Understanding the Value of Long Tail Keywords

Written by Nick Stamoulis

Next time you are in your Google Analytics account take a look at how many keywords are driving organic traffic to your site. Depending on how large your site is there could be hundreds, maybe even thousands, of keywords driving traffic to your site in any given month. For instance, one of my B2B SEO clients that exists in the IT space has 1,946 keywords driving organic traffic. A quick look at the list showed that “(not provided)” was the number one keyword with 3,036 visitors (roughly 60% of their total organic traffic, yikes!) but, of the top 100 keywords only 2 were branded (and they weren’t the two biggest sources of traffic), which tells me that my client relies heavily on SEO to generate new business. By the time we hit the 50th most popular keyword the number of visitors had dwindled down to 5 or fewer visitors per keyword. That means that there are 1,896 keywords that each drove 5 visitors or fewer to my client’s site.

Now, if I (or my client) were to look at only one of those long tail keywords we might think it wasn’t performing too well. After all, 5 organic visitors aren’t going to blow the doors off anyone. But the value of long tail keywords isn’t just tied to each keyword individually; it’s about the value they provide to your SEO program as a whole. This is one of those times when the SEO whole is greater than the sum of its parts!

Imagine if we were to stop counting the value of the long tail keywords that drove less than 5 organic visitors to my client’s site. First off, that would mean we’d be discounting the value of about 1,500 potential customers. A long tail keyword like “core java hands-on training” might have only sent 3 visitors in a given month, but what if 2 of those visitors converted? It’s important to remember that long tail keywords may send fewer visitors each month, but they tend to be much more targeted visitors that are further along in their buying cycle than someone just searching for “java training.” The more specific a search is the more valuable it becomes.

Secondly, if we stopped counting the value of the long tail keywords that drove less than 5 organic visitors to their site we’re undervaluing the success of their entire SEO campaign. As I mentioned, fewer than 50 keywords drove more than 5 visitors and the number one keyword was “not provided,” which doesn’t tell us much from an SEO standpoint. By siloing out their long tail keywords we’re making their SEO campaign appear much less effective than it actually is. This is a common mistake I see with many sites, especially when they only care about doing well for a set list of priority keywords. They’ll only look at the traffic brought in by those keywords exactly (disregarding any long tail variations) and their SEO campaign lives and dies by the success of those keywords.

In my opinion, the success of most SEO programs rests in the value of your long tail keywords. Broad, heavily searched keywords may drive more traffic in the end but the long tails are where a site can really carve out a niche for themselves and claim their spot in the SERPs.

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