Generating more website traffic is never an easy task.
You’re competing against what seems like an infinite number of sites for more exposure, more traffic, and –the mecca of SEO –a top listing on Google. And if you’re a small business you’re already in the hole because your main competition (big companies) have more people, resources, and a bigger budget then you.
The last thing you want to do is challenge the incumbents head-on at their own game. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them on — you just need to get creative with your efforts. And one way to get creative is to develop a long tail SEO strategy.
What is Long Tail SEO?
Long tail keywords are keywords or key phrases that are typically longer (strings of 3-4+ terms), more specific, and get less search traffic versus commonly searched for keywords. Something like “men’s size 13 big baller brand flip-flops” (long tail) vs. “mens flip flops” (common).
Long tail SEO, by extension, is the practice of identifying low traffic, highly targeted keywords and optimizing site for them.
Why is this important?
As I mentioned above, companies have tons or resources and very large budgets to spend on marketing in general, specifically PPC campaigns and SEO. In a lot of markets, ranking for common keywords (aka head terms) is incredibly hard to do.
But this doesn’t mean you are SOL. According to Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, demand exists for virtually any niche, although demand can be very small. Says Mr. Anderson,
When consumers are offered infinite choice, the true shape of demand is revealed. And it turns out to be less hit-centric than we thought. People gravitate towards niches because they satisfy narrow interests better, and in one aspect of our life or another we all have some narrow interest (whether we think of it that way or not).
This concept plays out in search engines because consumers ARE offered infinite choices via the interwebs. On the image above, just replace “popularity” with “search volume” and replace “products” with “keywords”.
Now let’s think about this in terms of the customer journey. The better educated and experienced a customer is, the more narrow their search will be for a solution to solve a specific problem.
Someone just beginning their weight loss journey might search for “weight loss workouts”. As they start working out and identify more specific goals that search might turn into “barbell weight loss workouts”. This might then turn into “HITT squat workouts” which could lead to “diets to improve HITT workouts” which may turn into “paleo diet for HITT workouts”.
weight loss workouts >> barbell weight loss workouts >> HITT squat workouts >> diets to improve HITT workouts >> paleo diet for HITT workouts
You get the picture.
If you’re willing to narrow your focus, the opportunity exists for your business to shine through.
Another huge benefit of long tail keyword SEO is that your site visitors will be much more targeted, and therefore more valuable because the chance of them converting is much higher.
A visit to your site for the keyword “exercise programs” probably won’t convert to a customer. A visit to your site for “crossfit program for weight loss” has a much higher chance of converting.
And though the traffic is going to be relatively small, it can add up fast. Let’s say you target 20 long-tail keywords, each averaging 10 searches per month. That’s 200 potential site visitors per month and 200 potential customers that you wouldn’t have had. Over the course of a year that’s 2400 potential customers.
Not to mention, once you put in the initial work your organic traffic goes on autopilot, generating additional leads long after you’ve done the ground work.
How To Develop Your Long Tail SEO Strategy
According to Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, there are two main ways to look at developing your long tail SEO strategy:
1. Niche and specific
2. Large-scale and untargeted
For each strategy, step 0 is to develop a content strategy. Fun fact: according to Hubspot, businesses that blog generate 126% more leads than businesses who don’t.
Content is the engine the drives SEO. Even if you miss on the long tail strategy, just consistently producing valuable content (key being valuable) will turn out to be crucial for your business. It’s also 100% impossible to develop a long tail SEO strategy if you aren’t producing content.
Take inventory of your time and resources. Your content creation and posting cadence is 100% up to you and what makes sense for your business. You could post once per day, week, month, quarterly, whatever. But understand you get out what you put in.
Long Tail SEO Strategy #1: Niche & Specific
This strategy is based on the idea that you want to target highly targeted keywords that are incredibly valuable to your business. In other words, keywords that probably aren’t getting a bunch of traffic but have a VERY high chance of converting to customers (or whatever you decide is your conversion goal).
The goal here is to find keywords that match the following criteria:
- Low volume
- Highly relevant and conversion likely
- Low competition
Step 1: Find relevant long-tail keywords
Assuming you have Google Analytics setup you can start by navigating to your Search Console, click Search Traffic > Search Analytics, and then select Clicks, Impressions, and Position. Scroll to the bottom, click Download, and then add these terms to a Google Sheet.
Other great places to look for potential keywords include: your PPC campaigns, Facebook page, Twitter account, Instagram account, and Youtube videos. Basically anywhere you can grab metrics of how people have found you, collect it and throw it into a Google Sheet so you have all your potential long tail keywords in one place.
Next, you’re going to search for long tail keywords you could potentially rank for.
Start by creating a list of seed words — aka general-ish search terms — you’ll use later to generate long tail keyword ideas. For this step, feel free to use Google’s Keyword Planner to help brainstorm. Come up with a good list, ~10-20 keywords, add them to a Google Sheet.
