When the internet was in its infancy, searches tended to use the same language that you would to speak to a child. Search queries were rarely more than a word or two long and were kept general. So, if you wanted to insure your car, you might search for ‘insurance’ or ‘car insurance’.

Today searchers a much more savvy, search behaviour has evolved and so have the search engines. Single word queries are a thing of the past and searchers are increasingly using three, four or five-word queries. ‘Insurance’ has been replaced by ‘cheap car insurance’, ‘compare cheap car insurance’ and ‘compare cheap women’s car insurance’.

Search engine optimisers now have to decide whether to chase the ‘head’ of a search or the ‘tail’. The ‘head’ refers to the generic search terms that enjoy high-traffic, but are also highly competitive. The ‘tail’ refers to highly-targeted search terms that individually don’t get much traffic, but are much easier to rank for. So is it heads or tails?

The smart money is on tails. Of course, it would be great to rank for ‘car insurance’, but you need to be realistic and with such stiff competition; you are unlikely to get anywhere near page one. So it looks like you are stuck with the tail, but that isn’t a bad thing.

The tail is very, very long indeed; which explains why it’s called ‘the long tail’. Add up the total number of long tail searches and it’s more or less the same as the total number of head searches. So not only are you playing in a similar sized field, but it’s much easier to get good rankings. Suddenly the long tail is beginning to sound more interesting.

Long tail terms are by definition highly targeted, which means that searchers know what they are looking for. They’ve gone past the generic ‘information gathering’ stage and are already well into the buying cycle. What this mean is that long tail keywords have much higher conversion rates.

A searcher typing ‘dog food’ into Google could be looking for anything from ‘dog food recipes’ to ‘vegetarian dog food’; the point is that they aren’t yet ready to buy, but are happy window shopping. However, if you can get to the top spot every time someone searches for ‘organic dog food supplier’, you are much closer to getting their credit card details.

With significantly better rankings and significantly higher conversion rates, what’s not to love about the long tail?

Deciding ‘how’ and ‘where’ to use long tail keywords takes creativity. Some will work well as stand-alone pages while others can be incorporated into existing pages as secondary keywords. Then there are blog posts, forum threads and so on. In fact, you can even get pages ranking for niche terms by inbound anchor text alone, but sshhhhh! – don’t tell everybody.

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