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What is a Long Tail Keyword? Keyword Identification for the New and Clueless

What is a keyword – or more specifically what is a long tail keyword phrase –  caused me endless confusion when I first began. I totally didn’t get it – that’s why products like Scribe SEO exist – to prey on beginner’s confusion. That’s unacceptable in my view – so here is the information that you need about keywords. Its here for free, you don’t have to sign up for any membership site or even a one off payment.

There are heaps of erudite SEO expert posts on keywords out there – this isn’t one of them. Instead this is an attempt to take it back down to basics – stick with me because I want to start to with a real world business example – and then we will move onto niche sites and blogs.

Keywords For a Service Business

I’m going to tell you how to do it for free. Lets assume you offer house washing services – purely because I am in the market for the same at the moment. Now I may search for “house washing” now this gives me a mixture of results including DIY articles on how to wash my house down and news results for house washing. But I am not interested in learning to wash my house down – I want someone to do it for me! The result is somewhere there in the 7 million pages returned by that first query – but its too hard to find. Instead I try again and type “house washing service” now I have the right sort of result – but they are in Michigan and Atlanta – its (now) obvious I want a local service – so I try “house washing service Wellington”.

So pretty much your keywords are all terms that should appear on your business card; what services you provide and the geographic locality that you service. Most businesses will have a number of keywords. House washing dude may end up with a list that looks like this:

  • house washing Wellington
  • house washing northern suburbs Wellington
  • water blasting Wellington
  • window washing Wellington
  • quick quote house washing Wellington
  • guaranteed house washing Wellington

So basically the keywords for a service business include each service you provide (house washing, water blasting), the location you services (Wellington, northern suburbs) and your unique selling points (guaranteed, quick quote). And all of these are in the language that your customers will use to find you – not the industry terms common among the experts!

Keywords for a Consultancy Business

One of the things I learned in my brief tenure over at Third Tribe Marketing was that an awful lot of people start with the thought that they are going to use the Internet as way to drum up services as a consultant. Common trades seem to include:

  • Social Media Consulting
  • WordPress Blogging Tips and Tricks
  • Marketing Strategies
  • freelance writing

This is a little trickier – basically because its harder to define a consultancy business – a plumber has regulations about not doing building or electrical work, possibly unfortunately, white collar consultants do not. From a business point of view you really, really should define your services very clearly. If you are planning on providing “web services” to the world and can’t define it any further – your problem is not keyword identification – its a business plan!

Next you should be aware that not all keywords are possible to rank for easily. Some have more competition than others. In broad terms the longer the phrase the more likely you will get to rank for it fairly easily and the more likely you will get a paying customer. For example which of  the following phrases typed into a search engine by a potential customer do you think may convert to an actual customer? Lets assume you are selling writing services

  • freelance writing
  • web freelance writer
  • freelance writer for hire
  • freelance writer for hire cost less than $500
  • freelance writer to write about home improvements

Now before some freelance writers jump on me and say some of those terms are not grammatically 100% – I say  that’s the point – people tend to type into Google as they think – they don’t edit for perfect grammatical structure.  Useful keywords are ones that reflect how people search – not the text book!

Now those last couple of phrases will show in the Google Adwords tool as having no searchers – that’s an approximation. The same tool tells me there is no searches for people looking for family home for sale in Khandallah but there is at least one – I have shown her the  house… At that’s the point I need exactly one person to buy the house, if you are freelance writer a client a week or even a month could be the start of a profitable career – you don’t  need a thousand new clients a month to launch a freelance writing career – so find very long tail keywords that relate to the services you can offer  and use them for post titles – it really is that simple.

So Which Longtail Keywords Should I Use on My Blog?

Many people start off in the general – this is my life or my work or my passion blog. These seem to particularly struggle with adding keywords to their posts – because its an after thought. Often they have bought into posting an excessive number of times a week – i.e. more than the once I manage around here.  They’ve been told they have to post all the time – guys YOU DO NOT! Some of my favourite bloggers post once every few months – but when they do post its a useful, worthwhile and generally long post – it usually then has another few thousand words added in the comments – if you are good enough people won’t forget you! I’m not that good – but I can go weeks without posting anything here  – and it rarely drops my subscriber count, doesn’t hugely effect my traffic, and makes little to no difference to the income I earn from this site.

Oh and you can ignore a site for months and suddenly start posting again to – I just did with a site of mine – posted for the first time in 4 months- indexed within 24 hours!

Why? Because most of the people who buy from me  come from search traffic – often they will stick around, clearly dazzled by my deathless prose, but I measure success by income not subscribers (blame it on my bank – they are more interested in dollars in my account not my feedburner stats!).

If you are trying to kick start a new blog – or an old one which has the classic 10 readers, one of which is your  mother – think about what you are offering your readers: if you aren’t offering them something then that could be part of the problem.  This is why focusing on a niche for a blog is easier – if you start writing about the joys of being a first-time step dad and then continue onto to home renovation – your original audience may fall by the wayside. Which is not to say that you can’t have several topics going at the same time – but starting with one and expanding it will be easier – not just to bring your audience with you but also for the search engines to rank your posts because they have already ranked you for related terms.

Which is not to say you can’t change topics and introduce new things.  For example when I started getting a significant number of readers here a lot of us knew each other from online forums – most of my readers knew more about keyword search than I did. But recently I seem to have acquired some new readers who may have missed some of these basics – so hence this post.  Some of my regulars will have dropped off by now – but they should be off doing some work anyways- those that are still awake may have learned something.

So What’s a Buying Keyword?

