September 14, 2023

What is the Difference Between Short and Long-Tail Keywords?

If you’ve heard about ‘keywords’ before and their use for marketing, content creation and search engines, then it won’t come as a surprise to learn that their usage is central to SEO. Even with no marketing experience, you likely use or encounter keywords every day. Be it online shopping, browsing social media or visiting doctors; marketers use keywords to enrich content that is aimed towards that content’s target audience. 

But what are keywords, exactly? And what is the difference between long-tail and short-tail keywords? A keyword is a word or phrase that represents the main topic of your content. They are used to improve the search engine rankings of websites. Short-tail keywords, like ‘vets’, are brief and general, while long-tail keywords, such as ‘how much are the vets in Ely’, provide more specific information. 

This more specific information may hold the difference in intent, location or further specifics. Using long-tail keywords when marketing can be useful for targeting this audience or intent, which can be more effective than marketing towards short-tail keywords. 

Find out everything you need to know about the differences between long-tail and short-tail keywords with Wildcat Digital, a digital marketing agency located in the heart of Sheffield. 

What are Keywords?

Keywords are any string of letters or numbers that can either be typed into a search engine or written in content. They are recognised by website crawlers as being the key bit of information about that content or search query.

Keywords are the search query that you want your page to show for on search engine results pages (SERPs). 

Google and other search engines work by understanding what information pages contain and then serving users that content based on their search query. 

Remember, it’s in Google’s best interest to show content that relates to the search query. So understanding how to use keywords when creating content is key to appearing on search engines. 

Informing search engines about the content that exists on the page through tactical use of keywords is known as ‘optimising content’, which is one of the main tasks of a SEO professional.. 

What are Short-Tail Keywords?

Let’s look more in-depth at the length of keywords and how they might influence your appearance in SERPs when marketing. 

You are a veterinary practice and you have approached a digital marketing business to help you with your online marketing campaign. You are about to release your own nutritional variety of dog food, and you want to use keywords to help increase awareness of your new product, increasing sales. 

You are presented with this keyword research information:

We can see that short tail keywords such as ‘vets’ have a high Search Volume of 27,100 views a day, on average.

It is typical that a keyword such as ‘vets’ has a high Search Volume as it is incredibly common. This keyword would be used by pet food brands, veterinary practices and even information on how to become a vet.

It wouldn’t be a marketer’s best strategy to use only short-tail keywords and expect an increased presence in their field as these terms tend to be incredibly competitive. This information is given to us by ‘Keyword Difficulty’, which is a metric used to show the competition on the web for that related keyword.

We need to be more accurate to our location, service and intent. This is where ‘long tail keywords’ come in. 

What are Long-tail Keywords? 

Long-tail keywords are usually longer keywords that contain additional information which helps show more precise information to searchers. 

Using our example again, some long-tail keywords to do with veterinary practices may be:

As you can see, these long-tail keywords have a much lower Search Volume, however, they have additional information that means we are still targeting our chosen clientele, but with much less competition. 

Using this information, we may want to change our selected keyword to a long-tail keyword, where competition is lower, with the intention of appearing higher up in the SERPs, allowing us to provide our services to our prospective clients.

Let’s take a look deeper into the research we have conducted above, to see how it plays a role in our selection of keywords. 

Keyword Research

Keyword research is simply research into keywords and how commonplace they are online. Using tools such as Semrush or Ahrefs, you can find out how often a keyword is recognised by SERPs, known as Search Volume, and other useful information such as Search Intent and Keyword Difficulty. 

Search Volume

Search Volume is a simple metric where you can see how many times a keyword is searched to give you an idea of the total prospective viewers or customers your content could reach if you use that given keyword. 

On SEMrush, ‘vets’ has a Search Volume of 27,100 searches per month on average over a 12-month period. 

Search Intent

Search Intent is how Google views the keyword in the query and displays results accordingly. Using our metrics there are 4 different keyword intents which change how information on SERPs is displayed. These are navigational, informational, transactional and commercial. 

Our keyword research tool, ‘vets’ has the search intent of informational content. It will therefore populate its SERP with informational content about vets. 

Keyword Difficulty

Keyword difficulty is another big consideration when choosing keywords. SEMrush, a keyword research tool, shows keywords with a difficulty score market out of 100. This score is based on how competitive that keyword is on the internet, where 100 is almost impossible to rank for, and 1 is the perfect opportunity. 

On SEMrush, ‘vet’ has a Keyword Difficulty of 80. Our research has found that there is lots of competition for the keyword ‘vets’, therefore it would be very difficult to rank for.  

Narrowing Down Your Target Audience

Using our keyword research, we have seen that we can narrow down our target audience in organic search results by lengthening our keywords. 

This is still efficient marketing, however, as websites have more than one page, and therefore they can target more than one keyword during their campaign, by having those keywords correspond to the page’s intended use. 

You can also optimise the content on your website for numerous keywords. This allows well-optimised content to show up for multiple search queries by pairing similar keywords together. 

