to be much closer to the “ready to buy” phase and are actually are looking to purchase something. In most cases, studies have shown that the less specific and shorter a keyword search is, the more likely a person is in the research phase, and not ready to make a buying decision. An example of this concept, if someone searches “Ipod” compared to “Ipods for sale” or “Ipods for sale in Ashland”.
 Jill Whalen said:
@margus, I agree, but I'm not sure what that has to do with this particular article.
 Margus Internetiturundus said:
thank you Jill.

The concept of long tail is fairly simple: Try to tap into the large amounts of search traffic using longer keyword phrases. Like regular one or two word short tail keywords, using long tail keywords in your titles and throughout your content can define what a web page is about and what the website wants to come up for in search engines and on SERP. Ok. Let’s get into method of actually we doing it.

Step 1. Start at Ubersuggest.

It’s a free web-based tool that lets you export lists of Google Suggest phrases based on a keyword you enter.

Step 2. Here’s where the fun starts. We are going to take all hundred keywords from the previous step and look for even more Google Suggest results using ScrapeBox.

While UberSuggest lets you scrape the results for one keyword, ScrapeBox lets you scrape the results for HUNDREDS OF KEYWORD AT A TIME. Once ScrapeBox is open, drop that list of keywords from Step 1 into ScrapeBox’s Keyword Scraper Tool. Select your scrape sources and search engines. There are a number of options here, and your choices will depend on the type of site you are doing keyword research for. Click “Scrape” and kick back as ScrapeBox does its thing. This can take a few minutes depending on the number of scrape sources you picked, the number of keywords in your main list, and the speed of your proxies.

What do I do with ALL THESE KEYWORDS?

So now you have 100’s of keywords. Are they all useful? Of course not. But with a few minutes of work in Excel, you can turn this unmanageable mass of keywords to a TARGETED LIST THAT YOU CAN ACTUALLY USE.

If I’m using the list for PPC keyword ideas, I rely on Excel’s Conditional Formatting and Sort & Filter functions to hone in on the keywords I’m interested. Let’s say I’m running an Adwords campaign offering prepaid credit cards from a major credit card provider. The client is sensitive about their brand image – they don’t want to appear to be marketing to minors. With Excel, I can use the “Text That Contains” Formatting option to highlight uses of keywords like “teen,” “kid” and “child.” This highlights all keyword phrases that contain my specified text. But the highlighted keywords are still mixed in the regular keywords, so I’d then filter the list using the “Sort by Color” option. The “Sort by Color” option brings all the highlighted keywords to the top of the list so I can review them all at once. The Google Suggest scrape method is great for finding new negative match keywords you didn’t consider. In this case I found people were using phrases I hadn’t considered, like “under 13,” which I immediately add to my negative match list in Adwords.

Now you can sort all your content idea keywords by search volume, which will show you where you’re best off investing your content-creation time. The Excel extension is free; all you pay for is the API costs to Google, which are negligible.
 KCarreon said:
Great article, Jill. I love your advice. It's common sense and solid. I've been using this method for clients for quite some time and rather than trying to compete for the high competition gem keywords, I find the long-tails and write articles wrapped around those.

What it results in is thousands and thousands of searches to the site through the LT. For example, one client's GoAn that I am looking at right now had 9,476 searches for a 30 day period from varied LT.

I can then focus my efforts on the gem keywords on the product pages to raise the spot in SERPs by adding new content to that article monthly to make it stronger, fresher, and more relevant without having to write more pages about the same thing, only said differently.
 Neville Mundy said:
Jill- in 2 minutes, you've demystified what I've been trying to get my head round in a long time. Thanks for your clarity and sharing this information! Neville.
 Good Read said:
My question is this - let's say one long tail resulting in 100 searches gets you 42 clicks ( I believe 42% is the best bet for Rank 1). To get 10,000 visitors do you have to have about 2500 long tails?
Is that the way this is done?
 Jill Whalen said:
Depending on the timeframe you're talking about, 1 longtail keyword phrase would not have 100 searches. If it did, then by the very definition of longtail, it wouldn't be a longtail keyword. Longtail keywords would have only like 1 search a month or even a year. So you may need 20,000 different phrases to get 10,000 visitors.
 Good Read said:
Thanks Jill.
How does one write with 20,000 different phrases? It will not be one article surely; will it be like at a least a 1000 articles/posts? Or more?
 Jill Whalen said:
You post an article every day (or every week, or how ever often you can). Every article has the ability to show for an unlimited number of longtail phrases due to the various words that make it up.
 Good Read said:
Do I understand you incorrectly? If the words of the long tail are anywhere in the article, that serves the purpose. But that doesn't look right.

Or is it like this - from your example "filing cabinets" we must sprinkle the long tails "what is a filing system", "how to organize a filing system" and the others at different places in the article.
 Jill Whalen said:
You just write articles like, "How to organize your files" etc. You don't "sprinkle" keywords. You just write lots of articles on the topics that your target audience is interested in.
 Good Read said:
Yes, that's the important thing...give what the target audience is looking for.
Thanks Jill.
And how useful are tag clouds with the keywords?
 Charles said:
So the definition of longtail is low search volume? I thought the idea would be that more people searching for long keyoword search terms is better than less people! why am I confused?
 Jill Whalen said:
@Charles, yes it's low search volume. I don't know why you're confused. Perhaps you read some wrong information somewhere else?
 Stacey Shimabukuro-Lui said:
Thanks, Jill. Your article really clarifies my idea of long tail keywords. Appreciate it!
 Bijuterias no atacado said:
Hi Jill, just been looking at this very scenario, and found your article a useful support guide. Thanks !