Canon SX20 IS SuperZoom Camera

I thought this was magic for a while too.  A buying keyword is also known as commercial intent. Sometimes we search to buy stuff – sometimes we don’t. Consider these search terms which I just made up:

When I typed in the query about fish recipes – I got the recipe for the kedgeree that I was looking for – there were ads on the page but Iwasn’t interested – recipes are great things to find online but don’t expect to start a recipe site and make money – you visitors want the recipe – you’ve answered the need – end of story. I site about cooking techniques would possibly do better

Passive income – its kinda in between – people are looking for information – they may want to do something with that information – they may become regular readers or subscribers (in the way the fish recipe person probably won’t) – but they don’t have a huge urge to act now.

The Canon SX20 IS is my latest oh so cool gadget – its a top-ranked megazoom camera with a 20X optical zoom and a 12MB maximum file size and does cool video too – I love it!  Now I bought it recently and I was aware of how to search online but basically I started with a search along the lines of “wide angle, 20x zoom, AA batteries” and came down to narrowing it down to this one and another I searched on the very specific model number to understand the pluses and minuses of that particular model. Its an expensive camera I wanted to be sure. I spent 5 minutes going to a local shop and holding it in my hand – I spent hours finding all the reviews for it. It should have been a buying keyword for someone – unfortunately I don’t live in the US and the cheapest place I could buy it doesn’t have an affiliate program –  and that’s one of the reason that usually US traffic will convert better (Amazon won’t ship the camera to New Zealand (or Australia) and that’s very common for electronics). Not all search traffic is equal – luckily you are unlikely to get serious numbers of visitors to your camera review site so don’t worry about it too much!

Generally as you get closer to spending money  the longer the keyword you type in  “Florida vacations” could be a school assignment on American domestic travel or a bored office worker dreaming at their desk, “family Florida vacations” – is someone getting a bit more serious about actually spending some money: “Florida Disney World Vacation hotels” – is getting better – but “Florida Disney World Vacation hotels coupons” could be a very good buying keyword indeed (it may or may not be – its not mine, its just my opinion, your mileage may vary etc etc).

Oh and engage brain about buying keywords before you use a tool – if someone is looking for a free WordPress theme – do you really want them on a blog you are trying to sell paid WordPress themes from?

So find specific keywords for your niche – sure start with the Adwords tool for brainstorming – but look at what is being pushed on TV and newspapers as well.

Optimizing Images

You’ll notice that cool camera pic is named for the  name and model and has a similar caption and alt-text. Google can’t “read” images – it reads the name of the image, the alt tag and the caption …

Double Indexing in Google and Retrofitting Keywords

Now this is a bit of confession – not every post here is written with a keyword in mind – in fact in the early days – none of them were. Even these days I will sometimes just post cause I want to share with my readers and can’t be arsed with the search traffic.

But there is a secret to old posts – and I don’t do this often enough – the edit key.  This is the trick to getting a double listing. Obviously ranking on the first page for a keyword is nice – but getting double listing is even better: one that looks like this:

The trick is this – each post has a link within the text of the post which links to the other one with the anchor text “third tribe review”. I usually work it something like . In the second post I will say that as a follow up to my recent post on (and I ad the link)  <long tail keyword phrase here> blah blah. Then I edit the first post and often at the end of the post I will add a sentence or so that that says – read my follow up of <long tail keyword phrase> here.

FAQs  About Keywords

Does capitalisation matter? It may to the grammar police – but not to the search engines – the key word lis sowerbutts is exactly the same as Lis Sowerbutts – how do I know – try the two searches and compare the results – you will find they are the same.

Is the plural version of a keyword the same as the singular? No its not – but they are very closely related. Rank yourself for “blue widget” then getting the ranking for “blue widgets” will be much easier.

Does punctuation matter? To EzineArticles definitely, Google – no. Whether you link to “blue widgets” or blue widget’s” or even “blue widgets’ ” its all the same to Google – they are all the same keyword phrase.  Same goes for punctuation – whether you link to: ” Products are available in red or blue. Widget and doodas are available ..” Or “blue widget” the keyword is the same keyword.

On Page SEO

That is the book as far as I am concerned about on-page SEO. The short version of how to write for your readers is something like:

  • write descriptive titles (headlines);
  • I link to relevant posts on the same topic in the text of the post;
  • use subheadings if it fits in – use your keyword in them if reads naturally;
  • include useful information in the post about the topic – this means I will naturally use terms related to my my main keyword;

If  I am writing for search engines I do:

  • all of the above
  • I try to include my keyword in the first 60 characters so its automatically in the post’s excerpt which is shown in the search engines;
  • more words is better than less – the reason that this post is so long is hat the main keyword is quite competitive – the more I write the more likely I am to hit some obscure phrase that someone may search on…
  • if I am using WordPress -add relevant tags to each post and make sure the blog is set up to index the tag pages
  • if the whole blog is about a specific keyword I include that in the title and sometimes the tagline

My point is that none of the stuff I do for the search engines to find my keywords – has any affect on my readers, if you are in a non-make money online, non-SEO niche they won’t even notice.

This really is all you need to know about what you should be writing on your site as far as long tail keyword research is concerned. If you want to seriously increase you traffic then spend a bit more time find long tail keywords you can easily rank for and less time pushing out more and more content which is unlikely to really engage your readers or show up in the search engine results.

Of course the on-page SEO stuff I have been talking about here is the 20% – the other 80% of your effort should all be about Back Links – but that’s another post and fortunately Allyn’s already written the definitive post about how to get backlinks check it out !