Long Tail Keywords – how they really work


long tail keywords - a real cometLong tail keywords are a part of the usual strategy for top ranking. The strategy  works well, and it has been proven as a successful. Here I show some details of how it really works, and how to make it even better.

I take one phrase for the purpose of demonstration:

Climbing Breithorn Zermatt

This is the title of a page from my site about mountains. I used it as a long-tail keyword for that page. It would be more appropriate to speak about key-phrase, but the terms like keyword and long-tail keyword are widespread, so I shall limit myself to the usual terminology.

This particular keyword is not very long (compare it for example with the  one like ‘How to improve page rank’), but it will serve the purpose.

In the given example, I could have used ‘Breithorn’ as a keyword, but I realized there were a bit too many searches (around 350) and I felt I had less chance to get easily to the first page on  Google. On the other hand, there are several mountains with the same name Breithorn (I myself have two of them described within my site), though the Breithorn (at Zermatt) which I speak about here is the most important one and well known.

[Marcello – Oboe concerto: Adagio]

Note that ‘Breithorn Zermatt’ combination is a good keyword for itself, though with far less  searches, around 40. On the other hand ‘Climbing Breithorn’ is also a good keyword, with around 55 searches.

So from this example I cam make this categorization and terminology:

  • keyword, which will be abbreviated as KW at some places further in the text  (Breithorn),
  • short-tail keyword(s), abbreviated as STKW (Breithorn Zermatt, climbing Breithorn),
  • long-tail keyword, LTKW (climbing Breithorn Zermatt).

The strategy of using LTKW (but with some extras in my case here) implies the following:

a) I use LTKW as my starting formal keyword (key-phrase), and I use all the usual, well-known and proven ways to rank as high as possible.

b) But, as you have noticed, I choose such a LTKW which can be decomposed into several shorter options (STKW, KW), where each of them independently is a good keyword and may have much more searches, in particular the KW (i.e., the shortest part of my LTKW).

c) I know that every post is ranked for many keywords. If you are familiar with Google Webmaster Tool, you surely know this. You can have tens of words for which your every post and page are ranked.

d) Consequently, I know that all my keywords mentioned above will be there in the list for which my post is ranked. Of course, ideally, my LTKW will be the first on the list, the other two somewhere below.

e) In long terms I want to be well-ranked, i.e., to be (if possible) on Google first page also by my keyword (Breithorn) because it has much more searches; logical of course. This means that eventually all three of my options (LTKW, STKW, KW) should ideally be on Google page 1.

So (how) do Long Tail Keywords really work?

long tail keywords - two engines
Pull and push principle.

It works on the principle which I shall call Pull-and-Push principle (in the text below abbreviated as PP-principle). So what is it? You can visualize this if you imagine a long train (sometimes those transporting ore can be kilometers long) which has two engines, one on each side. The one in front is pulling the system, the other one on the tail is pushing.

Now, to translate this to our system consisting of LTKW, STKW and KW. The LTKW typically has more chance to get your page to some higher ranking (this is pulling component, LTKW is the pulling engine).

But this improvement in ranking for the page is general,  and it will result in an increased traffic for the page in an absolute sense. So, assume now that initially the page was on the place 25 in ranking for searches by KW, and now due to the effects of LTKW, assume that it has improved its ranking, and it is on the place 24 for searches by KW.

Hence, for people searching by my KW, the page is now better ranked (although the improvement may be minor), therefore the traffic will be increased for searches by my KW. But any improvement in searches by KW again implies an increased traffic in general, and as you know, searches by KW are more numerous. So the effect will be visible although it is so low-ranked with respect to the KW searches.

It is easy to realize that these searches will further improve the ranking by pushing the page in ranking from below (the KW acts as the rear train engine). The page thus becomes even better ranked for those searching through LTKW. As you can imagine, the cycle will simply continue.

You can certainly add STKW in the picture. It is somewhere in between, it will surely help in the same manner. With respect to the LTKW, it will be pushing from behind, while with respect to KW it will be pulling the page. It will act like an extra engine added in the middle of the train.

evolving keyword strategy - all working togetherThat is how PP-principle works. All three elements LTKW, STKW, and KW will work as three engines, and there will be a constant improvement in ranking by action of all three together. Have you seen movement of a caterpillar? This is how I visualize what I have described here.

In the end, your page will be on Google page 1, ranked by searches from all three of them independently. Surely, it will get there first by searches through LTKW. But the other two will catch-up as well.

