SEO and Long Tail Keywords

When you visualize a standard X and Y axis graph, common keywords are grouped together in a HUGE group to the left while moving down to the right is a long line of less common keywords numbered in perhaps the trillions–it’s an ever-growing list. Given that 15 percent of search queries are long tail, this part of search engine optimization is important to understand.

On the left side, the group of popular keywords is known as Head Terms and the group of less popular terms on the right is known as the long tail.

Myths of Long Tail Keyword

Long tail keywords are not three and four keywords, contrary to popular thought. This is a common mistake made while speaking of keywords with long tail.

A lot of people define long tail keywords as words that consist of three, four or more words This is 100% incorrect.

How rare they are is described by long tail keywords. If you run a bookstore, for example, you’ll hear more requests from J for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. K. Rowling as one would have for Aleister Crowley’s The Book of Thoth.

All books have their followers but Harry Potter is analogous to a keyword phrase in the head term and Thoth’s Book is analogous to a keyword phrase in the long tail.

Long tail is about the relative rareness of their occurrence in Google as a search phrase. It’s not about how many words the keyword phrase includes.

History of the The Long Tail

The Long Tail started in an essay in Chris Anderson’s Wired magazine titled The Long Tail.

The article reflected on the notion of popularity and how supply and demand artificially curbed popularity. If the only songs you can listen to are the songs that the radio stations play then that restricted playlist will result in a popularity that is artificially created, what Anderson called:

“…the tyranny of lowest-common-denominator… Many of our assumptions about popular taste are actually artifacts of poor supply-and-demand matching—a market response to inefficient distribution.

…Hit-driven economics is a creation of an age without enough room to carry everything for everybody.”

His idea was to suggest that the Internet free us from the constraints of the physical world, the constraints of limited channel radio frequency bandwidth and limited bookstore space. The independence opens the door to a huge audience that will like relatively obscure authors ‘ books, and contributes to traffic from relatively rare and obscure search terms for our purposes.

What's so good about the Long Tail?

Long tail keywords can be difficult to optimize for, in general. Google says 15% of all search queries are new. The long tail is about new search queries. How does one optimize for a keyword that has never before been seen? You just don’t.

But for any given topic, one should not necessarily write off 15 per cent of all search queries. Those search queries can have money. So how do you optimize itself for long tail queries, particularly those you have never seen before?

In my view, the only way is to create content with these four qualities:

  1. Avoid ambiguity
  2. Be precise
  3. Avoid going off-topic
  4. Answer the question, meet the needs of the search query.

Which long tail are you going to chase?

Many long tail keywords are very competitive because it’s lucrative to success. Because of their scarcity these long tail keywords are therefore more valuable.

Of example, the supply of people genuinely trying to hire a lawyer with mesothelioma is relatively scarce. Which makes which phrase of the long tail keyword more important. That quality is reflected for that keyword phrase in the Pay per Click competition.

Natural and Unnatural Long Tail Keywords 

Historically several tools have shown a biased estimate of what the real demand for keywords is. Keyword apps have regularly shown the number of keywords that publishers are looking for and testing their rankings and the actual real people looking for answers.


In my experience the volumes of keywords identified directly from search engines were always unreliable. A certain percentage in my opinion and experience are publishers checking their search positions.

The above is an example of Google Trends which shows where keywords are common. I compared it to another, somewhat close keyword phrase. The view by state generally has a mixed distribution. This map shows a large percentage originating in Oregon.

The figure below shows the difference in keyword distribution for that keyword between the top five states. California, one of the largest states by population, as measured over a five-year period, has a third of the keyword amount as the much smaller state Oregon.


Yet according to figures gathered by, from 1999 to 2015, Oregon had around 700 deaths attributed to Mesothelioma compared to over 4,000 deaths in California over the same period.

Given those statistics, one would think Oregon would score a third of California’s search queries instead of the other way around. That seems to show how unreliable data from search queries can be due to competitive factors.

One way to tell whether it’s worth pursuing a long tail keyword phrase is through the PPC competition.

Informational search queries, where people are looking for information about something, have value. But unless you’re scaling hundreds of thousands or even millions of long tail search queries, it’s going to be hard to earn a living from long tail information queries from ad impressions.

Long Tail Keywords for SEO

  • Long tail search queries are profitable and are not profitable.
  • Long tail search queries consist of short phrases and long phrases.
  • Long tail search phrases can’t always be anticipated, as many have never existed before.
  • Long tail queries aren’t always three or more keywords.
  • Long tail keywords are sometimes two or fewer words in length.


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