If you want your blog to work for you and bring in readers from Google search in the long term, then you need to learn a key aspect of search engine optimization: keywords. More specifically, you need to understand short-tail and long-tail keywords and the main differences between them so you can define a suitable keyword strategy for your blog. After all, the right keywords can make or break a blog!
What is a Keyword?
A keyword is any word or phrase that a person enters into Google or other search engines. A keyword and a keyphrase refer to the same thing and you will encounter both in this article. If you want your blog content to get discovered in search engines like Google by readers, you’ll want to optimize your content for a keyphrase.
But what keyphrases should you pick? Well, before that can be answered, you need to learn about short-tail keywords and long-tail keywords.
What is a Short-tail Keyword?
A short-tail keyword is a keyword that is vague in its meaning and as a result, is broad in its intent. They are typically 3 words or less and have a high search volume meaning a lot of people are searching the internet with those keywords; in turn, this also means that a lot more bloggers and niche site owners are targeting these keywords creating more competition in the search engines for those keywords for new bloggers.
Some examples of short-tail keyphrases are:
- “cat food”
Observe how each one of these keywords are broad in their meaning: “shoes” don’t tell us what types of shoes the user is looking for, “succulents” don’t tell us much other than perhaps the person is looking up succulents, and “cat food” doesn’t define a brand or if the user wants to see dry or canned food. These keywords also receive thousands of searches a month online:
Some of the biggest shoe, plant, and cat food companies in the world are aiming for these super-competitive keywords because they have big budgets and the results are worth it. New bloggers should not aim for such broad, short-tail keywords or their blogs will never see any success in the search engines (these keywords are super competitive to rank for in the top spots of Google; if you can’t rank for the top spots of a search term, your blog content won’t be seen by people looking for content like yours).
What is a Long-Tail Keyword?
A long-tail keyword is a keyword that is much more specific in its meaning or intent and is typically 4 words or more. Long-tail keywords aren’t searched as much as short-tail keywords resulting in a lower monthly search volume. Because of this, a lot of bloggers don’t aim for long-tail keywords and they go neglected more often, making them less competitive to rank for. There is a caveat here: a one-word keyword can be a long-tail keyword if it has a low volume of month searches (brand names are one example).
Some examples of long-tail keyphrases are:
- hiking shoes for women
- easy to grow indoor succulents
- wet food for senior cats
Observe that long-tail keyphrases don’t get nearly as many searches as short-tail keywords do but they are also less targeted and much easier to go after. New bloggers will see much more success targeting long-tail keywords on their blogs.
Short-Tail Keywords vs Long-Tail Keywords: Which Ones Are Better To Target?
Each type of keyword has its pros and cons.
Short-tail keywords are definitely harder to rank for. However, it is important to understand that it can take months or years to rank in the top spots for such keywords. You will need to understand how to craft content that is as good as your competitors, but not only that, you will need to improve on it and elevate your content game. In other words, your content needs to be better than what the top spots are showing. Your blog will also need to acquire backlinks.
With that said, if you are a new blogger, it is important to see results as fast as you can so you remain inspired and motivated to keep building and improving it. The easiest keywords to target for new bloggers are long-tail keywords which are MUCH easier to rank for (the less competitive, the better).
To bring the point home about short-tail vs long-tail keywords, let’s compare them side by side:
- “shoes” vs “hiking shoes for women”
- “succulents” vs “easy to grow indoor succulents”
- “cat food” vs “wet food for senior cats”
The keywords “shoes”, “succulents” and “cat food” are very vague or broad, meaning they lack specifics. The keywords “hiking shoes for women”, “easy to grow indoor succulents” and “wet food for senior cats” are much more specific: someone is looking for hiking shoes for women, another person is searching for succulents that are easy to grow indoors, and a cat owner is looking for wet food that is particularly for senior cats.
Now that you know what short-tail vs long-tail keywords are, let’s discover what the “tail” part of these terms means.
What Does the “Tail” Part Mean?
The answer to this lies in what is known as the “Search Demand Curve”.
The Search Demand Curve contains three essential parts: the first part is the top part which receives the most searches (shortest part of the tail) which is where the term “short-tail” keyphrase is derived from. The middle part is called the “chunky middle” and lastly, you have the very long tail which contains keyphrases that don’t get as many searches as the former; these are known as long-tail keyphrases.
Short-tail keywords get a lot more searches on a monthly basis; however, they are a lot more “competitive” to rank for. You need to have a site or blog that has an established brand and has been around for a few years to conquer these difficult keywords and receive traffic from them.
A new blog will have an extremely hard time ranking for short-tail keywords (in fact, it would be a miracle) and as a result, your blog won’t benefit from any readers from Google or other search engines who are looking for content like yours. As you can imagine, a lot of new bloggers give up when they don’t see the results they are seeking.
The Magic of Long-Tail Keyphrases
Let’s review why long-tail keyphrases are magic: long-tail keyphrases don’t get searched as much as short-tail keyphrases and hence, aren’t as highly targeted on other blogs and niche sites. They are much easier for a new blog to aim and rank, bringing in relevant visitors. Imagine targeting 75 long-tail keywords in 75 articles in the first year of your blog instead of aiming for short-tail keywords and pulling in hundreds or thousands of visitors with this underrated yet powerful strategy.
How to Find Short-tail and Long-Tail Keyphrases
There are a lot of keyword tools on the market and new bloggers can often feel overwhelmed with all that is available. Below are four options (free and paid) that you can use:
Keyword Surfer Browser Add-On
Keyword Surfer is a completely free keyword research tool. It’s actually a browser plugin that you can download and start using right away. Enter a keyword or keyphrase and it will generate a few suggestions that you can use to dive deeper into your keyword research for short or long-tail keywords. It also shows you the monthly search volume for each keyphrase and that can be hard to find in a free tool. This is a no-brainer free keyword research tool for bloggers.
Keywords Everywhere Browser Add-On
Similar to Keyword Surfer, Keywords Everywhere is a free browser add-on that you can download (for Chrome and Firefox) and use.
The free-add on shows you the following:
- Related keywords on Google & Bing
- People Also Search For keywords on Google
- Trend chart in Google & YouTube
…and more. However, unlike Keyword Surfer, it won’t show you the monthly search volume unless you pay.
AnswerThePublic is another free tool (it has a paid version as well) but is limited in how many searches you can conduct daily. It only generates super long-tail keyphrases and doesn’t provide how many searches they receive per month. It’s still a great tool to check out.
SEMRush is much more than a keyword research tool; it’s an SEO tool that can help you perform competitor analysis, keyword research, site audits, monitor keyword rankings, backlink audits and much more. If you don’t sign up to a plan and stick to the free option, you can do limited keyword research (up to 10 searches a day).
If you want to view more keyword research tools, you can find a few more here in this article.
Both types of keywords are important to target depending on where you are on your blogging journey. Now that you understand short-tail and long-tail keywords, you should do keyword research and revise your keyword strategy. Have questions? Comment below or come join fellow phoenixes in the Affiliate Phoenix Facebook Community.