Longtail keywords are low-competition search terms that are easier to rank for in search engines like Google than broader “head terms.”
HOW TO FIND LONGTAIL KEYWORDS
Longtail keywords are generally variants of head terms.
They might have geomarkers in them (“nail salon near me” or “karate dojo minneapolis“).
They might be questions related to the head term (“psychological safety definition” or “does weight lifting reduce body fat?“).
They might be niche subtopics of the head term (“citrus derived cbd oil” or “addiction treatment center that does mental health counseling“).
When we do keyword research for our clients, we start by identifying the head terms, which will probably be the generic terms for their products or services. From there, we use proprietary tools to identify longtail variations.
Suppose you’re doing keyword research yourself and don’t have access to our technology. In that case, a good workaround is to Google your head term and look for the “people also ask” or the “searches relating to” boxes.
LONGTAIL KEYWORDS EXAMPLES
Let’s say you’re a personal injury lawyer in Salt Lake City, and you’re trying to improve your search rankings for your car accident practice area.
Some head keywords might include “car accident lawyer,” “car accident attorney,” and “car accident law firm.” Each of those terms is queried thousands or tens of thousands of times a month in Google. But they’re tough to rank for because you’re competing with all the other attorneys who do car accident law.
So instead, you target longtail keywords that include geomarkers, questions, and niche subtopics. You might identify some of the following keywords:
car wreck lawyer northern utah
how many people die in car accidents every year?
chances of dying in a car crash
what to do after a car accident
car accident attorney slc
car accident statistics
lower back pain car accident settlement
should i get a lawyer after a car accident?
HOW MANY WORDS IN A LONGTAIL KEYWORD?
Longtail keywords are about keyword difficulty, not the number of words.
A common misnomer is that longtail keywords are called “longtail” because they contain more words in the search query. Longtail keywords indeed tend to have more words, but that’s not why they’re called longtail
The term actually comes from a statistical curve that plots the search volume against the number of keywords:
The graph’s far right consists of the long “tail,” where the lowest competition keywords live. The fact that those keyword phrases also tend to be longer than the head terms is irrelevant.
In other words, the question is not “how many words” does a longtail keyword need, but rather “how easy to rank for” does a longtail keyword need to be?
WHY USE LONGTAIL KEYWORDS?
If you’re a very astute observer, you may have noticed that almost all search volume is concentrated over on the left side of the graph. Way more people are searching for head terms than their longtail variants!
So why even bother trying to rank for those tiny longtail keywords?
Head terms are high-volume, but they’re also high competition. In a competitive space, you may be investing for months or even years before you show up on the first page of Google (and nobody goes to the second page).
A longtail keyword may only contribute a little bit of website traffic, but you can capture that little bit much faster! That means a lower cost-per-acquisition.
Additionally, you may be able to rank for many closely-related longtail keywords if you optimize your site effectively. Even if each individual keyword contributes less traffic, that traffic adds up as you accumulate more and more first-page rankings.
For small and medium-sized businesses with shoestring marketing budgets, you want to lean into this longtail keyword strategy hard, especially when you’re starting out.
Once your longtail strategy is generating enough revenue, you can think about trying to elbow your way onto the more competitive SERPs.
WHAT ARE MY NEXT STEPS?
If you’re interested in learning how to start finding and ranking for longtail keywords, schedule a free consultation and we can answer your questions.
Alternatively, leave a comment below and I’ll try to answer it ASAP.
Should you put your blog on a subdomain (i.e. https://blog.yourdomain.com/) or in a subfolder (i.e. https://www.yourdomain.com/blog/)?
This question has caused some controversy in the SEO world. In this post, I’ll try to sort it out.
SUBDOMAIN VS SUBFOLDER: WHICH IS BETTER FOR SEO?
The consensus among SEO experts is that most sites should host their blog in a subfolder rather than a subdomain.
Let’s examine why this consensus exists and why there is some controversy.