Step 2: Use a keyword tool to find low volume and low competition keywords
Once you have your seed keywords, you’re going to do 3 different things to generate potential long-tail keywords:
- Use a keyword research tool (other than Google Keyword Planner) to generate a list of potential long tail keywords. You can use something like Moz Keyword Explorer, WordStream, keywordtool.io, etc. For this step, DO NOT use Google Keyword Planner, as it steers away from long tail keywords.
- Plug them into Google and manually write down the auto complete suggestions. Take any new suggestions that are relevant and plug them back into Google and repeat the process. Head down this rabbit hole as far as you need to find relevant long tail search terms.
- Check out Google’s related search suggestions. Just like above, plug any new suggestions back into Google and head on down the long tail keyword rabbit hole.
By this point, you should have a pretty comprehensive list of long tail keywords. Now it’s time to whittle this list down to the most promising, relevant keywords. This list could be anywhere from 10 to a couple hundred of keywords.
A great suggestion by Aleh Barysevich, founder and CMO at Link-Assistant.com, is to further breakdown your list into two columns: “keywords” and “intent”. Here’s an example from Aleh:
This organizes the keywords into topics, which will make the next step of the process easier to tackle.
Step 3: Develop content and/or landing pages
Ok, so now you have your list of potential long tail keywords and they’ve been organized by intent. The next step is for you to determine what that intent means for your business. Is the searcher looking to buy immediately, or is the searcher looking to learn more about the topic?
Answering this question will help you decide whether to create specific landing pages for the products to try and convert to a sale, or create content to raise your brand awareness and domain authority, which can later convert to a sale.
If the obvious intent of the keyword is that the visitor wants to purchase right now, setup a landing page that makes it easy for them to purchase.
If the intent of the keyword is to learn or be educated, then create content (aka a blog post, video, infographic, etc) that will educate them.
A great example of using a long tail SEO strategy to educate visitors comes from content marketer Marcus Sheridan. Marcus owned a swimming pool company that was close to going out of business. In an effort to save his business, Marcus turned to content marketing and (maybe by accident) long tail SEO.
Marcus researched his audience, and determined there was a very specific question they were asking: how much does a fiberglass pool cost.
So Marcus wrote an in-depth blog post titled “How Much Does A Fiberglass Pool Cost?“. Obviously, this post focused on the long tail keyword “how much does a fiberglass pool cost”. According to a tweet by Marcus, this one blog post has led to over $2 million in sales (which, based on their price points, comes out to between 23-57 pools).
Long Tail SEO Strategy #2: Large-scale & Untargeted
This second long tail SEO strategy is wayy different from the first. The objective of this strategy is to generate a tons of content focused on the uniqueness of the content as well as the value to the searcher.
Instead of going hyper specific with search terms, the goal is to dominate the search terms of a specific niche.
In order to do this, you need a lot of scalability in your approach, from either user generated content, or a large enough team to churn out content on the regular. Think sites like Etsy, Quora, Reddit, G2Crowd, news sites, etc.
If you have the available resources to go this route, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Keep low-value/generic content pages out of Google’s index. This is extremely important with user generated content, as you won’t have 100% control over what gets submitted. There are two ways to approach this:
- Configure your system to only allow a page to be published after it meets specific criteria.
- Block any pages that look like they are of low-value or generic from indexing on Google. This can be done via robots.txt or meta robots tag. Reference the engagement metrics in your analytics to determine which pages to block.
- Do not fully automate the system. Some human curation will be necessary to keep the content quality and value at or above the level you’d like. Plus, if you automate the system there’s a bigger chance you’ll get slapped with Google’s Panda penalty because your site looks like a content farm.
- Make your user generated content system work in your favor.
- Drop helpful hints, suggestions, and tool tips that nudge users into giving more useful, descriptive content when they’re building it for you.
- Set up a required content minimum threshold that must be met before posting is allowed.
- Use spam software to catch any low quality, spammy content before it gets to your system. Think poison keywords, spam keywords, a bunch of links, etc.
- Encourage and reward high-quality contributors. If content is doing well, reward it by pushing it higher. Maybe give incentives to the contributors to consistently rank well. Whatever you decide, the more you encourage and reward high-quality contributors, the more you can make your UGC system work for you.
Developing A Long Tail SEO Strategy: Wrapping It Up
If you’ve made it this far, you should have a pretty solid understanding of long tail SEO. You also know why developing a long tail SEO strategy is important and where to begin to pull yours together.
Don’t sleep on how effective this strategy can be to drive traffic and generate leads!
A final thought: don’t forget to measure any strategy you implement, long tail SEO or otherwise. As the saying goes, “what gets measured gets managed”. In this case, what gets measured gets optimized.