As you see, the formal starting long-tail keyword (LTKW) is not changed. It is just that the relative importance of it has changed. The role of LTKW thus reduces in time. STKW may eventually take over, but in the end it will be KW playing the main role and providing the most of the traffic.

My own example of long tail keywords in practice

long tail keywords - pickok pictureI can show what was happening with my key-phrase mentioned in the beginning. My page was published on April 14th. In the table below I summarize how its position has been changing.

I started checking its ranking two weeks after I published it, and checked it several times so far by using all 4 elements.

The dates are given in the first column, and the position of the page on Google with respect to each of the elements (LTKW, STKWs, KW) are in the remaining columns.

I should stress that initially I applied all rules known to me, to have it properly ranked through searches with respect to the long-tail keyword (LTKW), and it was successful. After two weeks (on April 28 it was already on Google 2nd page). You can see how the positions were changing:

table showing changes in my page climb-breithornNote that the position may vary from one browser to another. Those shown here are from Chrome incognito searches. As you see, by searches through my LTKW and both STKWs, my page is on Google 1st page. As expected, LTKW was the first one which brought it to Google 1st page. For searches by KW (Breithorn) my page has moved from the bottom of Google 8th page to position 8 on Google 5th page. I have no doubt that within a couple of months it will be on G1 by the KW as well.

I was checking yet another example from my another post, in the site which you are visiting now, ‘How to improve page rank’ which has around 550 searches. This is a different niche compared with mountains, so the numbers are drastically different. Competition is stronger, but here too I have all the elements described above (LTKW, STKW, KW).

The shorter phrase ‘improve page rank‘ has about 490 searches (less than the previous one, perhaps this may look strange but it is not unusual), and the shortest possibility ‘page rank‘ has about 4000 searches. So it will take more time to follow the development, and I shall report about it later. But I am sure it will show a rather similar behavior, though on a longer time scale.

I hope you enjoyed the text. Please leave the comments below. I shall be happy to read them and reply to any question you have.

You can visit me at Wealthy Affiliate and learn on how to build your own site and to start an online business.



  1. Yeah I agree that long tail keywords are the way to go for affiliate marketers because the large companies are too lazy to go for them.

    Another upside is that especially with product related keywords is that each day there are new product launches which will give us unlimited keywords to work with.

    1. Thank you Viljoen, great to read your comment. You are right. But finding long tail keyword is not a problem in general, even without new products, just a bit imagination and a good Keyword Tool like the one at Wealthy Affiliate.

  2. Apart from giving you an easier time getting good ranking, LTKW is also more specific and can lead to higher click through rate (CTR).

    In 2015 Google ranking factors, high CTR is one of the most important ranking factors. With more people clicking through to a certain post, the ranking of that post for general and short KWs will definitely improve as well.

    They all work hand in hand just like what you described with the PP principle.

    1. Thank you Edward. You are very much right about higher CTR for long tail keywords. They convert better because they are specific, which means visitors are people who know exactly what they are looking for, they are determined, not just searching in general.

  3. It took me a while to learn the value of long tail keywords. Now, they are the most important part of my keyword research. I will usually seek keyword phrases with at least 5 words in them which usually gives me a few of advantages.

    1. There is much less competition.
    2. They are much easier to get on page 1 of the search engines.
    3. It’s not unheard of to have my long tail keyword phrases rank on page 1 for 10 or more variations of my targeted phrase.

    Long tail keyword phrases don’t usually get a lot of monthly searches but, since they are so easy to rank for, it’s a great way to slowly build your traffic numbers.

    1. Hi Steve, good to read your input on long tail keywords. I see that your line of thinking is really very close to what I describe in this text here. So you are right in all what you are saying here. Thank you.

  4. Manuel F Herrera jr says:

    What,such detail about long tail keywords,will have to save your web site for future studying everyone in our community need to see and study your take on it..

    Not know ing that using long tail keywords grow in ranking on Google with time..

    Also noticed that the shorter keywords improve on rankings…

    1. Hi Manuel, great that you find my text about long tail keywords useful. Thank you for visiting my site.

  5. Jovo,

    Thanks for your post helps me understand the long tail key word what is about and how it able to get it rank in Google. Helpful post to me. Also now i know that wealthy affiliate keyword tool and Jaaxy are useful tools for finding long tail keywords. Thanks!

  6. I never knew you could rank for 3 or more keywords with 1 post. Wow!
    Thank you, Jovo, really. Now I can focus on creating great content like yours. 🙂
    I love the Pull and Push principle, by the way.
    Oh, and one question:
    Which keyword tool do you think is better, Jaaxy or Google Keyword Planner?