GOOGLE CAN CRAWL BOTH
Google’s own John Mueller was asked the subdomain vs subfolder question, and his response basically boiled down to “we crawl subdomains separately, but we can crawl them, so it’s mostly up to you.”
This answer, however, is misleading.
John’s statement makes it sound like there is no SEO advantage or disadvantage to either approach, because Google’s crawler can understand your content either way. Crawlability, however, is only one of many facets of SEO.
WHY SEOs PREFER SUBFOLDERS
Rand Fishkin explains why Google’s official word on this subject does not translate to viable SEO strategy in this popular Whiteboard Friday:
“I think one of the reasons [this question] emerged in the last few years is, unfortunately, some statements by Googlers themselves … basically saying, ‘Google has gotten much better at identifying and associating content that’s on a subdomain with the main domain, and you don’t need to worry about placing content on two separate subdomains anymore.’ I am sure that Google has actually made strides in this area, but this question still has the same answer that it did years ago. … From a technical operations perspective, some things might be easier [with a subdomain], but from an SEO perspective this can be very dangerous.”
“Keywords are diluted across subdomains. Each additional subdomain decreases the likelihood that any particular domain ranks in a given search. A high ranking subdomain does not imply your root domain ranks well. In a search for “Cool Blog”, bobtopia.com suffers from keyword dilution. It doesn’t rank because its blog keyword is owned by blog.bobtopia.com. …
“Subdomains also suffer from backlink dilution. … [An] attribution to a post [on] blog.bobtopia.com does not help bobtopia.com because the subdomain is treated separate but equal from the root domain. If Bob used subdirectories instead, Bob’s blog posts would feed the authority of bobtopia.com. …
“If you’re a startup or small business looking to optimize your SEO, consider subdirectories over subdomains. Boosting the authority of your root domain should be a universal goal of any organization. The subdirectory strategy concentrates your keywords onto a single domain while the subdomain strategy spreads your keywords across multiple distinct domains. In a word, the subdirectory strategy results in better root domain authority. Higher domain authority leads to better search rankings which translates to more engagement.”
We agree with these assessments.
It’s not just theory, either. Evidence suggests that sites whose blogs live in subdirectories outperform sites whose blogs live on subdomains.
Hosting your blog on a subdomain isolates the potential SEO benefit of blogging to the subdomain, which is probably not what you want.
Instead, you want your blog (and any backlink equity your blog generates) to contribute to the SEO goals you have for your main site.
This blog post was derived from an episode of The Inventive Journey Podcast with Devin Miller, where I appeared as a guest. Listen or watch that here:
WHY DO SMALL BUSINESSES NEED SEO?
Location, location, location. This is why Search Engine Optimization is important.
In the 21st century, it’s not about where your building is located. That might help too, but it’s more about whether or not you can get your brand in front of people where they are.
If you’re not in Google, you don’t exist. As far as getting in front of the people who you want to buy from you, for all functional purposes, you don’t exist.
Google wants to serve up results (1) that are relevant, (2) that are authoritative, and (3) that provide a good user experience. So you have to be relevant, you have to be authoritative, and you have to provide a good user experience on your website.
What does that actually mean?
Before we even start SEO, we need to know what keywords we’re trying to optimize for.
What are people looking for that is relevant to you?
That’s keyword research, and that’s a pain in the butt.
But if you have no budget at all, you can go to Google Keyword Planner and Google Trends, which will get the job done. I use a little bit more professional tools that make it a little bit easier.
Expend some elbow grease, because you want to find every conceivable variation of every product and service that you offer, and every question that people have about it.
That will guide your content strategy and everything else you do through the course of an SEO campaign.
LONGTAIL VS SHORT TAIL KEYWORDS
Short tail keywords have an enormous enough of search volume–there’s a lot of people searching for exactly that phrase. But it’s also very difficult to get on the first page of Google for that term.
If you’re not getting in the top ten placements then you’re not really getting much traffic from Google. If those first page results are just gargantuan sites that you’re not going to outrank in any reasonable amount of time or investment, strategically that’s not the keyword you want to go after.
