What is the difference between Long Tail and Short Tail Keywords?

cartoon of a desert hopping mouse representing long tail keywords

We discussed earlier how important keyword research is for getting your website discovered on Google, but did you know there were two types of keywords: long tail and short tail?

But what is the difference between long tail and short tail keywords? And how can they be used to help your website ranks in Google SERPs? You’re right to ask, because both of them have their strengths and their weaknesses, and you should be trying to use both in your SEO strategy.

What Are Short Tail Keywords?

Cartoon of rhino representing a short tail keyword

Short tail keywords are the ‘broader’ of the two and are usually made up of only 1-3 words. They cover much more generalised topics and typically have a much higher search volume. For example ‘Digital Marketing’ would be considered a short tail keyword because it covers a very broad topic.

Short tail keywords tend to be the first words that pop into your head when you start searching on Google. Because they are so generalised, there is typically a lot more competition when it comes to ranking for these search terms. Which is great if you’re one of the big authorities on Google, but if you’re a new business just starting a website, the chances of ranking for these terms is low.

Short tail keywords tend to collect a lot of generalised traffic from people wanting information on all sorts of related ideas. So while your website would likely get a lot more traffic by ranking for a short tail keyword, only a small percentage of that traffic would really be relevant to you or your business.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include them though!

What Are Long Tail Keywords?

Cartoon of desert mouse representing long tail keywords

On the other side of the coin are long tail keywords. You may have guessed already that these terms tend to be longer than their short tail cousins. They are also the more specific of the keywords and can better target a market in Google search results.

An example of long tail keywords would be ‘Copywriter for Veterinary Clinics in Melbourne’. That’s a very specific example aimed at targeting a very specific audience; vets in Melbourne looking for a copywriter.
Unsurprisingly, long tail keywords draw in a smaller amount of traffic, but you can be certain that the traffic you do receive for these keywords will be much more relevant to your business and what you have to offer.

So if you’re targeting a niche market, long tail keywords are your friend.

If you’re trying to get your website noticed on Google, you should use a healthy combination of long tail and short tail keywords. This way you can target a specific audience without having to lock out other individuals who may also be interested in your business.

While it’s easier to rank for long tail keywords, it certainly doesn’t hurt to rank for short tail keywords as well. Be aware that the broader the search term, the harder it will be to rank for it.

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