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Blogs by Madeleine Helme

Madeleine Helme

| 3 min read

Keywords: What is the difference between long tail and short tail?

By Madeleine Helme

There can be a lot of jargon to get your head around when it comes to SEO. So, we thought we’d help to crack some of it for you, starting with keywords. You may have heard the terms “long tail” and “short tail” keywords, but what is the difference?

What are short tail keywords?

As the name suggests, short tail keywords are short phrases or even single words that are used as search phrases. They are also referred to as “head terms”. If you’re targeting head terms for your on-page SEO, then you’ll be looking for general, unspecific words that relate to your business, products, or services. An online clothing retailer may target words and phrases like “dresses” or “maternity dresses,” for example.

A short tail keyword will have higher search volumes than a long tail keyword. This means they have the potential to bring larger amounts of search traffic to your website. However, being more general also means they will have greater competition than long tail keywords. This makes them much harder to rank for and more expensive to bid on.

What are long tail keywords?

Long tail keywords are longer, more detailed search phrases, or even complete sentences or questions. Rather than searching for “London electrician”, someone might type in “who are the best electricians in London”.

Although fewer people will be using these exact search terms, they are often much more qualified. Someone who searches for “dresses” is generally interested, looking to browse, and unlikely to buy. A searcher who types in “size 10 red bridesmaid dress”, on the other hand, knows exactly what they want and are more likely to make a purchase when they find it. So, you benefit from a higher conversion rate for each keyword, making it more cost-effective to bid on them.

Another benefit of long tail keywords having lower search volumes is that you’ll have fewer competitors to bid against. This means that long tail keywords are lower cost than head terms and that they are easier to rank for due to their lower competition.

Spectrum of short to long keywords
Spectrum of short to long keywords

Which should you use for SEO?

When it comes to long tail vs short tail keywords, there’s no simple answer to which one is better. Short tail is usually better for driving high levels of traffic to your website. Long tail, on the other hand, is better if you want visitors to convert.

Which one you place priority on should depend on the current goals of your business and marketing strategy. If you’re in the early stages of your business and simply want to get the word out there, then an emphasis on short tail keywords may be most useful. If your priority is increasing sales, then long tail will be more effective.

The best strategy is to target a combination of both short and long tail keywords. This way, you get the benefit of increased search traffic and brand awareness from short tail, plus more qualified website visitors from long tail.

There’s no easy answer to how to perfect your SEO strategy. But understanding the differences listed on this page should help you get to grips with targeting the right keywords. If you have any more questions on this topic or need support with your SEO strategy, feel free to get in touch with us.