HOW TO: Optimize for the Long Tail


You may know them as long-tailed keywords or keyword phrases. The term long-tailed keyword can be confusing; it gives the impression all the words are, in fact, keywords, and this is not true. Keyword phrase is a better name, but whichever you use seems to be widely acceptable. Some people can’t decide on either so throw them together into ‘long-tailed keyword phrase’. This one is really a misnomer: a phrase cannot actually be ‘long-tailed’. However, each to their own, and whatever they are called, the meaning is the same.

For anyone not familiar with either of these terms, a long-tailed keyword is simply a realistic search engine query, such as:

“Good seafood restaurant in Dubai”.

Looking at the above, it appears keyword phrase is more apt. You could get fancy like some SEO companies and name it a ‘qualitative keyword phrase with a geographical quantifier’. But that just sounds ridiculous.

What Do Google and Long-Tailed Keywords Have in Common?

Well, this is a good question and has an equally satisfying answer. How satisfying depends on your interest in the value of low-competition, targeted, search-defined keyword phrases. If none of these are of interest, you may want to find something else to read.

Keyword phrases are nothing new. They have been about for ages. Their popularity has dwindled (mostly due to misuse and over-glorification by purveyors of worthless get-rich-quick marketing products). The fact remains: if used correctly, a long-tailed keyword is a marvellous tool for smaller websites looking to attract targeted visitors in an overly competitive market.

We have yet to answer the question set in the sub-heading above: What do Google and long-tailed keyword have in common? To understand this properly, let’s check out some statistics straight from Google, itself:

  1. 1 in 5 Google searches are 100% unique. No-one has used this specific query before.
  2. 70% of searches have no exact keyword-match – Zero competition.
  3. 55% of all searched contain more than 3 words. Average search users use keyword phrases.

Let’s highlight the key factors from those statistics: More than 3 words/no exact keyword-match/100% unique.

What does this information mean for the average website owner/online marketer?

Firstly, they should be surprised, then intrigued, and finally very interested.  If you are a website owner or online marketer, your brain should already be working on methods for leveraging all this to your advantage. If you have not grasped the significance yet, here’s another way to look at this:

  • You don’t need to be using keyword anchor text in links you have no chance of ranking for.
  • Adding one or two word keywords in website content is pointless. Google employs very intelligent people who do nothing but work out how to write clever algorithms to look out for keyword-dropping. These brainiacs do this – and only this – full-time.
  • Writing in a natural style, about a given topic, will automatically generate the keyword phrases which average search users query for every day.
  • No-one truly knows what these search terms will be, but anyone has as good a chance as the next person at figuring it out. Just imagine what you would enter into a search engine to find your product.
  • There is absolutely no need to waste money on pointless products promising to teach you how to rank in Google. Everyone who can think and write has equal chance of adopting the correct keywords into site content. Simply write with reader satisfaction in mind, and remember, the average search user is not familiar with keywords and is more likely to search for diet help using this phrase:

“How can I lose a stone in a month?”

Than using keywords like:

“Lose weight fast”

How-to Make the Most from Keyword Phrases

Reading this far, you may think keyword research is dead. Not true. Done correctly, and with the correct purpose, keyword selection is still important.

You still need to consider the specific keywords for the market you are in. These keywords will be used in search queries. The way to think about keywords has changed, not the need for choosing keywords. Nowadays, consider the context which keyword(s) you have chosen are to be used. Think how they will be incorporated into a search phrase and what nouns and verbs could surround the keywords. You now have a useful long-tailed keyword.

OK, Google may ignore common verbs such as and, it, is, an etc. But this is not true as far as phrase matches go. If you have an article titled, “How to catch a monster pike”, on your website and Joe Searcher enters this same phrase into Google…guess whose website will show in the search results with the article title highlighted in bold?

Think Natural for Real Results

The moral of the story is not to forget about primary or secondary keyword selection. These are still important in establishing site content. The thing to consider is: these keywords will fall naturally into place when you continue to write about your chosen subject.

Allowing this to occur naturally within the flow of your writing – rather than specifically entering a keyword(s) x-amount of times in the first paragraph, y-amount in the body, and z-amount in the final section – produces natural and fluid results. Content, which flows without constraint from forced keyword placement, will always outperform manufactured robotic content. Both Google and visitors prefer natural style and flow.

One final tip: Don’t be surprised when free writing produces long-tailed keyword phrases without any effort on your part. These phrases are more likely to be the actual ones the average user searches for. Great minds think alike, when allowed to do so, unhindered by restrictive thoughts of keyword specifics.

Incorporate these freely formed keyword phrases into on-site anchors and use them as anchor text in external links. Be prepared to be astonished at the results.

About Omar Kattan
Omar is MD & Chief Strategy Officer at Sandstorm Digital. His experience includes 10 years in traditional marketing and advertising in the Middle East and a further 10 years at two of the largest media agencies in the UK. Follow Omar on Twitter for updates on the latest in digital, branding, advertising and marketing.


  1. […] For example, if you sell furniture, you should be answering question such as “How do I seal wooden furniture” and even providing tips for furniture arrangement.  Your keyword research should identify niches and topics for you.  It is also worth reading our guide for optimizing for the long tail. […]

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