Long Tail Versus Short Tail Keywords

Keywords can be split into two main groups, short tail keywords and long tail keywords, or broad keywords and narrow keywords. The term ‘long tail’ was coined by Chris Anderson and is used to describe the strategy of targeting less-competitive niche markets rather than the hugely competitive broad keywords. A long tail keyword is something like ‘Small Business Web Design’ while a short tail keyword is something like ‘Web Design’.

When you compare the two keywords, ‘Web Design’ has about 30 times as many competitors as ‘Small Business Web Design’ but ‘Web Design’ also gets far more searches each month. A small number of broad terms such as ‘Web Design’ and ‘Marketing’ account for a large proportion of searches but an equally large proportion of the searches are made up of millions of more specific search queries such as ‘Small Business Web Design’. This search distribution can be understood through the following graph.

Long Tail

A real life example

I speak about www.NarutoWallpaper.biz a lot and I will speak about it again in this article, each day NarutoWallpaper gets over 1000 visitors from search engines from roughly 200 unique keywords but the best keyword brings almost 50% of those visitors, following is a list of the top 12 keywords. Notice that the first keyword brings 45%, the second keyword brings 20% and the remaining 198 keywords account for the remaining 35% of the searches.

Keywords List

This distribution seems very similar to the graph I displayed earlier, the top few keywords account for a lot of the searches but there is many, many more specific searches which cumulatively total a significant figure. Let me display the keywords in graph form.

NarutoWallpaper Long Tail

You can see that the top two keywords bring in lots of traffic and the remaining keywords each bring minute amounts of traffic that cumulatively totals a significant amount, but separately are not significant.

Benefiting from the long tail

You may be wondering why anybody would want to target hundreds or thousands of keywords which bring only small traffic. Well the answer is simply that there is less competition so you can rank on the first page of Google for long tail keywords far easier than ranking for short tail keywords. Yes, they don’t bring a lot of traffic separately but if you target lots of long tail keywords you can get lots of easy traffic. Not everybody is capable of ranking highly for highly competitive keywords but anybody(!) can rank for long tail keywords.

Another benefit of long tail keywords is that the visitors convert amazingly well to sales and ad clicks. The visitors searching for long tail keywords know exactly what they want, be it ‘Small Business Web Design’ or ‘Half Price Armani Suits’, they know exactly what they want and hopefully you can provide it to them.

To put this into numbers, in general my websites might make $5 per 1000 impressions but from long tail visitors I can earn $100 per 1000 impressions, that’s 20 times the revenue if the traffic is equal. Although admittedly the traffic is not equal, my best keywords bring in more visitors than the long tail keywords combined, but the long tail keywords still bring in nice revenue.

On this website I have two pages providing free business resources: Free Business Card Templates and Sample Marketing Plan and Marketing Plan Template. Both are targeting long tail keywords such as ‘DJ Business Cards’ and ‘Massage Business Cards’. Those two pages make a lot of revenue per 1000 impressions but currently have low traffic. The keywords I am targeting are very specific and the visitors are getting what they came for so they convert well.


Whether you can achieve high rankings for competitive keywords or not, long tail keywords could be highly beneficial for you. If you have a website selling ‘Armani Suits’ but can’t pull any search engine traffic, rather than targeting the keyword ‘Armani’ or ‘Armani Suits’ try targeting more specific keywords such as ‘Armani Mens Suits’. Hopefully you will see an increase in conversions and sales.

69 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Iman // Oct 22, 2007 at 8:53 am

    I focus the long tail to generate targeted traffic and make some sales on the internet. I have successfully got some top spot at Google for the long tail.

  • 2 Long Tail Keywords // Oct 22, 2007 at 10:50 am

    [...] The post I was summarizing is here [...]

  • 3 Max Design - standards based web design, development and training » Some links for light reading (23/10/07) // Oct 23, 2007 at 6:43 am

    [...] Long Tail Versus Short Tail Keywords [...]

  • 4 Richard Morton // Oct 23, 2007 at 8:38 am

    My intuition tells me that it is probably worth targeting the ones in the middle of the tail more than at either end, because of the trade-off between number of searches and traffic.

  • 5 admin // Oct 23, 2007 at 8:15 pm

    Absolutely correct. The short tail words are very hard to rank for but give great traffic and average conversions. Long tail keywords are dead easy to rank for but give low traffic and good conversions. Keywords in between give respectable traffic, take some effort to achieve the rankings and have nice conversion rates.

    The keyword I was targeting for http://www.narutowallpaper.biz, ‘Naruto Wallpaper’ is probably in between since it’s easier to rank for than ‘Naruto’ but still difficult.

    If you have some SEO knowledge the middle keywords are generally best but if you don’t know SEO long tail can be better.

  • 6 Jermayn Parker // Oct 24, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    WOW good food for thought there. Never heard of the ‘short tail’ and ‘long tail’ before but it all makes sense. Thanks :D

  • 7 Nimal Rupasinha // Oct 25, 2007 at 10:34 pm

    In the company that I work for we have several domain names. Is there any reason why we should not produce duplicate sites with short, mid and long tail keywords to maximise our chances?

