What Are Long Tail Keywords & How They Really Work

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Long tail keywords are a part of the usual strategy for top ranking. The strategy usually works well, and it has been proven as a successful. But what are long tail keywords and how they really work? You will find the answer here, keep reading.

One long tail keyword example

I shall take one actual long tail keyword (or LTK) I used in one of my posts in the site here:

One long tail keyword.
One long tail keyword.

If you are curious about the origin of this screenshot, this is from Jaaxy keyword tool. It is included in premium membership in the site hosting and online business learning platform where I started years ago and where I still keep my sites.

I shall focus only on the QSR column here because it shows something interesting. The meaning of QSR is “quoted search result”. So Jaaxy is telling me that this particular keyword is not used anywhere in the Internet. But it is in fact used in my own post which I published very recently. As of the moment of writing this text, if I go to Google incognito search and use this exact phrase under quotes, I can see that I am the number one on Google with this. It appears that Jaaxy has not consumed it yet.

Before I continue, this situation with QSR may change quickly because my readers or just anybody else might start using it. This is just to know that you might get a different result if you check later from your side. But this is  not because of wrong numbers given by Jaaxy, it is because the situation changes naturally.

Note that I get some competition when I omit “a” in the search phrase. So although this exact search phrase looks great and it is useful for demonstration here in the text, its actual practical value is questionable.

See what I get when I omit “what is the” in the keyword, this version I shall call “short tail keyword” or STK:

Short tail keyword.
Short tail keyword.

Finally, here is what I get when I reduce it even further and omit “for business”, this I shall call the core keyword or in short CK:

The core keyword.
The core keyword.

This terminology I am using here only to make my point (more below). So you realize that QSR is changing drastically. From the value 0 in LTK, it goes to QSR value 23 in STK, and then to 234 in CK.

This means that competition becomes much stronger and it is unlikely that I will rank for STK or CK.

One more comment before I continue. My LTK includes stop words “what is” and also “a”. These and similar words are usually ignored by Google search engines. This means that in this particular case, the zero-QSR value may not really have any practical value.

So this is just to make clear that I am aware of the issue, in case you wanted to ask. But why am I using it? First, I know that people do search by using “what is”, “why is”, “how to”, etc. Second, in any case it all depends on Google, but if my text is seen as relevant to a search query, I might have some advantage and Google might decide to show my text in a search result. Third, I am trying to explain the principle of long tail keywords, and I am not there yet.

The strategy of using LTK implies the following:

a) I use LTK 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 LTK which can be decomposed into several shorter options (STK, CK), where each of them independently is a good keyword and may have much more searches, in particular the CK (i.e., the shortest part of my LTK).

c) I know that every post is ranked for many keywords. If you are familiar with Google Search Console and Google Analytics, you surely know this. Your post can be ranked for tens if not hundreds of words. Ranking for each of these (key)words makes my post more appreciated by Google, and its overall authority may grow in time.

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 LTK 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 core keyword (CK) because it has much more searches; logical of course. This means that eventually all three of my options (LTK, STK, CK) should ideally be on Google page 1.


So (how) do Long Tail Keywords really work?

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.

LTK pulls the post up similar to a front train engine.
LTK pulls the post up similar to a front train engine.

Now, to translate this to our system consisting of LTK, STK and CK. The long tail keyword (LTK) typically has more chance to get your page to some higher ranking (this is pulling component, LTK 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 CK, and now due to the effects of LTK, assume that it has improved its ranking, and it is on the place 24 for searches by CK.

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

It is easy to realize that these searches will further improve the ranking by pushing the page in ranking from below (the CK acts as the rear train engine). The page thus becomes even better ranked for those searching through LTK. As you can imagine, the cycle will simply continue. You can visualize this PP work as a movement of a caterpillar which moves forward by using the legs on the front and on the back.

Push and pull principle in practice.
Push and pull principle in practice.

You can certainly add the short tail keyword (STK) in the picture. It is somewhere in between (think about a third engine added in the middle of the train), it will help in the same manner. With respect to the LTK, it will be pushing from behind, while with respect to CK it will be pulling the page. .

That is how in my view PP-principle works. All three elements LTK, STK, and CK 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, the 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 LTK. But the other two will catch-up as well.


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

I hope you find this text useful. If you are in search of a good site hosting and online business learning platform, you can use the same place where I started many years ago and where I am still now with my sites. Please leave the comments below. I shall be happy to read them and reply to any question you have.

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36 thoughts on “What Are Long Tail Keywords & How They Really Work”

  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  4. 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…
    Manny

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

      Reply
  5. 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!

    Reply
  6. I never knew you could rank for 3 or more keywords with 1 post. Wow!
    Thank you, 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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.
    Regards,
    Dean

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  9. Hi
    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!

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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!

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  11. hi
    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.

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

      Reply
  12. wow this is very detailed, 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!

    Reply
    • 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.

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

    Reply
  14. wow! Excellent tips here for long tail keywords.
    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.

    Cheers,
    Edy

    Reply
    • Thank you Edy for visiting my site and for the comment. Very much appreciated.

      Reply
  15. 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

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

      Reply
  16. Hi. 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?

    Reply
  17. 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?
    Thanks!
    Matt TheDopestMatrix

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

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • Many thanks Ty, glad to hear it was useful for you.

      Reply

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