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Long Tail vs Short Tail Keywords: What’s the Differences?

Last Updated on 17th Jun, 2024 | Social Media

Long Tail vs Short Tail Keywords

Know the Difference Between Long Tail and Short Tail Keywords

Keywords are the foundation of any successful SEO strategy, but not all keywords are created equal. The terms and phrases that people type into search engines can generally be divided into short-tail keywords and long-tail keywords. Understanding the differences between these two types of keywords, known as “Long Tail vs Short Tail Keywords,” is critical for developing an effective SEO approach. So, what exactly sets long-tail and short-tail keywords apart?

In simple terms:

  • Short-tail keywords are more generic, high-traffic keywords and phrases like “software,” “hotels,” or “blog.”
  • Long tail keywords are more specific, low-traffic keyword phrases like “open source billing software for small business,” “pet-friendly hotels in San Diego,” or “how to start a blog and make money.”

While short-tail terms tend to get higher volumes of searches, long-tail keywords make up the majority of overall searches. Optimizing for the right long-tail versions of popular short-tail keywords can be one of the most effective SEO strategies.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll examine the key differences between long-tail and short-tail keywords. We’ll also consider the unique benefits and challenges of each and when to focus on one vs. the other, as well as tips for optimizing and researching long-tail and short-tail terms.

Key Takeaways

  • Short-tail keywords are more generic, high-search-volume terms like “software.” Long-tail keywords are more specific, low-search-volume phrases like “open source software for small business.”
  • Short-tail keywords tend to have more competition and are harder to rank for. Long-tail keywords have less competition but bring in less traffic individually.
  • A balanced combination of short- and long-tail keywords works best for overall SEO success. Focus on long-tail variants of short-tail seed keywords.
  • Long-tail keywords convert better because searchers have a more specific intent. To boost conversions, include long-tail keywords prominently on relevant pages.
  • Long-tail keyword research requires digging deeper into niche topics beyond top keywords. Leverage keyword research tools, related searches, and autocomplete.
  • Optimize for long-tail keywords by using them naturally throughout content, including headers, URLs, and meta descriptions. Don’t over-optimize.
  • Long-tail keywords are especially important for informational queries, while short-tail keywords are better for navigational and transactional searches.

A Head-to-Head Comparison Between Long Tail vs Short Tail Keywords

Factor Long Tail Keywords Short Tail Keywords
Length Longer, 2+ words Shorter, 1-2 words
Specificity Very niche and targeted More generic and broad
Search Volume Low individual volume High individual volume
Competition Low competition High competition
Optimization Easier to rank for Harder to rank for
Conversion Rate Higher Lower
Discoverability Require deeper research Obvious and surface level
Total Share of Searches 70-80% 20-30%
Intent Level Higher searcher intent Varies based on term
Usage Guidance Include sparingly within content Focus on prominent placement

Defining Long Tail vs Short Tail Keywords

There are a few key characteristics that differentiate long-tail keywords from short-tail ones:


As the names imply, long-tail keywords are longer, more phrase-like keywords, while short-tail keywords are shorter, often just 1-3 words.

For example:

  • Short tail: Software
  • Longer tail: open-source software
  • Even longer tail: open source billing software small business


Long-tail keywords are much more specific and niche than their short-tail counterparts. Short tail terms cast a wider, more generic net.

For example:

  • Short tail: shoes
  • Long tail: red Nike running shoes
  • Even longer tail: red Nike running shoes for flat feet

Search volume

Short-tail keywords are searched more than long-tail ones. For example, “software” is searched over 14 million times per month in the US compared to just 100 searches for “open source non-profit fundraising software.”

So, short-tail keywords bring in a lot more potential traffic for each term, while long-tail keyword searches are sparser but add up.


Popular short-tail keywords tend to be extremely competitive to rank for in search engines due to their high search volume. Long-tail keywords are less competitive, making them easier to rank for.