Instead, you want to go after a keyword that’s a little bit more niche. There might not be as many people looking for it, but it’s hyper relevant, and it’s easy to rank for. These are longtail keywords.
When you target longtail keywords, you can be the big fish in the little pond. You can own whatever traffic there is going to those keywords.
For most small businesses, that’s the direction you want to go.
During the keyword research process, you’ll have identified both longtail and short tail keywords. You really need the short tail keywords in order to identify the longtail keywords–that’s how you find them.
You may have in the back of your mind, “Ultimately, I want to own the entire industry in search.” Maybe that’s your long-term goal.
But in the meantime, you want to be getting some positive ROI on your SEO investment, so the quickest route there is to get those longtail keyword rankings first.
Google wants to serve up content. What does content mean? It means you are giving people information that is going to help them solve problems.
If you’re a business owner, you’re an expert in something. If someone is willing to give you money for what you know, then you know something that’s worth something.
You can’t rank without content, so you’ve got to start creating content or hiring someone to do it for you.
Content a necessary but insufficient condition to rank in Google.
WRITING FOR HUMANS VS WRITING FOR GOOGLE
Sometimes when you read keyword-optimized content, it sounds unnatural. When you’re trying to write to get the words in there, as opposed to writing so normal people can read and understand it, how do you make that balance? How do you write so that a machine likes it–so Google likes it–but so that normal people can also read it?
That’s a question that not enough people in the SEO world are asking. Too many people are writing for the machine. And here’s the problem: the machine is changing.
Google is an enormous freaking company! They’ve got some money. They have the best technical talent in the world constantly trying to better measure and evaluate how well your website works for people. It’s not there yet; the machine is not a human-equivalent artificial intelligence. But it’s getting that direction all the time.
So rather than taking a snapshot of how the Google algorithm works right now and then optimizing for that, remember that Google wants to serve up relevant, authoritative content that provides a good user experience.
So write for the humans.
Get your topics from the keywords, but write content based on that that’s for humans and that’s understandable for your audience. Don’t just try to write for Google.
Let the keywords be your guide, but don’t optimize for machines. Machines aren’t the ones who you want to buy your product.
LANDING PAGE OPTIMIZATION
Content doesn’t just mean blogs, it also means landing pages.
Think about your landing pages as the hubs of content clusters.
So let’s say you’re an IP lawyer, and one of your product groups or profit centers is going to be trademarks. You’re going to have a Trademark landing page.
Content on that page is very, very important. You want that keyword optimized, and you want it to provide a good user experience.
You’re also presumably writing blog content about trademarks. You want to make sure that that blog content is internally linked from the blog post to the trademark landing page that you ultimately want to direct traffic towards.
So you’ve got a trademark content cluster, maybe you’ve got a copyright content cluster and a patent cluster.
Structuring your site in this way will tell Google that this landing page is really important for these keywords. Here’s your trademark landing page, and all of that link equity that’s being generated from the blog posts is going to filter down into that page.
Content clusters are a strategic way to think about how to structure your content. You want to make sure you’ve got one page you’re trying to promote for a group of closely-related keywords.
So far, everything we’ve talked about only addresses relevance. Remember: relevant, authoritative, positive user experience. We’ve talked about relevant. What about authoritative?
Anyone who’s old enough to remember Ask Jeeves (and then it became ask.com) or Yahoo Search remembers that they were awesome, until they weren’t.
It became obvious at a certain point that if you searched something in there, everything that was coming up was a bunch of junk you didn’t care about, and you were 3, 4, 5, 6, pages deep trying to find what you were looking for. So we all moved to Yahoo, and before long the same thing happened to them.
The reason why Google owns search today is because they were the first search engine that came along and gave you what you wanted just about every time.
I was young but I remember. It was a miracle! It changed the way I interacted with the internet–and the way everyone else interacted with the internet–forever!
