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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 !

52 replies on “What is a Long Tail Keyword? Keyword Identification for the New and Clueless”

Hi Lissie,

This is why I chose not to write about blogging and making money any more … because it’s much easier to just link to you and Allyn … simple, to the point, and best of all, you’re not charging $97 a month 😉

The invoice is in the mail Todd 🙂 And remember there is always a fast action bonus for friends!

I too had some difficulties with the long tails in the beginning. All my long tail ideas were “buy blue widgets” and “cheap blue widgets”… I guess you learn as you really spend time analyzing the search words that your visitors found your site with. The problem is that for really tough and competetive keywords, you won’t get any long tail traffic for a long time unless you really target the long tails – so it might be a good idea to start a few low comp sites to experiment with.

For some keywords it works to type the keyword in to Google and see what kinds of long tails it gives you, but for others there aren’t long tails in the database. One thing to keep in mind is that the searchers don’t use the keyword tools to figure out which keywords they should use in their searches – there are probably millions of brand new searches done every day, and as the group of people using the internet and search engines is growing and changing – older people use internet, young people use internet – one keyword that brings 30 visitors a month today, can bring you a thousand a day in a year, or not.

Nice recap on this information, and I can’t stress the long posts enough! I just started doing some sniper sites where I try to get 1500-2000 word posts on the front page to catch some long tail traffic.

Phil you make a good point – you don’ really understand long tails until you see them in your statistics – and its quite amazing what some people will put into Google – I always get traffic to the is site by people who google – not type in the url actually google it 🙂

That’s a seriously useful post Lis. And at getting on for 3,000 words makes me think Grizz has a rival.

Keep it up, but not too often. You’re keeping me from working.

Hi Lis,

I changed my email from Yahoo to Gmail because Yahoo Mail had too much Javascript crap and stopped working. Anyway, good to see another informational post. While your negative review posts are valuable to prevent MMO newbies from getting conned, they don’t really offer much fodder for me to comment.

Regarding long tail keywords: For a long time, I used to think that it meant phrases with more words inside them because that is how it is usually taught in IM courses. While this is often a reasonable shortcut, from experience I eventually learned that sometimes a two-word phrase can be more long-tail than a three-word phrase. Why? Because fewer people search for the two-word phrase but more of them buy. In essence, that is what a long-tail keyword within a niche means.

The Google keyword tool is something many IM Gurus teach their students to use. But the important point is that it is based on Google’s Adwords/Adsense database and does not cover other search engines like Bing and Yahoo. If you are making Made For Adsense sites, you can probably use its data without much additional thought. But if you are doing affiliate sales, selling products or selling a service, you may also want to put some thought into which search engine most of your buying customers use.

While I can’t speak for Bing’s PPC engine, I have used Yahoo’s PPC in the past. At that time (about 2 years ago?), it had the ability to suggest search terms. If I remember correctly, you could also see the minimum cost per click, which is always a good proxy for how profitable a keyword is. Unfortunately, I don’t think you could see how many searches the keyword received unless your actually ran the PPC campaign and spent money.

Interesting comment Calvin – must say I have little experience with the other search engines – but your comments certainly make sense – thanks for adding them

I love this line cuz it sums it up so nicely… “So pretty much your keywords are all terms that should appear on your business card”

This isn’t that hard to figure out the keywords you need to be targeting in order to find the right customers. In any niche you could scout Wiki Answers or Forums to see what people are in need of and whether or not it is location specific.

You’d also be surprised by how many people search for generic terms on a local level. Never underestimate what people find comforting simple because they “found” it in their own backyard.

Thanks lis…didn’t realize I was in the consultation biz 😉

Anyway, this is probably the best article I have read on this subject and something that people have to come to grips with. Folks get all obsessed with root keywords like “make money online” because of potential traffic volume when in actuality it is the long tails that are easier to judge from a marketing perspective because they are more measurable according to the person’s needs….the more specific you can get, the better off you are.

It is primarily why review sites do so well. Most of the traffic comes from organic search from that particular keyword that is usually not that competitive.

I am pioneering a new approach to linking – its called ironical linking ™- it gives link love and a laugh at the same time 🙂

Simple and straight to the point post. Sometimes people overly complicate things, probably because they read one to many products from “gurus” but your post does a good job of spelling ouw what long tail keywords and buying keywords. If you can get your site to rank for 10 long tail keywords it can often times be much better for you than even trying to rank for one competitive keyword and much, much easier!