  • 8 admin // Oct 26, 2007 at 3:43 am

    It is better to use the one domain, for the obvious reason of duplicate content penalties but also because you only want to put the link-building work in once, not three times. If you make one authority domain it will rank for short, medium and long tail keywords so there is no reason to have a domain for long tail if you already rank for short tail.

  • 9 Alex // Oct 26, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    This may seem a rather simplistic question. But how do you specifically target long-tail keywords such as “naruto shippuuden wallpaper” is it as simple as trying to get people to link to your site with that as the link text or are there other techniques?

  • 10 admin // Oct 26, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    If the keyword doesn’t have much competition you don’t even need backlinks to that sub-page, you simply do your on-page optimization like changing the page title then get it indexed then it will start to rank.

  • 11 yudhistira // Nov 6, 2007 at 12:47 am

    Never heard short tail before (but i konw about long tail), i am naruto fan owner too.
    thanks …

  • 12 Tony // Dec 13, 2007 at 2:05 am

    Very interesting article. I think it is a good thing to have a diverse strategy to ensure you are not caught up with changes to the market or at the hands of say Google for instance.

    The comment or question I have is regarding back links. Genuine inbound links are not easy to come by and when you do manage it, is it best for the back link to point to the home page even if the back link in question may benefit a sub-page in terms of content?

    I ask this because I am not sure if it is best to concentrate links to a given page and give it good page ranking or spread it about which may not give any page much in terms of PageRank.

    Many Thanks

  • 13 admin // Dec 13, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    Having lots of quality backlinks to the homepage will help the sub-pages’ SERPs but so will backlinks to the sub-pages, so any backlink is good.

    When I manually build backlinks I build them to the homepage, since I want the traffic to go to the homapage. I still do it for SEO reasons but since backlinks to the homepage help the sub-pages this method is fine.

  • 14 The Affiliate Toolbox » Blog Archive » Understanding The Adwords Formula // Jan 17, 2008 at 2:08 am

    [...] with the Google Adwords Quality Score or Adwords QS system. Especially when considering very short tail keywords as discussed in my last post, it’s important to educate yourself on what Google actually considers [...]

  • 15 Berbero Saharan handicrafts // Apr 9, 2008 at 5:23 am

    I am learning a lot from you guys. I am changing all my keyword lists with the long tail keywords, it makes perfect sense. We cannot compete with those big and rich companies out there that pay thousands of dollars to get their websites found by millions a day.
    Hope that works.

    All berber Handmade

  • 16 North Georgia Web Development, SEO, and Real Estate Web Sites // Jul 27, 2008 at 9:40 pm

    [...] So that’s exatly what we have done…and we’ve gone from being on page….100? of Google for key terms to page 1..to often number one for many keywords.  This holds true for many other search keywords as well that are the odd keyword phrases that people tend to type into a search engine that are related to your site, but may now use the exact phrase for which you have optimized.  These terms are often referred to as long tail keywords. [...]

  • 17 New Tech Geek // Aug 20, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    This has to be one of the most well rounded and informative writeups on keywords yet. So nice to stumble onto a good article for once. Will have to keep this in mind next time somebody wants to know the difference between keyword concepts.

    Mich D the New Tech Geek

  • 18 Peter Answers // Sep 1, 2008 at 5:14 am

    This is the best explanation of the long tail I have seen. I have been focusing on the broad keywords – it’s time to start looking at the tail.

  • 19 igudo » Followers never lead - Doug Williams // Sep 3, 2008 at 10:46 am

    [...] your looking up up a steep slope. Leaders in search, to page views, to application adoption, to keywords are dominated by what Chris Anderson termed the long tail. The winners win big while the losers [...]

  • 20 Wichita neighborhoods and homes for sale // Sep 14, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    The charts spelled it out for me. I’ve been fighting my way toward the top with the same keywords over and over, while missing the other quality 50%.

    Thanks! I del.icio.us ‘ed your article.


  • 21 Local Keywords // Jan 7, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    [...] Local Keywords Better use the long tail keywords, the first one. Please read Long Tail Versus Short Tail Keywords for more info, not mine but great [...]

  • 22 Adrienne // Feb 4, 2009 at 6:56 am

    Great article. I’m very new to IM and found this article to be very informative. I have a very broad niche..wine and have to figure how to make $$ money from it. I don’t get much traffic so maybe long tail kw is the way for me to go. My Keywords are too general


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    [...] Been hearing the term ‘long tail keywords’ for umpteen times but always felt it was a pretty awkward term that’s not intuitive. found this article which so far is the best article I’ve seen that gives a very good explanation on the term while providing nice diagrams to illustrate the concept. Here’s the link: long tail vs short tail keywords [...]

  • 24 Some Interesting Findings « Vince Png.com // Feb 14, 2009 at 11:01 pm

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  • 33 Janak Prajapati // Nov 30, 2009 at 2:06 am

    Great Article. I tried to search for the concept of Long Tail keywords but not found any of the article as clear as this article. Thanks.

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  • 36 dman // Jan 27, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    These tips will save newbies alot of time and money. Instead of chasing after the hard-to-get short tail keywords, they can focus their limited budget on the easier pickings in the long tail. Good job.

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