The long and the short of SEO content

cat tail v2

Back in the day, when Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) became a thing, a keyword was a just keyword.

Now, we have several distinctly different types of keywords, including the short tail keyword and the long tail keyword. Each has a place in the SEO formula and each has it's pros and cons.

So, which type of keywords should you be using, and how do you decide what to use where?

Short tail competition

Short Tail Keywords are broad phrases people use when searching in search engines that only have one, two or sometimes three words. In online advertising, short tail keywords are more competitive. In other words, more advertisers are bidding to place ads on the most popular search engine result pages for shorter, more common phrases.

Short tail keywords are also known as “head” terms. They may be the first thing you think of when you are deciding where to go to eat (“Chinese food,” “pizza delivery”), what to do (“dance clubs,” “water fun park”), or where to travel (“Wellington,” “North Island”).

Short-head keywords do the following:

• Drive traffic to your site. Even if it's not necessarily targeted traffic, it helps you get numbers.

• Fit nicely into your copy. They're easier to include without wonky phrasing, because they're typically just a word or two and often match the topic.

• Get tons of searches. Unsophisticated users typically search on the topic they're looking for without embellishment, so when you do your keyword research those are the ones that come up showing the highest number of monthly searches.

Pinning the tail on long

However, pinning advertising to long tail keywords can be a better return on investment. You can see greater results from bidding on many long tail keywords rather than focusing your budget on one or two highly competitive phrases.

I’m not saying you shouldn't include the short tail (head) terms. Just don't hang your entire SEO strategy on them and expect them to deliver outstanding results. They may offer bigger volume, but the competition can be so fierce that you often end up at the back of a very big queue.

Long tail labour of love

Long tail keyword phrases get more targeted results. Long tail keywords are like a bear in the forest. They can lie dormant for a while but when they are used they are typically quite deadly. Like the bear in the forest, there isn’t too much else that competes with these keywords.

The competition is lower when you have decided on a long tail keyword simply because the longer the phrase the more likelihood of it being unique. When you have a search term like “fur lined hand moulded stubby holder” or “gumboot flavoured rice cakes” you are getting more traffic.

Long tail brings more focus. Compare the difference in focus between a short tail “residential development” and “residential development Rolleston Canterbury.” Plus as less people are bidding for that phrase, the cost is much lower, making your budget go that little bit further. 

The trick to effective SEO is to balance your use of short- tail (head) keywords with long-tail phrases, producing quality content and tweaking your strategy according to analytics reports. 

If you have a huge body of content, a very specific but general item, or strong brand and domain authority then maybe the short tail keywords will still work for you. However, if you are looking for higher conversion rate, lower cost, lower competition, and volume that is specifically after what it is that you are selling, the long tail keyword game is one that you should consider being in.


Andie Spargo

Creative Director