Another great post, Lis. I think one thing to also add is that people need to act. I spent months reading Grizz’s blog and reading other blogs, but there really is something to the experience of searching for and ranking for keywords and seeing what does and doesn’t work. When you think about it, it makes sense – who’s going to be a better pitcher, someone who just picked up a baseball for the first time, or someone who has already thrown 1,000 pitches? Who cares if 400 were bad pitches – that’s how you learn! Enjoy the post, as always. Cheers!

Nah they shouldn’t do anything they should just hang around my blog waiting for the next pearl of wisdom to drop 🙂 Shane – is right -go and do some work you lot!

Hello Lis,

Thanks for today’s post, especially the part about indented rankings. I’m now working on a niche site that’s on #14 for its main KW. Since it’s just 5 pages of content, I’ll double the amount of articles there, upload an article to EZA and see what happens.

And, speaking of building llinks, there’s an AMA review here that keeps showing up. You wrote a series of posts back in 2008.

Are you still using the network? How are your results today? Would you care to elaborate more on how you build links today, maybe even on a new post?

Thanks a lot!

Excellent stuff like always and a sweet little camera you got yourself 😉 May we expect now that this becomes also a video and photo blog? One question you have not really answered is from which point on you consider traffic as attractive? Obviously, when it comes to selling your house, you need only one buying customer, but what about, lets say, a niche travel web site. When do you consider it worthwhile pursuing, from which amount of daily / monthly searches on? In the end, the longer the keywords the easier they are to rank for but the less they make money (as a rule of thumb). Just food for more blog posts 😉 SY

If you are doing affiliate sales, selling products or selling a service, you may also want to put some thought into which search engine most of your buying customers use.

Hi Lis!

Thank-you for this post once again! If I am ever in New Zealand I am going to have to buy you a bottle of wine because of how much you and the famous few have taught me!

You are right with the long tail keywords – I just checked out my new niche site golden keywords with two others like this golden keywords + the two others (which is how I and most people I know look up information) and found my site listed as number 2 – very cool 🙂 Especially since I know that there are few that will actually look up that as a group and that as a group has some buying power. Not much but I don’t expect to make super sums of money on this site but I expect a few bucks anyways which I will deem as a huge success.

Thanks again Lis!

Very cool CorMom – definitly will take you up on the wine if you get all the way down under – we do quite good Sauvignon Blanc!

Hi Lis, don’t get too excited with this sudden flurry of social visiting (2 comments in 2 posts in a row – unheard of for me!) but its Sunday morning, I got woken up far too early by baby who has no respect for Sunday morning lie ins and I was in need of something to read while I was being dribbled on and thrown up over.

Nice take on keywords for thems that would otherwise throw their money down the toilet paying for it to hear it from the mouth of some self-styled “expert” without naming any names that have already been amply named and shamed. So I’m using this comment to shamelessly send a link to a KW that I already rank for but need to push higher up page one for some more traffic.

Anyway, I was going to leave a really long comment, but instead decided to make it a post on my own blog and give you a link – better for us both, I believe… here it comes…

Thanks – yup we seem to have quite a few words on this page already – just hope someone who needs to reads them all!

LOL Dirk don’t worry I am just trying to take on the great Allyn – but I fear I have no hope on the video side of things so I am going with LOOONG posts !


A whole post on keywords without mentioning the Keyword Academy! (where’s the tongue in cheek smiley when you need it!)
I so wish this post had been available when I first started out – it would have saved me a whole heap of confusion!

Have a great week


Gee Nic – you missed the honking big ad box at the bottom of the post – obviously I need to make it bigger or something!

Hey, as you point out on my site, I’m older than you and my vision’s fading, hair’s going grey…. and to be fair, the ad, which I didn’t miss, isn’t strictly speaking part of the content of the article, now is it? (Goes off muttering about young ladies needing respect for their elders)

Oh dear – thats the trouble with old Poms – you think us colonials owe you respect 🙂

So, could you write about keywords? 😛

What a great thorough post that was… and the hint was there to you putting into practice what you are learning elsewhere too 😉

I do get amazed by people when they say, well, how do I do this and why do I need to, the info is out there, just like this! 🙂

Then they don’t try it themselves, thinking there must be something else.

Nice post!

Wow Lis, that was EPIC! And very very well illustrated for the humans to understand! I love that!
I think you should rank this post for this phrase:
“clearly dazzled by my deathless prose”
That’s a money-making longtail keyword right? 🙂

Hands on my keyword Rob :-0 Yeah I used to make a living translating geeks (developers ) to humans (the users) – it had its moments but I must have learned something useful along the way

Nah I’ve been living with one for over12 years – but he dances – so that’s OK !