To summarize:

  • Short tail keywords: Broad, generic, high-traffic, competitive
  • Long tail keywords: Specific, niche, low-traffic individually, less competitive

The Benefits of Long Tail Keywords

Optimizing for the right long-tail keywords can provide some significant advantages:

Lower keyword competition

Popular short-tail keywords can be incredibly hard to rank for. The high search volume for terms like “software” or “hotels” attracts many competing pages vying for the top spots.

Meanwhile, long-tail keyword phrases usually have a handful of competing pages targeting them. This makes it much easier to rank long tail keywords on page 1 and even in the top 3-5 results.

Higher conversion rates

Searchers using long-tail keywords have more specific intent around what they’re looking for. Pages targeting the right long-tail terms are much more likely to offer that precise solution.

For example, someone searching for “New York City hotel deals” is more primed to convert than just someone searching for “hotels.” When you attract those high-intent visitors, conversion rates naturally increase.

Increased ad relevance

Just like with organic results, paid search ads that utilize more specific long tail keywords have higher ad relevance for searchers. This leads to higher clickthrough rates (CTR) at lower costs per click.

Total volume

Even though individual long-tail keywords are searched less, together, they account for more total searches. One study found that long-tail keywords make up 70-80% of all searches.

So, when you optimize and rank for enough relevant long-tail keywords, the total traffic adds up over time.

SEO benefits

Optimizing pages and content for targeted long tail phrases provides search engines strong signals around the themes and topics you want those pages to rank for. This can lead to better overall SEO performance.

The Benefits of Short Tail Keywords

With that said, short tail keywords do still offer some unique advantages:

More Searches and traffic

Each short-tail keyword gets tons more searches per month than long-tail ones. So, ranking well for just one or two short-tail terms can drive a massive influx of visitors.

Increased visibility

Due to their popularity, short-tail keywords also tend to be used more often by more people. So, targeting them improves visibility and brand awareness across a wider audience.

It works better for some intent.

Long tail keywords work better for researched informational queries. But short tail keywords are often better for:

  • Navigational searches – Where the searcher wants to go directly to a certain brand or site (like searching for just “Facebook”).
  • Transactional searches – Where the searcher knows exactly what they want already and are ready to buy (like searching for simply “iPhone 14”).

Best Practices for Optimizing Long Tail Keywords

Optimizing your content for the right long-tail versions of your core short-tail keywords involves some specific best practices:

Use long tail keywords naturally throughout the content.

Focus on working long tail phrases that are relevant for each page into the body content, headers, image alt text, etc. But keep them from over-optimizing or cramming them in unnaturally. They should flow and sound natural.

Include long-tail terms in URLs and metadata.

URLs and meta descriptions that include the target long tail term can help strengthen optimization signals. For example:

  • URL: www.website.com/open-source-billing-software-small-businesses
  • Meta Title: Best Open-Source Billing Software for Small Businesses
  • Meta Description: Everything you need to know about the best open-source billing software options for small businesses in 2024.

Create silo pages targeting specific long tails

Having pages dedicated to topics like “best Nike running shoes for flat feet” and optimizing them for that full keyword phrase can be highly effective.

Produce long-tail-focused content

Ideally, around long-tail searches with decent volume, like “how to start a blog and make money.” Optimize these content pieces heavily around the target phrase.

Don’t over-optimize

Avoid awkwardly repeating the same long-tail keyword over and over. Keep usage natural. Two to four mentions per thousand words is often sufficient.

