Blog: SEO
Long tial keywords vs short head keywords graph

Difference Between Long Tail and Short Tail Keywords

John Koinange

John Koinange is a digital marketing associate and regular contributor for the Lockedown SEO blog. His work has appeared in numerous online publications.

Keywords are the building blocks and lifeblood of website content and search engines.

Targeting the most appropriate keywords serves two key roles; content marketing and SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

Short tail keywords are much more general search queries, usually of one or two words.

Long tail keywords are more search specific queries, and tend use more words, usually more than three, to bring out more specific, relevant results.

Definition of Short Tail Keywords

Short tail keywords are best suited to providing general information. Unsurprisingly, they are also known as head terms. Typing terms such as “marketing“, “laptops” or “SEO” makes it harder for search engines to determine the specific search intent. Such terms are simply generic. Without serving a specific knowledge category, short tail keywords bring out high search volumes. Look at the following example. Searching the keyword phrase “laptops” elicits an enormous amount of search results.

Search results for laptops

Due to the vague generality of the search query, search engines cannot identify and meet every search intent. Importantly, some of the search results from short tail keywords are likely irrelevant, which leads to low conversion rates.

Note: In many cases, Google will show a mix of results on the first page of results for a short tail keyword. For example: if there are ten results on page one, six may be informational (articles), two might be service providers, two may be transactional (e-commerce or other).

Content creation requires using keywords throughout in order the search engines can recognize and categorize what you’re communicating.

What Are Long Tail Keywords?

Long tail keywords are more specific, longer keyword phrases that target users at different stages of the search process. A characteristic of long tail keywords is they are more descriptive phrases, and use longer phrases with more specificity. The long tail keywords meet the user intent by appealing to relevance, hence increasing the conversion rate. See the following example.

Search results for affordable laptops

Compared to the earlier short tail keyword “laptops”, using the long tail keywords leads as shown above leads to fewer search results and improved relevance to the addressing the search intent.

Examples of Long Tail Keywords

Long tail keywords do not necessarily contain the “head” keyword, and do not need to be a specific length. That said, the majority of long tail keywords are 3 to 7 words in length. Here are some ideas for long tail search phrases based on our previous examples.

Head keyword (Short tail) Long tail keywords
Laptops Affordable laptops for students
Laptops for gaming
Best laptops for web design
Marketing Create a marketing plan
Hire a marketing consultant
Online marketing strategies
SEO What is SEO?
How does Google determine rankings?
How to hire a SEO company
Shoes Best shoes for running
Buy shoes free delivery
Most comfortable sneakers for 2023

Long and Short of Keywords

Do you want to drive more visitors to your site? Or drive organic traffic with huge probability to buy or invest in your digital business? Answering these questions determine whether one should use short tail or long tail keywords. The explanation is simple.

Competition and Search Volume

The shorter the keyword, the higher the search volume.

If you rank for short tail keywords, you will get a high volume of organic search traffic. The competition for short tail keywords with a high search volume is extremely competitive. The keywords with the highest volume are usually short tail keywords, so as a result they are the keywords most Marketing Directors want to try to rank for first.

Additionally, most short tail keywords have a broad array of results, and thus conversion rates from organic search tend to be low. Using Google Adwords to get leads can cost an arm and a leg for short tail keywords.

Inversely, the longer the keyword phrase, the lower the search volume. This means many content marketers aren’t paying attention to these keyword phrases.

Long tail keywords are almost always highly targeted. Because long tail keywords meet a specific user intent, you can create content for visitors at every stage of the marketing funnel. Tailoring your long tail keywords to a user’s intended goal increases the chances of eventual conversion. With reduced competition, long tail keywords offer a better chance of return on investment (ROI).

Graph showing difference between long tail and short head keywords

Long tail keywords offer higher conversion rates, lower competition, and lower cost to reach customers (per keyword). Although the search volume reported by various SEO tools tends to be lower, long tail keywords phrases are usually easier to rank at the top of search results.

It’s a daunting task to consistently rank short tail keywords. Ultimately, the goal for most web businesses is to get discovered and converting the click-through rate into paying customers!

However, both short tail and long tail keywords are important for a comprehensive SEO strategy.

Updating your content to match the implied user intent tends to push the ranking of a page up the SERPs. Providing relevant information to the visitors on popular search queries helps drive traffic to the site. Blogs and videos are some common methods to further improve user experience and integrate informational keywords. Google Keyword Planner, or paid tools like KWFinder or Ahrefs Keywords Explorer are a great starting point.

The long and short of keywords lies in determining the desired traffic, and the pros and cons of each approach.

Need More Help With Keyword Research?

If your company needs help with keyword research, content strategy, or overall SEO help, reach out to our team via our contact form today.

John Koinange

John Koinange is a digital marketing associate and regular contributor for the Lockedown SEO blog. His work has appeared in numerous online publications.

Join the Conversation

Your email address will be kept private. Required fields marked *.