Yup – went to dance class to get away from geeks – all I met were geeks and accountants! Seriously – it makes sense if you think about it. Geeks don’t play team sports, geeks don’t meet girls. Ballroom dancing allows you to meet girls and is not a team sport – also it costs quite a lot so being having a geek paypacket helps a lot!

And hold the comments about the generalisations in the above paragraph – I know enough dancing geeks to stand by this one! LOL

This really is a brilliantly written piece – I’ve been marketing online since 1995 and this is some great material. I’ve also gotten double listings on Google using the tag option in WordPress – Google will list one of the tags as one of the double listings. Basically if per Google’s algorithm both listings (from the same domain) would appear as one of the 10 search results on the page Google will combine them as a double listing. As far as the buying keywords you masterfully discuss this may seem obvious but the phrase “purchase Canon Model xyz” or “buy Canon Model” etc would be great keyword phrases for people serious about buying. Side note: I just took a look at the stats for one of my sites and for the month besides the top phrases there were 2890 other phrases searched on representing 82.4% of all searches for the month. Effectively proving the points of this blog post.

Yup I often get the double listing on a low competition keyword with the tag page – even after a write the follow up post it takes a while for Google to replace the tag page with the second post! I know though if the tag pages shows up that I will rank to spots easily. (Incidentlally I will probably be able to rank with sites such as Hubpages and ezinearticles too).

Thanks Lis – Yes I have gotten double listings with hubpages – in addition another one I’ve noticed double listings on is and – interesting in looking at this for a low competition keyword phrase I had 3 sets of double listings on Google (first 6 positions) My domain plus hubpages and the 3rd was

I think I should make your blog (apart from griz’s) a compulsory read for my new recruits (And even veteran ones). Don’t know why it isn’t already on must-read list though.


Only recently came across your blog and this is the first post I’ve read. Seen it mentioned on Grizz a couple times but never had the time to check it out till now.

Sensational content that will definitely help a lot of people. Will be directing my employees to this post as it will explain a couple things I find difficult to. 🙂

Thanks for visitng Jason – I don’t always do helpful sometimes just controversial 🙂 But I got tired of pointing people all over the place for long tail keywords so I wrote it all done as a reference point


An exemplary post on keyword tails! Nice and long, well-articulated, and easy to understand… even for the seasoned marketing veteran.
I never consider myself to be unteachable, and this post proved me right once again.
Thank you m y friend


That is about as straightforward an explanation for long tail keywords as I have found – meaning that I think I have some understanding about them practically – not just what they are. Thanks

Great Post Lis.
Getting your keywords right is the most basic part of writing your web pages if you want to attract some search engine traffic.
It’s not nuclear physics, but IS time consuming to do properly.
That’s why it’s so expensive to get others do do it for you properly.

The google Exterbal tool certainly gives you a idea of the keywords that people are using to search, but it’s onlyhalf the story.
You also need to know how much competition there is for those terms.

Using keyword research tools (Micro Niche finder is my favourite) will quickly give you effective keywords that can get your site towards the first page of Google. It costs about a hundred dollars, but worth every cent IMHO. (Sorry, no link. Lis would probably ban me 🙂 Just google it.)
Eric G.

I really should get around to tialing micro niche finder – I’ve heard people I trust say good things about it. I am finding that the keyword academy approach is working just fine for me – but I’d like to compare the two at some point Guys if you want to trial it – head over to Eri’cs site and get him to give you an affiliate link 🙂

I’ll save them the shock of seeing my double header header 🙂
Affiliate link is
You’ll find 5 free videos that will give you a great education on Keywords. (you don’t even have to leave your email if you don’t want to)

Lis: Email me a keyword phrase you’re working on, and I’ll do a MNF analysis on it for you. Then you can compare it with the info you get from KA.
cheers, Eric G.

This is a truly thought-provoking post, at least for me. In all honesty, I thought I got the concept of the long tail, but my stats tell me otherwise. Perhaps my niche has too many competitors…perhaps I’m not thinking like a searcher…whatever the case I can’t get to the top of the SE for a particular long tail.

Patience, i suppose, is my answer.

Google can’t “read” images… They actually have face recognition now and I believe I read somewhere that they were able to read text on them. Don’t know for sure, but it seems to me like I saw this.

Awesome post. You did a great job with the long keywords… I heard the phrase before, but never knew what it meant. Thanks for clearing that up.

Hey Richard,

Google read the “alt” text behind the image, they also read the image file name, the alt text will show if the image doesn’t load. 😉

Hope that helps.

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