How to Research Long Tail Keywords

  • Start with a core list of short-tail seed keywords: Make a list of the core short-tail terms relevant to your business, like “software,” “running shoes,” etc. These provide the base keywords for finding long-tail variants.
  • Use keyword research tools: Tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Google Keyword Planner allow you to search for long-tail keyword ideas using your seed keywords. Look for phrases with sufficient volume and low competition.
  • Analyze Google Suggest and autocomplete: Google’s autocomplete popular long-tail prefixes and suffixes for core keywords. Search for your seeds and see what Google suggests.
  • Look at search trends over time: Some long-tail keywords have rising or seasonal search volume patterns. Use Google Trends to uncover opportunities.
  • Leverage Google Related searches: Google provides lots of related long-tail keyword ideas below search results. Search short tails and mine the associated phrases.
  • Read discussions in niche forums: Long tail ideas can often be found in the natural conversations happening in forums in your industry or niche.
  • Develop content around questions and intents: Use People Also Ask results and Google autocompletes to uncover questions people have. Develop content that answers those questions.
  • Expand on topics in funnels/categories pages.
  • Look at website categories or sales funnels. Identify areas to create content focused on specific long-tail topics in each.

Common Long Tail Keyword Optimization Mistakes

It’s easy to make some missteps when first trying to optimize for long-tail keywords. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not tying long tails back to short tails: Long tail keywords need to be relevant extensions of your core short tail keywords. Don’t randomly target long tails if they don’t connect back to your main topics.
  • Too much over-optimization: Don’t staff long-tail keywords unnaturally or repeat them over and over. Use them sparingly and keep the content natural.
  • Ignoring intent: Ensure the long tails you target make sense for each page’s purpose. Align visitor intent and page content correctly.
  • Going overboard on volume: Some extremely low-search-volume long tails aren’t worth targeting. Instead, find phrases with at least some search interest.
  • Not tracking performance: Once you start optimizing for long tails, track clicks, conversions, and rankings over time, double down on what performs.
  • Forgetting about readability: Don’t let SEO objectives override creating content that flows naturally. Ensure readability remains a priority.

Final Thoughts

Optimizing for a strategic mix of short-tail and long-tail keywords is key to SEO success. While short-tail terms drive more total traffic, long-tail keywords convert better and are easier to rank for.

The ideal approach is to use core short-tail seed terms to find relevant, high-intent, long-tail keyword opportunities. Dedicate pages and content to optimizing for those specific long tails while still incorporating short tails where appropriate.

By tapping into long-tail keywords, you can drastically improve website conversions while expanding organic visibility. Just stay diligent about researching new long-tail opportunities and tracking keyword performance.

Over time, you’ll be able to scale up your ranks and traffic with keyword variants you would never have found just focusing on generic short-tail terms. Using the right long tail and short tail balance tailored to each website provides the best of both worlds for maximum SEO results.

FAQs about Long Tail vs Short Tail Keywords

What are some examples of long-tail keywords?

Some examples of long tail keywords are: best restaurants in San Francisco, learn python for beginners tutorial, when is next full moon in 2024, eco-friendly dog toys for large breeds. These phrases are longer and more specific than shorter keywords.

How long should a long-tail keyword be?

Long tail keywords are at least 3 words or longer. 2-word phrases can sometimes count as long tail keywords if the phrase is very specific to a niche topic. Keywords with 5+ words tend to be even more targeted with lower competition.

Can you rank for just long-tail keywords?

It isn’t easy to rank with only long-tail keywords. The best strategy is to optimize for a mix of short-tail seed keywords as well as targeted, relevant long-tail variants of those seeds. This allows you to get both high-traffic and high-conversion keywords.

Do long-tail keywords get more traffic?

Individual long-tail keywords get much less traffic than short-tail terms. But together, long tail keywords make up around 70% of the total search volume. So, optimizing for enough long-tail keywords can drive significant accumulated traffic over time.

How do you do keyword research for long tails?

Use short-tail seed terms to search for long-tail ideas in Google Keyword Planner and other tools. Look at Google autocomplete, related searches, and People Also Ask boxes. Check keyword forums and trends over time.

How often should you use long tail keywords on the page?

2-4 mentions per thousand words is a good general guideline. Don’t over-optimize. Use long tail keywords naturally in headers, content, URLs, alt text, etc., without stuffing.