So why don’t we just add 100 short-tail and long-tail keywords to a page and allow our marketing campaign to reach everyone evenly? Content doesn’t work like this, unfortunately. Google wouldn’t be serving its purpose if it just showed pages that contain hundreds of keywords appealing to everyone. 

So let’s look into how selecting keywords can make the best impact on a page in 2023.

Featured Blog: What are the Different Types of SEO Services? Your Complete Guide

How to Use Long-tail and Short-tail Keywords Effectively

Here are Wildcat Digital’s best long-tail and short-tail keyword practices. 

Don’t Stuff Your Keywords

‘Keyword stuffing’ is an unethical practice used by SEO executives who work in bad faith. It is typified by simply adding many of the same keywords into a piece of content. These SEOs are hoping that Google will read this page as super-optimal and position their page highly on its SERPS. However, Google can pick up when this happens and punish sites that act in this way. This means that keyword stuffing negatively affects a website’s SEO. 

For more information on keyword stuffing, check out our other blog How to Avoid Keyword Stuffing – Keyword Best Practices

Use Keywords Naturally

Keywords are, in essence, words typed in by humans who want a quick answer to a query or who are looking for a service or product. To find the results that they want, their search query might look like, ‘dog food near me’.

Whilst such searches might have great metrics, and seem like a good opportunity for content optimisation, in actual fact, they are almost useless outside of Google’s Map results.

You would struggle to use keywords such as the one stated above as they feel unnatural when read by humans. For this reason, Google would see that you have stuffed keywords into your content. This may result in a penalty.

For more resources by the Wildcat Team on the natural use of keywords why not read our other articles: 

Use Keywords in Your Content Structure 

Using keywords in your page structure is vital for good SEO. 

Structuring your content using a good combination of keywords is a great way to boost your SEO. Adding headers to your content shows search engines what the content below contains. Using keywords in headers is a surefire way to give crawlers the ability to quickly identify the content beneath and pick out your main point. 

Answer People’s Questions

People may have many questions that they need answering before they feel comfortable using your service, buying your product or engaging with the content you provide. Long-tail keywords are a great way to see what people are asking in relation to your product or service. 

If you can answer their question on the matter, you have their attention and they are that bit more likely to engage with your offering. 

Long-tail keywords are therefore great for filling out your page’s FAQs and providing more information to the user. 

Combine Your Keywords

The key to good SEO health on your site is to understand how you can combine keywords to create content that covers all bases. You want to target the main point of your site, whilst also optimising content towards some lesser-searched keywords too. Some visitors are better than none, and you want to answer their questions whilst they are here (or answer other people’s questions about that topic). 

Searching for short-tail keywords like ‘vets’ in Google returns a wide range of queries around the topic of veterinary study, dietary plans and animal health. In these instances, Google has used your short-tail keyword and given you a long-tail keyword query in the ‘people also ask…’ section. Use these long-tail keywords to your advantage. 

Understanding Long and Short-tail keywords with Wildcat Digital

Digital Agency Sheffield

Understanding keyword length and Google’s understanding of them can be tricky, especially when there is competition for these keywords from global brands. That’s where SEO specialists come in. We use specialist software to research keywords based on your brand and find the best opportunities for you to bring your product or service to market. 

Understanding the relationship between optimised content and search engines isn’t straightforward, and Google is constantly changing the way in which they crawl sites and understand the content in its index. As such, to keep your head above the rest, hiring an SEO specialist should be a consideration. 

If you need help researching keywords or guidance on how to use them effectively, contact Wildcat Digital today. Founded in 2018, our agency works with small, local businesses and global corporations helping them stand out from the crowd and target new customers organically. 

Frequently Asked Questions for Short and Long-tail Keywords

How Does Google Recognise Keywords?

Google ‘crawls’ your website, with its crawler ‘Googlebot’  looking for readable pieces of information to store on its ‘index’. It sees some pieces of information as being ‘key’ to the content on the page. Later, when someone searches for this keyword, Google identifies it as identical (or semantically similar) to the key content on your page. Google then possibly shows your webpage on its results, with the best content at the top and weaker, less optimal further down in its results. 

For more on Google’s ranking factors, check out our blog on What are Google Ranking Factors and How Do They Impact SEO? Or for more information on how Google ‘crawls’ the web, why not read Wildcat Digital’s What Does Google See When it Crawls Your Site?

How Important is Keyword Difficulty? 

Keyword Difficulty, when marketing, is often played off against Search Volume to find ideal gaps in the market.

The perfect opportunity is a high Search Volume and a low Keyword Difficulty. However, if you are a key player in your field (think NHS when offering health advice), Keyword Difficulty shouldn’t matter.

You might want to consider metrics such as Domain Authority when selecting your keywords and their difficulty as having a higher Domain Authority can lead you to be able to rank for keywords with higher difficulties. 

How Can I Use Both Long-Tail and Short-Tail Keywords Together? 

Depending on your selected topic, it is usually best to combine keywords together naturally to have content that contains multiple keywords.

This might mean that you have one short tail keyword in your Title Tag, H1, and throughout your content, but you also have long tail keywords being used in your FAQ pages or further down in your content, answering visitors’ questions based around your primary, short tail keyword.

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Jon Herdman

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