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Understanding Short Tail And Long Tail Keywords

| 4 minutes to read

Short tail and long tail keywords benefit every site, but what should you optimise for?

Before you optimise your website for these, you need to understand what they are first. You also need to make sure that your pages are optimised for the user intent behind the keywords you target.

Short tail keywords are the most generic versions of a search term consisting of one or two words and usually involve users at the very beginning of the conversion stage. Long tail keywords are the specific queries based on the short tail but then adding specific information, making them further down the conversion funnel.


Short Tail Keyword – ‘Mountain Bike’

Long Tail Keyword – ‘Mongoose Full Suspension Men’s Mountain Bike‘

Long Tail Is Inclusive Of Short Tail

The long tail keyword is inclusive of the short tail keyword. Without this it might not be specific enough to give a good result. If you just searched ‘Mongoose Full Suspension Men’s’, it would be reliant upon the search engine to determine what you mean. In this case the intent is relatively clear, but if you put in ‘black size 10’, you could mean shoes, dresses or something else entirely.

Different Searches Yield Different Types Of Results

The product variation is clear and can return specific brand or product pages depending on your term. This different search term can give a completely different results page. Map listings, adverts and the page one results could give you an easier route to that converting click.

Different User Intent

Intent behind these searches is different also. It may be that people use a ‘buy online’ or ‘for sale’ type variant in there as well. This is particularly important if you are looking at terms which return reviews, videos and information. You should spend your time and effort targeting these longer, more specific phrases as the chance of conversion is much greater.

This will also be reflected on the landing page which you optimise for. When optimising for long tail keywords make sure that the purchase options are clear and you are encouraging users to buy from you. With short tail keywords it is generally more useful to inform and help users through their journey rather than going for the hard sell. Of course, there are exceptions to these rules but keep user intent in mind.

Reaching The Unknown

Long tail keywords also give further advantages that can’t be seen in your keyword research. I’m sure everyone has put a keyword into a planner only to see that it has zero monthly searches? Well, optimising for your long tail keywords can give users a close alternative on these ‘unknown’ searches that might not get volume, but will exist. Rather than getting no results, your long tail optimisation can help users through close matches. It might not be 100% accurate, but it could also help and result in conversions.

How Should You Optimise?

So, now you know the differences in the terminology, how they appear and user intent – which should you optimise for? The short answer is both.

The general rule is to optimise for the short tail keywords on your top pages and categories, moving to more specific long tail keywords as you get deeper into the site.

There will be great variation in the number of short vs long tail keywords you can optimise for as well as a wide range in the average monthly search volumes.

As a rough example you’ll probably be able to optimise for a couple of good short tail keywords on your site, but a few hundred to a few thousand long tail keywords, depending on the size of your site. You’ll also need to cluster your related keywords together in order to rank for more keywords with the same pages.

The average monthly search volumes will be much larger for your short tail terms and shrink down the longer tail you get. These small volumes are good to target though, as they will include pre-qualified and very close to purchase users.

All of this is reflected in the amount of search results you’ll see for terms as well. Going back to the example above, performing a search for ‘Mountain Bike’ returns 737,000,000 results, whilst ‘Mongoose Full Suspension Men’s Mountain Bike’ returns 1,720,000 (correct as of November 2020 on Google.co.uk). Not all of these results will be competition of course, but it gives an idea of the change in search when we get more specific.

All of this points towards having a good range of pages to represent stages of the funnel and different keyword targets. Even for smaller sites or those which have very specific offerings, you still want to be able to reach the users who are undecided or finding out more information – after all, they might not even know that your product exists when they are searching for help and advice.


  1. Sarah Teag avatar

    Good article, thank you. I think it’s so important to target both short and long tail keywords, especially as refined queries usually are long tail based. And then there are the voice searches compiled in the way we actually speak, which is all long tail.

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Gary Hainsworth

Senior Organic Data Specialist

Gary is our technical SEO specialist and boasts more than 10 years’ experience in the industry. With in-depth knowledge on site migrations and all aspects of technical SEO, he’s a valuable asset to our team. Gary’s worked with the likes of the V&A, Warburtons, the NHS and the Lake District National Park. He has a passion for guitars too, be that playing them, modifying them or even building them. Gary has appeared in Startups Magazine, Portsmouth News and Southampton.gov.uk.

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