Long Tail SEO: Increase Your Traffic By Forgetting About Keywords

Today I look at why you should forget about targeting trophy keywords and instead focus on long tail SEO and high quality content.

long tail

When I take on a new SEO client, I can pretty much guarantee that at some point in the initial consultation they will ask: –

‘Can you get me to number one on google for <VERY SPECIFIC KEYPHRASE>?’

In fact, that is how a lot of SEO companies sell their services. Their website (or sales calls) promise –

‘We will get you to top 5 in google for 3 key phrases of your choice’

Sounds good doesn’t it?

Well, yes, I’ll admit it’s good for the ego, but ranking for what you might consider to be your main key phrase is (generally) not all it’s cracked up to be and is ignoring where the real traffic is and, more importantly, the traffic that converts. Here’s why the real traffic is in the long tail.

A Personal Example

When I ran an ecommerce business which sold hair products, I kind of fell into the trap I’m talking about and put a fair bit of work into ranking for the phrase ‘hair products’.

When I check now on google.co.uk there are 155 Million results for this phrase (23.7 Million for an exact match in quotes).

This was a good few years back, but from memory there were well over 100 Million results even then. My research told me it would be a phrase that would deliver a lot of traffic too.

Well, after 6 months to a year of hard work, I managed to rank our site at number 1 in the UK for the phrase – pretty good huh…?

So, did it bring me a flood of traffic?

Well, let me go back in time and check the stats….


The above is for November 2009. So in a whole month, being at number 1 for that trophy phrase brought 203 visitors and it was only the 14th most popular referring key phrase.

Here’s the total organic traffic for the month.


So, we had 32,949 organic visitors in the month of November and only 203 came from the phrase ‘hair products’ – that’s 0.61%!

For a high profile example of this same situation, there is an excellent article on socialmediatoday in which Brett Dixon explains that only 0.24% of vodafone.co.uk’s search traffic comes from the term ‘mobile phones’ even though they rank at position number 5 for the phrase.

So where did all that organic traffic actually come from?

Well, first let’s look at why the phrase didn’t bring the traffic I was expecting.

What Would A Customer Be Searching For?

Ok, so I need some hair products…

Maybe I need a shampoo and a conditioner.

Am I likely to go to google and search for ‘hair products’? Would you?

Ok, I might do (203 people did), but isn’t it much more likely that I am going to search for something specific to my needs? Like say: –

‘shampoo and conditioner for oily hair’

Or even…

‘where can I buy cheap shampoo and conditioner for oily hair?’

Or maybe I have a specific product in mind…

‘Fudge shampoo for oily hair’

Or maybe, I’m going to be specific with my location…

‘where can I buy quality shampoo in Glasgow?’

Which is why…

The Real Traffic Is In The Long Tail

Fortunately, while I’ll admit to wasting a bit of time trying to rank for my trophy phrase, I was aware that the real traffic comes from long tail results.

Looking at the full report for the period, those 32,949 visitors came from a total of 12,881 different combinations of keywords (see below).


And the thing is about long tail traffic… it converts!

If I search for ‘shampoo for oily hair, but dry at the roots’ and the page I land on is targeted to my needs, then the chances are I’m going to buy. Well, certainly there is much more chance that I will buy than if I had just searched for a generic phrase.

So long tail phrases provide great traffic and convert, how do you go about increasing your long tail referrals?

Lots Of Quality Content!

It’s a simple equation really; all other things being equal (of course you need inbound links, social signals etc), the more quality content (crudely… words!) you have on your site the more chance you have of picking up long tail traffic.

This is where keyword research can work to a degree on a micro level. When you are writing about a topic/product you might want to use your favourite keyword research tool to make sure you drop certain phrases into the content of your page that people are actively searching for related to the subject.

Note: Content can be a blog post, static page, product description…


I am a big advocate of just writing naturally as if you write quality, unique content you will use lots of different combinations without even having to think about it.

And believe me, people search in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways!

This is why that Matt Cutts bloke keeps banging on about quality content and focusing on your users. You will eventually be rewarded with the traffic.

Do I Really Not Want To Rank For SEO?