The difference was that Google figured out a way to measure authority that nobody else had.
What they did is downloaded the internet. That’s not an exaggeration. They made a massive index of every webpage they could find on the entire internet, and they counted the number of hyperlinks that linked form one page to another. Those are called backlinks.
The pages that had the most backlinks rose to the top, because those backlinks were considered 3rd party validation. They were like a vote for your content.
But then everyone started to cheat the system. They started to make websites that pointed to their website and finding black hat ways to generate backlinks.
Google found new ways to identify and punish manipulative links. They only want to count links that are truly third-party validation of your content. So if a link doesn’t meet their guidelines, they want to at least ignore the link, if not punish it.
So if you were to go on Fiverr and get a whole bunch of backlinks for $5, those are probably not going to help you and may drag down your rankings.
There’s a lot of controversy about what Google considers a toxic backlink and what it doesn’t, and they’re very opaque about the topic. But a good rule of thumb is that the easier a link is to get, the less it counts.
Luckily, Google is a lot less punitive with those tactics than they used to be. They’ve moved in the direction of ignoring links they don’t like rather than punishing them. But manual actions are still happening, so you still have to be careful.
An even better rule of thumb is to ask, “What is the kind of link that Google really does want to count?” Well, it’s third-party validation. It’s a link that actually speaks to the authority of your content. That means it’s going to be on an independently-owned site (there can’t be any signal that you own this other site that’s also linking to you). It needs to be editorially placed, meaning it’s not on a “write-for-us” site where you can publish. There needs to be a human who evaluated the content, decided it was good, and decided to post.
And it should be relevant and provide value to the reader.
Ultimately the way to earn legitimate links yourself is to have the best, most authoritative research on a topic, people are going to link to that. But that’s really difficult if you’re a local HVAC company that serves three cities in Wyoming. It’s hard to be that guy.
One tactic is to produce content for other relevant sites tangentially related to your industry and ask them to publish it.
Another tactic is reaching out trough HERO (Help a Reporter Out).
Another good tactic is to find instances of your company being mentioned on the internet that haven’t linked to you. You can reach out to the webmaster and ask them to include a link.
Another way that I really like that’s sneaky but still very legitimate and white hat is to pull your competitor’s backlink profile and see which of their pages are attracting the most links.
You can look at that competitor page and say, “Well shoot, I have better content than this! Or maybe I don’t, but I could create better content than this.”
And then you make a better version of that same content, and you can reach out to those same sites who are linking to your competitor and say, “Hey, you’re linking to this page, but it’s broken or inferior content, and I’ve got this superior content. So how about switching that link over to my page instead?”
I call that “Competitor Sniping” and I love doing that!
So the first pillar was relevance. Check. And then the second was authority. Check. The third one is user experience.
User experience is going to become increasingly important. Google has just announced that they’re using some more user experience signals in their algorithm starting next summer, so this is something worth paying attention to.
Long story short, your pages need to load fast, especially for mobile users.
Have you ever loaded something on your phone and the page jumps around and there’s a popup that takes up the whole screen? Don’t do any of that.
Make sure your ads are streamlined if you’ve got ads.
Your page has to give the user what they want without interrupting or annoying them.
you need to make sure you’ve got an SSL certificate and you’re on https not http.
Your website needs to be mobile friendly.
There’s a lot of constituent pieces that go into good user experience but you can search for “core web vitals” and it will give you a full list of things that are going to be tracked. Some of these things already are tracked.
The long of the short is you need to make sure that when someone lands on your site, they get what they came to get with as few interruptions and annoying delays as possible.
GETTING PROFESSIONAL SEO SERVICES
What kind of investment should people expect to make to be successful in SEO?
It depends on how competitive your keywords are. If you’re a local business, it takes less investment to rank locally than it takes to rank nationally or globally.
Most SEO agencies won’t take accounts that are less than $2,000 per month. Obviously that’s a big budget for a lot of small businesses.
