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The Long and the Short of It: Defining the Importance of Keywords

When you first embark on your journey into search engine optimization, you will hear much talk about keywords. You will also hear them being described as ‘head’ keywords and ‘long tail’ keywords. But what exactly does this mean and how is your understanding of the difference important to your SEO campaign?

Many people understand the message ‘target the long tail keywords’ but quite often this is not backed up with an understanding of what a long tail keyword is and more importantly, why they should be used. For many people an actual understanding of the concept of keywords does not come until sometime down the road.

You could say that the term ‘long tail keywords’ is one of those SEO buzz words that only a small percentage of those practising SEO actually understand. This begs the question ‘what exactly do people envisage when first told about long tail keywords’?
Maybe they envisage some kind of furry rodent or perhaps a strange way of spelling certain words within their content. Others may envisage long tails as some kind of mass money making scheme which deposits large amounts of cash into their bank accounts. The latter is probably the closest answer as long tail keywords are often explained as a kind of SEO holy grail designed to channel lots of traffic and make you lots of money.

So, what exactly is a long tail keyword?

The official definition of a long tail keyword is ‘a keyword phrase made up of 3 or more words that are more specific than a one word search term.’

This is quite a rigid definition but the only part you need to be concerned with is the part which says ‘more specific’ and when you think ‘more specific’ think ‘targeted’. You see getting your targeting right when it comes to keywords will make the difference between whether your website sinks or swims in the rankings. Essentially, long tail keywords are better termed as ‘targeted keywords’.

For the purposes of SEO using the term long tail keywords is perhaps too much of a generalization, what we should in fact be talking about is ‘highly targeted keywords’ instead. Now, not to confuse you further, but highly targeted keywords do not necessarily need to be 3 words or more, in some instances a single word, such as a product or brand name, can also be highly specific.

So why is all this important? Well, when you begin a new venture online you are advised to ignore non-specific keywords. You need to concentrate your efforts instead on grabbing people as far along the sales chain as possible, that is those people who are looking for something specific and are ready to buy. You do not want to be focusing on those people who are merely researching the products and services you have to offer, but are not intending to buy at that time. Using highly targeted keywords will give you a better chance of getting that all important conversion as well as being easier and more cost effective to obtain.

And although highly targeted keywords should be your main focus, that doesn’t mean that general keywords are not important too. However, beginning your search engine optimization campaign with highly targeted keywords will allow you to work backwards towards general keywords as you discover which ones will be worth your time and effort. And if you are using a pay-per-click campaign your highly targeted keywords will generate more revenue while subsidising the more general keywords which will help bring in traffic.

So when it comes to keywords, they are essentially key to everything you achieve online. There is little point ranking at the top of the SERPs for any keyword terms unless they can earn you money. Choosing the right long tail or highly targeted keywords for your SEO campaign means placing yourself in the shoes of your potential customers and aiming to grab them when they are as close as possible to the end of their purchasing journey.