    1. Hi Julian, thanks for reading my text and for the comment. Indeed, every post and page are ranked for many phrases, in fact for tens of them. This you may see if you search a bit Google webmaster tool and Google analytics. Though ideally your chosen keyword should give you the best ranking for your page or post. I do believe Jaaxy is the best tool available, but indeed it is not free. I am however perfectly happy with the Keyword Tool at Wealthy Affiliate.

  7. Amazing way to explain long tail keywords.
    I never thought about them in that way, the pull and push method.
    It is interesting how the keywords work together, they are like a chain and the chain is strong like the weakest link.
    If weakest link becomes stronger the others become stronger too.

    1. Hi Dean, thank you for reading my text about long tail keywords. I am glad that you like the text. And I see that you completely realized how it works. Many thanks, your comment adds value to my page.

  8. It’s been a while since I read about long tail keywords.

    Your article gave me a nice review of what they are and how they can help with the long term ranking. I really appreciated your example chart showing the ranking changes you experienced.

    I am guessing that jaaxy would really come in handy when researching these long tail keywords. Did you use a tool like that when doing your research?

    1. Hi Marcelg, it makes me happy seeing that you like my text about long tail keywords. As for Jaaxy, definitely it is handy, the best tool for keywords that exists. I also use the excelent Keyword Tool from Wealthy affiliate

  9. Hi Jovo,
    You have explained in detail, very interesting and informative. We can really be smart in choosing the right keyword and benefit from it through google rankings. I have never realized that can be possible, referring to the push and pull. Gives me more insight and be creative in keyword research.
    Great post!

    1. Hi Leo, a good keyword is indeed essential, and choosing a long tail keyword is a necessary first step. Thanks for the comment. I am glad that you find my text useful.

  10. I find it so hard to get my poor head around technical website and internet terminology and how it all works, so I was grateful to have the opportunity to read about this complex subject in great detail. I’m not pretending I understood it all, but that’s more a reflection on me than you!

    1. Hi Nicola, thank you for reading my page about long tail keywords. It is not so technical, just some simple visualization of the principle. It is important to start with a long tail keyword, which provides an initial good ranking. But the real progress in terms of traffic comes from the core keyword, which is contained in the long tail phrase.

  11. hi Jovo
    this was an interesting read. I had never heard of the pull and push method and the analogy of the train. It made it easier to understand the concept of long tail keywords. I think that writing a post that will get ranked in Google is a mix of art and science. But at some point, you just have to write it so it makes sense. The keywords will be in the post naturally.

    1. Hi Emily, thanks for the comment. You are surely right in what you write about the keywords. Jovo

  12. Riaz Shah says:

    wow this is very detailed, Jovo thanks for sharing this with us! I particularly loved the way you laid out your results after 2 weeks, that gave me motivation to work harder now, sometimes I forget that when you tend to work too hard lol. Gonna try this long tail keyword of yours, cheers!

    1. Hi Riaz, great to read your comment. Use long-tail keywords and you can be sure it will get your post to Google first page. Jovo

  13. Love your information. I’ve placed it in my favorites so I can come back for more. Thanks

    1. Many thanks Bill. It is great you like the post. Jovo

  14. wow! Excellent tips here for long tail keywords Jovo.
    I definitely agree with you that it is easier to get ranked on search engines, simply because it has low competition.
    Just imagine we have 100 of them. It can bring tons of traffic to our website and increase the opportunity to make money.

    Thanks for sharing it and show your proof. It will motivate many others.


    1. Thank you Edy for visiting my site and for the comment. Very much appreciated. Jovo

  15. David Snodgrass says:

    I think that you really have taught me something new and exciting here and you made it easy to understand about the differences of the keywords and what they bring to the table

    1. Many thanks David, it is great to read your comment. This was my understanding on how long-tail keywords really work. Jovo

  16. Matt Thomas says:

    Hi Jovo. Using Long Tail keywords sounds like a great strategy for getting ranked in major search engines like Google, yahoo, and Bing, but how do you find how well these keywords might rank before you use them?

  17. Matt TheDopestMatrix says:

    I like this post! Now, lets say you’re going to write a post with the keyword “how to make money” and you make a separate post for boston, chicago, new york, etc…. will google look at your website bad?
    Matt TheDopestMatrix

    1. No it will not, you make a story about different places and provide various possibilities, each different for a specific city. Jovo

  18. Wow, and I thought I had keywords all figured out, this is quite in-depth and a bit of an eye opener for me. Thanks for sharing.

    Best wishes.

    1. Many thanks Ty, glad to hear it was useful for you. Jovo

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