Heads or Tails? - How to Profit From Long Tail Keywords that Don’t Exist










This is the first in a three-part series on the types of keywords you should be targeting. Section two will follow tomorrow, and the final installment will be published on Monday, so stay tuned! Special thanks to Virginia Nussey, Lisa Barone, and Adam Viener for editorial contributions.









By strategically targeting keywords of varying competition levels you will see more and better qualified streams of traffic.

At a high level, search engine 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 and are roughly mid-level 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

What does all this mean? It means that while longer keywords have value (and that the value there is actually increasing), those terms are very difficult to manage. How do you target unique queries? The idea here is that no one has typed these queries before; how can we go about setting up a predictive model so that as these new queries come in, we are well positioned to rank for these “new” keywords?


The answer, strategically, is to aggressively target mid-tail keywords, while intelligently structuring your site such that you can acquire long tail keywords traffic. In this series, we’ll walk through how, exactly, you can plan your:

  • Site’s Information Architecture
  • Interlinking
  • Link Building Strategy
  • Content Creation & On-Page SEO

To effectively rank for mid-tier keywords while being well-positioned to drive long tail traffic (and maybe even rank for the more popular keywords over time).


Tune in tomorrow for the next installment, where we’ll discuss how to structure your site’s navigation and information architecture to successfully target the mid and eventually: the long tail of search.

The Heads or Tails? Series:

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Denny Shimkoski
Apr 09, 2009

Where do those statistics come from? Thanks, Denny Shimkoski BYTEBRITE Web Development Services

Apr 09, 2009

Didn't realize those bullet points were links!

Ain't it always the way?

Apr 09, 2009

Google claims due to a resource constraints, they won't allow many very long tail KWs to be served, and thus render them inactive based on a history of having never before been typed. There is a threshold, which they won't reveal, that needs to be met before they will activate these keywords.

Resources be damned, so essentially Google is preventing long tail phrases from showing - why? Really it is because there will be no competition on them, and that makes less money for them. So they force long phrases to map top medium tail words, where there is more competition. But of course, whereas you would have gotten a 50% CTR and an amazing QS, not you get lower all around due to competition on the SERP.

I've taken 3 concepts (mens + color + apparel item) and concatenated in all configurations, but many end up inactive due to no history. "Green mans pants" for instance. Instead traffic goes to my "mans pants" phrase-match keyword, and eventually that phrase get's overloaded and can't handle everything.

Damn thresholds.

Tom Demers
Apr 09, 2009

This is a great point. Our tool does a lot with long tail and generates a really comprehensive keyword list (one of our big features) so we've definitely seen this a lot. Are you bidding MORE aggresively on tail terms than broader terms? Google will enter your two keywords into an auction and choose based not just on Quality Score but also on bid (the same way they would calculate ad rank if you were bidding against someone else). An alternative means of dealing with this is to exact match mans pants. The problem here is obviously that you miss out on a lot of variations you might not know about, SO what you might consider doing is something like this:

  • Mans Pants (Exact) - 5.00
  • Mans Pants (Phrase) - 1.00
  • Green Mans Pants (Phrase) - 5.00
  • Red Mans Pants (Phrase) - 5.00
 Bit crude obviously but the point is that if you can massage match types and bids enough some times you can effectively manipulate things and gain some control. Brad Geddes had a great post recently that I think is interesting and related on why your broad match keywords aren't really the ones converting. Tom

Keyword strategy ( Section 1) - Page 2 - WebProWorld
Feb 05, 2010

[...] by inertia An unusual strategy. Do you find this works for you? Have a look at this Matt: Heads or Tails? - How to Profit From Long Tail Keywords that Don?t Exist | WordStream __________________ "Being an expert isn't telling other people what you know. It's [...]

How To Choose Keywords
Aug 27, 2010

My friend and I were just talking about this. When she built her website she focused on long-tail keywords. While she'd getting those few searches who are typing those phrases in, she's going to play around with it and see if she can't target a more general audience with simpler keywords. It will be interesting to see what happens financially.

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