Common Phrases Or Long Tail Keywords

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on keyword research lately as I intend to SEO my web content. In my latest attempt to comprehend this art, I’ve been trying to quantify the benefits of long tail keywords, as opposed to common phrases.  Anyone halfway familiar with SEO knows that long tail keywords must be selected in order to even have a chance of achieving a decent Google page rank (PR).  But wouldn’t it be worth the effort to aspire a high PR for a commonly searched for phrase, as its achievement would virtually guarantee high traffic? And what potential do these obscure and often unlikely word combinations we call long tail keywords actually have?

Ranking For Common Phrases

The answer to the first question is a decisive “no”. For example, you might want to start your own customizable t-shirt shop online. Taking into account that the average “exact” global monthly search for the term “t-shirt” is 246’000 and assuming you are able to get a perfect page rank, which currently attracts roughly 34% of the clicks, you may expect 83’640 unique visitors to your page each month. We’re talking about almost a tenth of a million visitors coming to your site, without having to spend a penny on advertising. Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out. Unfortunately the assumption is flawed. It is virtually impossible for a new start-up company like your online shop to achieve a meaningful Google PR for “t-shirt”. After all, you’re competing with gigantic, well-established and reputable companies who have been offering related products and services for decades.  You are much more likely to land a rank on the second, third or fourth page and that’s assuming you do proper SEO. To give you an idea of what this might translate to in terms of visitors, consider that roughly 96% of all clicks go to the first page on Google. Let’s assume that with extensive and well applied SEO, you are able to rank twentieth (this is likely still much too optimistic for such a popular keyword).  Taking into account that this rank attracts roughly 0.30% of all clicks, that would amount to 700 visitors a month.

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Ranking For Long Tail Keywords

When browsing the web, I came across some very helpful statistics conducted by Experian. They show how the top 100 searched for terms account for roughly 5.7 % of all search engine based traffic. What stunned me, was that the top 10’000 searched for phrases account for merely 18.5% of total traffic. This is even more astonishing when you consider that the average English speaker only uses a few thousand different words to communicate each day. It becomes clear that search traffic must be heavily skewed towards long tail keywords.

Consequently, it would be beneficial for you to use a “more elaborative and descriptive” keyword for your online t-shirt shop. Perhaps you might choose “customize own t-shirt” or “buy customizable t-shirt”. These phrases are bound to get far less in terms of global monthly searches when you compare corresponding PRs (i.e. PR 1 with PR 1). But when you take into account the absolute PR that you might achieve (i.e. PR 3 instead of PR 20), it will usually translate into more unique visitors.

Google's PageRank and Beyond: The Science of Search Engine Rankings
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Common Phrases Or Long Tail Keyword - Conversion Rates

Last but not least I want to point out that long tail keywords in most cases convert far better than common phrases.  As your potential customer’s search is more specific, he is much more likely to stay on your site and actually buy your product or service. Let’s go back to the common phrase scenario, where you use “t-shirt” as your keyword. Of your 700 visitors who found your site by searching the key phrase “t-shirt”, 450 might be looking to buy finished products with cool designs and thus leave your site right away. This then leaves you with merely 250 people who are interested in customizing their own t-shirt, of whom perhaps 100 are actually willing to make the purchase. Now compare this to the long tail scenario, where you use say “buy customizable t-shirt” as your keyword.  You know two things about your audience. Firstly, they are looking to customize their own t-shirt and secondly, they are willing to make the purchase. Thus you catch them much later in the buying cycle, which generally will translate into a much higher conversion rate.