Finding the long tail

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So you know what search engine optimization (SEO) is, how blogging can help with SEO, and that long tail keywords can bring people to your site. But if you want to take advantage of the long tail, how can you know what the "right" keywords are? There are many online resources to help you do just that, but for today, I'm going to talk about one that Google provides. Using Google's Keyword Tool, you can see how many people are searching for a particular keyword or phrase, how strong the competition is for those keywords, and even come up with some ideas for other keywords you might want to focus on.

Just to recap, the idea behind the long tail is that the really common phrases that people search for (e.g. "photographer") are extremely competitive, and it's probably unrealistic to expect for Google to place you on the first page for those searches. However, most Google searches are actually for more specific things that have little competition (e.g. "wedding photographer carbondale illinois"). Trying to get ranked highly by Google for these long tail keywords can be a great way to start driving traffic to your site.

But where is the long tail sweet spot? To continue the freelance photography example, maybe you're interested in "Illinois wedding photographer," but what if that's too competitive? It'd be even easier to show up on the first Google page for "Carbondale Illinois zoo birthday party photographer," but is anyone actually looking for that (let's hope not)? That's where a keyword analyzer, such as Google's Keyword Tool comes in.

To get started, point you browser to the Keyword Tool. There are two ways to get going: you can start with a few words that you have in mind or you can enter the URL of your website. In both cases, you'll get a list of related keywords, and some information about them. For our example, let's try out some of the keywords we mentioned above. Copy the following list into the "word or phrase (one per line)" box:

  • illinois photographer
  • illinois wedding photographer
  • carbondale photographer
  • carbondale illinois photographer
  • carbondale illinois wedding photographer

To limit the results for now, click the "Advanced options" link and chose to show results for "Ideas containing my search terms." Ultimately, you'll probably want to look at "All keyword ideas" to see some other terms worth considering. Finally, click "search" to get the results.

Looking at the results, you can see the long tail in action. A few thousand people search for "Illinois photographer" or "Illinois wedding photographer" each month, but the competition for that search term is also pretty high. In contrast, "Carbondale photographer" and "Carbondale Illinois photographer" get around one hundred searches per month, but they also have little competition. "Carbondale Illinois wedding photographer" gets so little traffic that you might not even be interested in it. You can also see another idea you might not even have thought of: "central Illinois photographers" gets a little more traffic than just "carbondale photographer," but still has low competition. None of these figures are set in stone, but they can be a good guide.

So you now have a pretty good idea on how to research some keywords for your own site using the Keyword Tool. You can get started by entering some keywords that you might be interested in or by putting in your website and finding related keywords. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions, and I'll be happy to help out.



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