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.

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