The following was previously a series of blog posts. We're repurposing the series in a single document here to make the piece easier to link at and reference; additionally our readership is much larger than it was when we first started the blog, and we thought the new readers might find the content valuable. The original posts can be found here:
The Long Tail SEO Keyword Guide Posts:
- Part One: Heads or Tails? - How to Profit From Long Tail Keywords that Don’t Exist
- Part Two: Informing the Tail - Mid-Level & Long Tail Information Architecture
- Part Three: Building Links & Creating Content for Mid-Tail & Longtail Phrases
By strategically targeting keywords of varying keyword competition levels you will see more and better qualified streams of traffic.
At a high level, search keywords will fit into three core traffic profiles:
- “Head” – Popular, highly competitive, and broad keywords. These are typically one or two term keywords, such as “search marketing.”
- Mid-Tier or “Torso” – These are basically what they sound like: slightly longer keywords that drive mid-level traffic volume with roughly mid-level keyword competition.
- “Long Tail” – These are the longer, less popular keywords.
The long tail, in aggregate, actually drives more traffic and conversions than head keywords (again, in aggregate). The problem with the long tail is that despite the fact that it drives a lot of traffic, it’s both difficult to manage, and nearly impossible to create a predictive model around. Let’s take a quick look at some interesting long tail stats:
- 56 percent of buyers who search use queries of three or more words, while only 7 percent use one word or an acronym
- 20-25% of all Google search queries are unique
- What Google describes as long tail advertisers make up half their revenue
- Searchers are using longer queries
Site’s Information Architecture
Content Creation & On-Page SEO
Optimize Your Site’s Navigation & Information Architecture for Mid-Level and Long Tail Keywords
In attempting to rank for the middle of the long tail keyword graph down, step one is to create an intelligent navigation structure, or information architecture. There’s a great graphic outlining site architecture courtesy of Webmaster World:
This seems counter to what we’re suggesting above: the popular stuff is on the top of the pyramid, and the pages on the top of the pyramid often get the most link equity by default (they are linked off the home page, and are generally the top-level, site-wide links).
So why are we telling you to create a site architecture that gives link equity and prominence to broader phrases?
Because competitiveness roughly syncs up with value. A keyword research tool typically ensures that everyone is aware of the top level terms, and there are a lot of documents that are somehow related to broad topics:
Whereas more specific queries will have significantly less competition:
The number of documents competing for a phrase isn't necessarily a direct indication of competition, but it's a start. Let's look at what Google's keyword tool has to say about the competitiveness of these two phrases:
As you can see, considerably more people are aware of and bidding on the phrase "search marketing" than "search marketing software" on Google.
Search marketing software is still a pretty broad query, really, but we’ve almost halved the competition from other documents for the phrase and we see considerably less competition in paid search, all by adding a single modifier.
Thus, we can afford to create an architecture with the middle terms in the middle because it takes less to rank these keywords. Additionally, we can adjust our interlinking strategy to ensure that these keywords are being aggressively targeted.
Interlinking for Rankings on Mid-Tail Keywords
Beyond just creating an intelligent site hierarchy, you also want to be sure to flow link equity from within your own content to pages targeting mid-tail phrases.
The number one listing for search marketing is Wikipedia. That site seems to rank for everything and part of the reason is intelligent interlinking and great use of anchor text. Let’s take a closer look at what links to the search engine marketing page:
Over five hundred pages are linking to this page. Additionally, they’re all using optimized anchor text.
Let’s take a look at an example of “optimized” anchor text:
This text is from the Wikipedia page on “Internet Marketing” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_marketing) and links to the search engine marketing page. As we noted above, there are five hundred more links like this sprinkled throughout the Wikipedia site.
You can duplicate this process for your mid-tail targeted content pages. So, if we had the following pages on our site:
we would point most of the links on our site to the search marketing software page.
Then, from the search marketing software page, we would be sure to link up and down from this search marketing software page, passing relevance and link equity to the other two pages. The key here is that most of your relevance and link equity from various pages on your site are pointed to the search marketing software page, such that you’re aggressively targeting that mid-competition term.
We can then take this same strategy and apply it to link building and content creation for middle competition and long tail terms.
On and Off Page SEO for Mid-Level & Long Tail Keywords
In the previous two posts in this series, we’ve discussed the value of long tail keywords, and we’ve covered how you can develop a long-tail-friendly navigation structure. In this installment, we’ll show you how to build links and create content that will enable your site to rank for both mid and lower competition phrases.
Building Links to Mid Competition Pages
This is an extension of the above principle. The next step in this process is to direct targeted anchor text to middle-tail terms from external sites.
This is only possible with links on other sites that you “control”. Some great candidates for this would be:
- Directory links
- Profile links (social, forum, etc.)
- Links from friends (or anyone who will let you choose the text and page to point a link at)
An added bonus here is that in linking to mid-tier content you can typically use more compelling, differentiating anchor text.
Content Creation & On-Site SEO For Mid-Tier Keywords
Here is where you’ll create a nice infrastructure for longer tail queries. To do this, you can:
- Optimize for mid-tail terms.
- Include variations of your mid-tail term in the page’s sub-headlines (h2s and h3s).
- Create verbose (but well-optimized) content.
The first step is to optimize for both the middle of the graph (your core key phrase) and more specific variations. This means targeting your mid-competition phrase while prominently featuring variations. Extending the search marketing example, our page might look something like this:
- Title – Search Marketing Software – Streamline Your SEM Efforts
- h1 – What SEM Software Can Do for Your Business
- h2 – The Best Search Marketing Software is Efficient Search Marketing Software
Finally, you want to create longer documents. The search marketing Wikipedia page, like many, contains almost a thousand words. By creating a long document that includes natural language and a lot of industry specific terms, Wikipedia is ensuring that they are primed to rank for all kinds of random word combinations.
As a result, this Wiki article has driven a significant amount of traffic in the first month of 2009:
Graph of Wikipedia traffic stats courtesy of http://stats.grok.se.
A lot of this traffic has to do with the domain’s trust (the volume of internal links), but a lot also has to do with the content structure and internal linking of Wikipedia.org.
Targeting Mid-Tier Keywords: The Most Profitable Strategy
Basically, what we’ve done is generated a means of competing for mid and long tail queries. We’ve even instituted a system that can rank for keywords that don’t exist yet. Now all you have to do is build an authority domain, create content, and promote it! (Easy, right?).