Short Tail vs. Long Tail Keywords: Which Gives You More Bang for Your Buck?

In SEO speak, keywords more or less equate to the lifeblood of a finely tuned website. Being able to effectively use the right keywords can have a big impact on a site’s on-page SEO campaign. I recently came across an argument on which type of keywords – short tail or long tail keywords – are more effective in drawing traffic.

Before we continue though, let’s just give a quick definition to those two terms. Simply put, short tail keywords are phrases that consist of one to three words. On the other hand, anything beyond three is considered a long tail keyword. Now that we have that out of the way, perhaps we can take a look at some other qualities that these two keyword types have and how they effective are in terms of their respective SEO qualities:

  • Statistically speaking, long tail keywords have a higher conversion rate – Why is this so, you ask? Well, long tail keywords rely on a specific set of keywords that a search engine user enters for a particular purpose. Say, if a person keys in the phrase “cheap mountain climbing tours California”, then there’s a good chance that this person is looking for an affordable vacation promo in the mountains near California. While the number of results may not be as many compared to a short tail keyword entry, this user doesn’t really need to look through a lot search results to find a travel agency which can accommodate his or her specific needs.
  • Short tail keywords can generate more traffic for a site – Of course, this mostly applies to the top results in a given search engine query. Searching for short tail keywords will definitely generate more results, where the most relevant sites on the SERPs will always get more clicks. This can be a big advantage for the top rated sites as they can receive a steady flow of traffic from the search engines alone.
  • Competing for short tail keywords is more difficult and more expensive – Since getting top results on a search query is what most sites aim for, it’s naturally more difficult to compete for specific short tail keywords related to your industry. If you’re starting a company that wants to compete for the keywords “affordable Dell laptops”, don’t expect to find yourself in the first 10 SERPs of Google.
  • Long tail keywords can actually incorporate short tail keywords in them – Phrased in just the right manner, you can hit two birds by strategically including a couple of short tail keywords into the longer one. For instance, in the long tail keyword “affordable silver Nokia cellphone”, you can easily derive several short tail keywords from it such as “affordable cellphone”, “Nokia cellphone” and “silver Nokia cellphone”. Knowing the specific nature of long tail keywords, you can still rank relatively high on the SERPs as long as you’re able to integrate enough relevant short tail keywords in it.

As you can see, each type of keyword has its own pros and cons. In my opinion, I’d suggest focusing on long tail keywords if you’re just staring out in your particular niche. This should help you gain enough momentum as users end start pulling up your conversion rates through the specific keywords they search for on your site. Once you’ve more or less secured your position in your niche, you could then consider expanding and start aiming for more competitive keywords.

If you’re interested in doing a little legwork and experimentation, feel free to try looking for your own keywords through free keyword research tools like Google AdWords. Once you have your ideal keywords, try to insert them naturally into the content of your site without making them sound too mechanical or robotic. Remember, search engines aren’t the only ones who visit your site.

If you have any more questions about the magic of keyword research, just hit me up in the comments section below and I’ll be glad to give you some free advice on the subject.