Understanding keywords when it comes to search engine marketing and SEO is critical for the success of any search campaign. Choosing the right keywords can save you thousands of dollars in Google search ads, and drive thousands more visitors to your website every day.

When deciding which keywords to optimize on a page of your website, you will come across a mix of long tail and short tail keywords. If you are new to SEO and keyword research, you may be asking yourself what the difference is.

In this article, we will go over the difference between long tail keywords and short tail keywords, how to choose which keywords to optimize, and how to find keywords you should be optimizing.

short tail vs long tail graphic

What Are Short Tail Keywords

Short tail keywords are search terms or phrases that are only 1 or 2 words. The “tail” in short tail keywords refers to the length of the search term. Searching “SEO” on its own would be a short tail keyword, while “SEO company In Hamilton Ontario” would be a long tail keyword.

Generally, short-tail keywords are broad and can be expanded on further. Short tail keywords also tend to have higher search volumes because of their broad nature. Many small to medium-sized businesses try to target a select list of short tail keywords.

There is a direct correlation between search term length and search volume, with shorter search terms typically having a higher search volume.

When optimizing pages of your website, it is essential to know which short tail keywords to look out for and which long tail keywords you should optimize for. Remember that when you optimize for long tail keywords, you are likely to include short tail keywords within the phrase.

Long vs Short Tail Keywords - Chart

What Are Long Tail Keywords

Long tail keywords are search terms or phrases that are typically four or more words long and add details to a search query. Another feature of long tail keywords is that they are much less broad, and narrow a search down to a specific color, type, city, demographic, or descriptive product attribute.

An example of a long tail keyword would be “when to hire an SEO company to work on your website.” This phrase is longer than three words, branches off the short tail SEO keyword, and specifies the search intent to ask a question regarding hiring a company for website work.

Long tail keywords make up 80% of all Google searches, but due to the varied and specificness of each search, they tend to have much smaller search volumes compared to short tail keywords.

Long Tail Keywords Illustration

“Digital marketing” is a short tail keyword, while “best digital marketing company in Hamilton” is a long tail keyword. While the short tail keyword “digital marketing” has a much higher search volume, the long tail keyword  “best digital marketing company in Hamilton” is an example of what we would want to optimize for.

Although short tail keywords have a higher search volume, long tail keywords typically have less competition. It will be easier to achieve a high-ranking position in search results by optimizing for long tail keywords.

Another reason you want to optimize for long tail keywords over short tail keywords is that the added details in long tail keywords can help narrow your audience view. This allow you to focus your SEO and SEM efforts on a specific group of people at a much more lower cost. The higher competition around short tail keywords makes the average cost-per-click of long tail keywords much lower and allows smaller companies to compete with larger ones in search engine marketing campaigns.

Long Tail vs Short Tail Keywords comparison chart

How To Choose Which Keywords To Optimize For

Choosing between long tail keywords and short tail keywords shouldn’t be too much of a problem when you know how to find high search volume long tail keywords. It is important to remember that optimizing for long tail keywords will also help increase the ranking of the supported short tail keyword. You don’t need to worry about optimizing for short tail keywords; instead, focus on optimizing long tail keywords that contain the short tail keyword you desire.

This method will allow you to focus on a specific target audience looking for a specific keyword while still ranking for short-tail keywords. You can use tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs, or even your own Google Search Console analytics data to do your keyword research and understand which short tail and long tail keywords have a high search volume and low competition.

If you choose to use Google Search Console as your primary tool for conducting keyword research when optimizing your website, you can filter search terms to appear in the order of their search engine ranking position. If you come across a long tail keyword between the number 2 and 10 position with a good amount of impressions, choosing to optimize around that can lead to great results with relatively low effort. These are the low-hanging fruit of keyword optimization.

Optimizing for specific keywords is key to any successful SEO strategy. Short tail keywords are likely to help you build brand awareness and increase the overall traffic to your website, while long-tail keywords will drive more traffic that can be converted to leads and sales.

traffic & conversion rate by keyword length

While short-tail keywords provide you with a larger slice of the pie and can create significant opportunities for growth if you find a keyword that isn’t very competitive, it can be very costly to focus on short-tail keywords only. For this reason, we recommend finding a balance of short tail and long tail keywords while focusing the majority of your effort on long-tail keywords.

Depending on your domain authority, it may not be wise to try ranking for short tail keywords as they have more competition.

Using keywords in your ALT Text

When uploading images to your website, you should be using descriptive ALT text for every image. This helps search engines and users with visual impairments know exactly what the image is. This is also an opportunity for the use of long tail keywords in your ALT text. We’re not suggesting keyword stuffing, but you should ensure that you’re using images that compliment your written content.

Avoid Cannibalizing Your Own Keywords

When you are working on a large website that operates within a specific industry, there is bound to be some overlap in keywords that pages rank for. An SEO company may optimize their homepage for SEO and have another page dedicated to explaining their SEO services. In this case, deciding which page to optimize for SEO can be tricky. The same would apply in any other industry as well.

By optimizing one page for that keyword, you may be crippling the ranking position of your other pages for the same keyword. To combat this, you need to look at your analytics data and identify which page ranks higher and gets more clicks and impressions than the others for the same keyword. With this information, you can optimize the best-performing page of your website and adjust the keywords of the other pages accordingly. This can create some great internal linking opportunities by changing the keyword that is being optimized on lower-performing pages.

Takeaways: Using Long VS Short tail Keywords

At the end of the day, every business has different needs and budgets while operating in different industries. Larger businesses can afford to compete for higher search volume and short tail keywords, while smaller businesses should focus their search marketing efforts on long tail keywords to establish a place in the online market. If you want to learn more about SEO, keyword research, or digital marketing, check out the rest of our blog or contact us.

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