Well, ok, I’m being a little facetious. Of course it would be nice to rank for the term SEO and I’m sure it would bring me amazing traffic, but do I worry about it…

Not a bit!

And it’s why when a client tells me they want to rank for a certain phrase I tell them that I’m not going to promise that, but what I will promise is that I will increase their traffic (and keep it going up and up), make sure that traffic is highly targeted to their customers needs and of course… increase their sales. Isn’t that a better promise to make?

And you know what… the funny thing is, as we’re doing things the right way… they’ll probably end up ranking for that trophy phrase anyway!

What Do You Think?

Do you agree with my article? Do you focus your efforts on building traffic through long tail SEO and high quality content? Let me know by dropping a comment below, or tweet me and for loads more SEO and internet marketing advice you can subscribe to the blog below.

If you would like some assistance with increasing your organic search traffic, then I can help!.

About the Author

I'm a web developer, programmer, blogger and SEO expert from Glasgow, Scotland, with over 15 years experience in the industry. When I'm not writing about marketing and SEO you'll find me strumming the guitar in my band or listening to Revolver on repeat. Follow me on twitter, connect with me on google+ and add us on facebook to keep up with all the latest trends in SEO and online marketing.

Neena - October 21, 2013

I too have wasted much time in the past chasing that “golden” keyword. Big mistake. You are so right – the long tail is exactly where the traffic is. And writing for the long tail is so much easier and enjoyable than writing for the search engines.

    David McSweeney - October 21, 2013

    yep, much more enjoyable to write and much better for readers… a win win!

Anoop Sudhakaran - October 21, 2013

Long Tail keywords bring in the most traffic. Also if your content is deep and is filled with quality, You automatically rank for some of the best long tails.

Still if you want to target a few keywords in the article, You can use the keyword suggestions that Google shows when you start typing your query, or use UberSuggest.

    David McSweeney - October 21, 2013

    yeah, nothing wrong with a little bit of keyword research, but imo you shouldn’t get too hung up on it.

Clay Nichols - October 21, 2013

Excellent article. It’s much easier to establish a long tail grouping than it is for one major keyword. Not to mention being able to more accurately target people within those long tails that could produce a better overall conversaion rate.

    David McSweeney - October 21, 2013

    Thanks Clay, yep targeted traffic = better conversions!

Kate Toon - October 31, 2013

I so agree. While I was chuffed to rank at the top for phrases like ‘copywriter’ and ‘copywriter sydney’ and they do generate great traffic – generally it’s the longer term searches that convert.

Having a strong ranking impresses the initiated ‘She’s at the top so she must be the best’ but it also delivers a lot of fluffy visitors who don’t really know what they want.
Where as longer tail searches like ‘financial copywriter for websites and emails’ are generally from people who are much further down the sales path.

I think quality content is key (I’m a copywriter so I would say that) and also not being scared of writing ‘around’ your subject matter and broadening your field of writing a little.

    David McSweeney - October 31, 2013

    All wise words Kate! It’s good to rank for the big phrases, of course it is, but the key is not to obsess about them.

Jayne Day - November 4, 2013

Great article and so true. I also am an SEO consultant and it is frustrating when clients come to me who have worked with another SEO agency who have gotten them to number 1 position for a fabulous “keyword”. Problem is, in most cases, it isn’t doing them any good as the increase in traffic hasn’t been huge and there has been no big increase in sales either.
I see better results with being very specific with keywords and posting quality content on a regular basis.

    David McSweeney - November 6, 2013

    Thanks Jane, yes people get blinded by the shiny, trophy keyword, but it’s traffic and conversion that really counts.

Panagiotis Kontogiannis - November 5, 2013

Agree. And like your suggestion. Tell the client the truth, work in his site continuously and bring them new target audience who have buy his products or services and he loves you.

Spook SEO - January 2, 2014

Thanks David, for giving us a fresh and new technique on how to increase traffic by without minding the keywords. I am very confident to say that this Long Tail SEO technique is very much helpful.

Abu fateh - January 7, 2014

And the best one is: Long Tail Pro. I am using this tool for last 3 months and I have made loads of money out of it.
I would recommend you to try that. Anyways, Thanks for the article.

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