We’ve tried to structure our SEO packages to be more affordable to small and medium sized businesses because I like them better. I like small business–that’s what I’m about!
A backlink is a hyperlink created when one website links to another. The number of backlinks your site “has” is the number of links on the internet that point to your site.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BACKLINK AND AN INTERNAL LINK?
Backlinks point to your pages from other websites, while internal links point from one page on your website to another page on that same website.
They’re both important, but for different reasons
HOW DO BACKLINKS HELP WITH SEO?
The number of backlinks your page has is one measurement of how “authoritative” your content is. Search engines (like Google) view those links as endorsements of your content’s authority. It’s like the internet is “voting” for your page.
Google wants to serve authoritative, relevant results that provide a good user experience. Increasing the number of backlinks that point to your important pages is one crucial piece of an SEO campaign.
WHAT MAKES A QUALITY BACKLINK?
Short Answer: A quality backlink is a powerful, relevant, legitimately-earned link.
Not all backlinks are created equal. Google gives more weight to links that come from powerful pages than links that come from weak pages. Google will also discount–or even punish–links that it suspects are ill-gotten, “spammy,” or manipulative in any way.
There’s no one way to measure backlink quality. Quality metrics can be broken down into two broad categories: how likely a link is to help you, and how likely a link is to hurt you.
(1) How Likely A Link is to Help Me
A backlink is most likely to help you when it is:
-located on a powerful page
-situated in relevant content
The ideal way to measure a page’s power would be with Google’s internal score called PageRank, but Google no longer makes that data publicly available. Tools like Moz, SEMrush, and Ahrefs have scores that attempt to simulate Google PageRank.
One negative indicator of link power is a rel=”nofollow” attribute. If the link’s HTML code contains this attribute, it signals to search engines that the link should not be considered an endorsement. Research suggests that there is still some value in nofollow links. Still, they are much weaker than links without a nofollow attribute.
It’s very common in the SEO industry to measure a link’s power by measuring the entire website’s authority the link “lives” on. Moz has a score called Domain Authority (DA) that is most commonly used for this purpose.
Both Google and Moz insist that Domain Authority is not a reliable measurement of a backlink’s power. For practical reasons, however, DA is probably going to be used in this way for the foreseeable future.
There is no reliable way to numerically measure relevance, although some have attempted to create one.
A common way to determine the relevance of a link is to see if the link’s anchor text contains a keyword you’re trying to optimize for. Similarly, you might look for the keyword in the content surrounding the link or in the referring page’s headings or title tag.
However, that level of over-optimization is rare in the wild, so it could be seen as unnatural or manipulative. These are not my preferred method of determining backlink relevance.
A better method to determine relevance is to look for value-based relevance. To decide whether a link is relevant or not, ask yourself three questions:
(1) Does it make sense for this link to exist on the page? I.e., does the link give the reader any value?
(2) Does it make sense for that page to exist on its website? Is it topically relevant to the purpose of its website?
(3) If a user was reading the content of the linking page and they clicked on the link, landing on your page, would they find what they were hoping to find? I.e., was your page delivering on the value that the link promised
If the link makes sense with the page, the page makes sense with the site, and the promised value of the link is delivered by your page’s content, that link is relevant.
(2) How Likely A Link is to Hurt Me
Even a powerful, relevant link can be counterproductive if there is any indication that you obtained the link illegitimately.
Some companies have developed different kinds of “spam scores” to measure the likelihood that a backlink will earn you a penalty from Google.
I haven’t found these spam scores to be especially helpful or accurate–they tend to be a better indicator of backlink strength than backlink legitimacy.
But there are still some clues you can look for to determine if a backlink is illegitimate:
(1) The link is hosted on a link farm or a private blog network
(2) The link looks like an advertisement–it obviously exists to promote your site, not to add value to its surrounding content
(3) Excessive or unnatural keyword optimization
(4) Hidden links, such as links from site widgets or plugins
(5) The link is found in duplicate, spun, or plagiarized content
(6) The link is found in user-generated content, such as a “write for us” guest post
(7) Sitewide or “footer” links
(8) Blog or forum comment links
One or more of these indicators could signal that a backlink is illegitimate. If you accumulate enough of these unnatural, spammy links, you could find yourself in trouble with Google.
