Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Long-Tail Keywords & Short-Tail Keywords: Why You Need Both

Search Engine Journal published an article today asking "Are Short-Tail Keywords Phasing Out?" Julia McCoy argues that, yes, short-tail keywords are phasing out--"Google and search engines like it," she writes "are beginning to drift toward intent-based search, and away from short-tail keywords."

The prominence of short-tail keywords has declined at least since the introduction of the Hummingbird algorithm in 2013, when Google announced its first entirely new algorithm in twelve years: Google Hummingbird.

The new algorithm, which effected 90% of Google's results, was made to accommodate the increase of voice-based searches as well as more complex searches.

In her article, McCoy cites a Google study that reveals that 41% of adults use voice search each day (and 55% of teens).

41% of all teens use voice search more than once a day [Source]

Beyond Google's algorithm changes, the tech world has recently been abuzz with talk of RankBrain, Google's machine learning tool, which uses artificial intelligence to sort search queries.

Last year, in October, Google surprised the tech world by announcing the search engine had been using machine learning for a few months:

"The new system," we noted at the time, "uses artificial intelligence to sort search queries, including, as Bloomberg reports,'the 15 percent of queries a day it gets which its systems have never seen before.' RankBrain will take these often ambiguous queries and "learn" from them by making connections between the search itself and the websites they lead to--in other words, where the browser finally clicks."

RankBrain is what McCoy means when she refers to intent-based search--search that attempts to look beyond mere keywords to offer the most precisely appropriate result.

In the future, machine learning might make today's search unrecognizable. Whatever the future holds, McCoy, and many like her, see the writing on the wall: the end of shorter queries and the ascendance of longer queries (long-tail keywords).

What does this mean for your SEO efforts?

Should you abandon all efforts to optimize for short keywords?

Not entirely. As search evolves, you must keep one eye on the tried and true even as you look ahead to the future. Short-tail keywords and long-tail keywords have a place in any optimization campaign.

Why Use Short-Tail Keywords?

In addition to long-tail keywords, your best optimization strategy should include at least a few, carefully researched short-tail keywords (for now). Why?

  1. Shorter keywords can drive a lot of traffic to your site. 
  2. Short-tail keywords are easier to identify.
  3. Optimizing for short-tail keywords will give you a presence in your industry.

Short-tail keywords can work in concert with long-tail keywords. Short-tail keywords will increase your traffic while more precisely-targeted long-tail keywords will encourage your ideal customers to stick around.

Without the short-tail keywords, however, some of these customers might not have ever discovered your site.

Why Use Long-Tail Keywords?

Although shorter keywords will drive more traffic to your site, long-tail queries account for more total impressions. Simply put, people are using long-tail keywords more often. Yet since long-tail searches are so specific, you might have a harder time discovering the best long-tail keywords for your content. That said, long-tail keywords must be a part of your optimization campaign. Why?

  1. Ad campaigns for long-tail keywords have less competition so they cost less.
  2. Long-tail keywords can increase conversion rates. As we noted above: short-tail keywords might drive traffic to your site, but long-tail keywords can attract real customers looking for your precise product or service. 
  3. Long-tail keywords are a by-product of good content; if you write excellent content, you might not have the hardest time discovering the best long-tail keywords; your content will do the work for you.
Long-tail keywords attempt to answer browser's specific questions. The best way to write content that discovers long-tail keywords is to ask yourself: What is my ideal customer looking for? Or: What question does my product or service answer?

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