Long-tail keywords: the key to winning SEO

In a previous article, we discussed the importance of showing up on the first page of Google search results. On its face, that seems like an unobtainable goal for all but a few corporate giants. But there is an overlooked way for small and medium-sized companies to “own” a search term.  Take a good look at long-tail keywords. Search engine optimization (SEO) based on specific terms instead of broad ones yields surprisingly powerful results.

Long-tail keywords: why?

Let’s face it, it is virtually impossible for a small business to land on that coveted first page if you optimize your website for a very broad search term. For example, a small company that transports particularly large goods should not try to optimize its site for the search term “shipping.” It would never be able to displace businesses like UPS, FedEx and DHL. To capture that prominent place, our shipping company will have to get creative. And it can get there by understanding Internet users in general and its customers in particular.

Your potential customers can broadly be separated into two categories: Those who are doing research because they are looking to make a purchase down the road and those who want to buy something in the near future.

Potential customers: the researchers

In our example, customers in the first group know that they will have to ship something large at some point in the future. Maybe they are contemplating a move abroad and want to see what their options are for shipping something big. When they simply enter “shipping,” they realize that this will only take them to UPS, which they know is not a good solution. So what will they search for next?

That is the question that our sample company needs to figure out – and optimize its site for. Maybe it is “cheaply shipping large products” or “bulky goods shipping.” How about adding a location reference? Determining that search term requires research and a good understanding of one’s customer base. If done right, long-tail keywords can sharply reduce the advertising costs of companies, so it is worth it.

Potential customers: the immediate buyers

Being found during the research phase is one way for smaller businesses to reach potential customers. Another is to engage them when they are looking to make a purchasing decision.

For a small restaurant in Brooklyn, it makes no sense to optimize its site for “great food” or “good restaurant New York.” There will simply be too much competition and the search terms are not nearly specific enough.

Instead, the restaurant  should tailor its SEO to long-tail keywords that will actually increase business. To do so, the first step is to get to know what customers like, identify defining features of the restaurant and learning how people use its website.

Say we have found out that customers particularly like our burgers. Or that we are open until 2:00 am while our competitors close at 10:00 pm. In that case, we should try to get to the top spot of Google searches such as “Great burgers in Brooklyn” or “Afterhours food in Brooklyn.” And we definitely want to own longer search strings like “Where can I get a burger after midnight in Brooklyn.” People looking for that are our target audience.

So yes, long-tail keywords make SEO for small and medium-sized businesses easier. Still, that doesn’t mean getting on that first page on Google will be easy. It’ll still take research, a commitment to search engine optimization, the right content and a partner who knows what they are doing

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