In short, a quality backlink is a powerful, relevant, legitimately-earned link.
HOW TO GENERATE QUALITY BACKLINKS FOR MY WEBSITE
Generating backlinks is the most challenging part of SEO. But backlinks are an essential part of improving your site’s authority, so a solid SEO strategy MUST have a method of generating quality links. It’s simply not optional.
Techniques for generating quality backlinks include:
(1) Guest blog posting–generating original content which links to your site and asking third party sites to publish it under their name
(2) Broken Link Building–identifying broken links and asking the webmaster to point those links to your resources instead
(3) Unlinked Brand Mentions–finding instances where your business is mentioned online and asking the webmaster to link to your site
(4) Competitor Backlink Sniping–pulling your competitors’ backlink profiles, identifying broken links or links that point to poor-quality content, and asking the referring website to the point that link to your higher-quality content instead
All of these techniques are incredibly time-consuming. Longtail Dragon SEO utilizes all of these techniques to improve your backlink profile and increase your site’s authority.
HOW MANY BACKLINKS DO I NEED?
It depends on which keywords you’re trying to rank for and how competitive those keywords are.
One way to estimate the number of backlinks you need is to analyze the backlink profiles of the pages ranked on the first page of Google for your target keyword.
The important number is not the number of backlinks that point to each of those pages. Instead, the important number is the number of “referring domains” in the backlink profile–the number of unique websites that link to the page. The average number of referring domains in the page-level backlink profiles of page 1 results will roughly equal the number of backlinks you need.
I say “roughly” because there are other variables that matter.
Suppose you can optimize your page for its target keywords better than the first page results. In that case, you might not need as many backlinks because your page’s superior “relevance” for the keyword makes up for its inferior “authority.”
Also, not all backlinks are created equal. Suppose the current first page results have low-quality backlinks in their profile, and you acquire high-quality backlinks in your profile. In that case, you won’t need as many links.
HOW TO GET LOCAL BACKLINKS
The best way to earn local backlinks is to make sure your business appears in all relevant local business directories online. Many of those will link to your website.
WHAT ARE DOFOLLOW BACKLINKS?
Dofollow backlinks are backlinks that do not contain the rel=”nofollow” attribute telling Google not to count the link as an endorsement.
While rel=”nofollow” links are not harmful per se and can even be helpful, dofollow links are generally more desirable.
HOW TO CHECK MY BACKLINKS
Google will give you a sample of your backlinks in Google Search Console. Tools such as SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz can pull a more comprehensive list of your backlinks.
Alternatively, get a backlink audit from Longtail Dragon and we’ll give you a list of all your backlinks.
IS BACKLINKING ILLEGAL?
It is not illegal to link out to a third-party site or generate backlinks for your website.
If you use unnatural, manipulative, or spammy link building techniques, however, you can get your site penalized by Google.
HOW TO CHECK BAD BACKLINKS
Google will give you a sample of your backlinks in Google Search Console. Tools such as SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz can pull a more comprehensive list of your backlinks. Those tools will also give you toxicity or spam scores that will help identify the bad backlinks–although I take those scores with a grain of salt.
Alternatively, get a backlink audit from Longtail Dragon and we’ll manually inspect your backlinks and give you a list of backlinks we suspect are toxic.
HOW TO DISAVOW BAD BACKLINKS
You should generally not disavow a backlink unless you have received a manual action (penalty) from Google. If you have received a manual action and you think you have identified the backlinks that are responsible, you can disavow those links in Google Search Console.
Backlinks are not everything in SEO, but they are a vitally important part of a solid SEO strategy. If you are doing SEO yourself, you need to know this stuff like the back of your hand. If we’re doing SEO for you, a high-level understanding is more than enough.