Another great question we get asked from time to time is “what is the difference between short tail and long tail search terms?” And, perhaps more importantly “why should I use them”, “and what can they do?”

It can be quite a complex matter, so we hope to shed some light on it in this blog post. We will be talking about user intent and locale, amongst other things.

Read on for more information.

Short Tail vs Long Tail Search Terms by Spark Digital

What Are Short Tail Search Terms?

Put simply, these are the absolute shortest phrases that someone might use when searching for something.

Often they are referred to as “head phrases”, which is just another term for short tailed search terms.

Examples of these could include:

  • Builder
  • Plumber
  • Lawyer / Solicitor

As you can see, they aren’t very descriptive. Just replying on the basic phrase and nothing else.

If you were ranking highly for any of these phrases you would likely see a huge chunk of search traffic arriving at your site. 

Lots of traffic is good, isn’t it?

Well, not always! 

For example, if you were running ads and were targeting these phrases you haven’t qualified what it is that the user is actually looking for. For example:

  • What type of Builder? Residential / Commercial, might be considerations, along with other aspects, such as location
  • The same for Plumber, is it an emergency plumber service, which might be 24 hour plumber. Is it a commercial or residential plumbing service? 
  • Again, for lawyers or Solicitors, there are different specialties. So it would be prudent to know what type you are trying to rank for. Criminal, Employment, Civil and Family spring to mind as a selection

You could easily be targeting the wrong type of customers to your website, resulting in a wasted ad spend and a poor user experience.

If you knew what particular service your potential visitor was interested in you could direct them to the most relevant page on your website for it.

Okay so that matters for paid search, but not so much for organic? 

Well actually the same thing applies here. It’s how you build up trust in Google (and the other search engines).

What Are Long Tail Search Terms?

The main term is expanded upon to include other relevant words.

So this could be “Emergency Plumber in Leeds” which would use the “Plumber” short-tail phrase. Or, it could be “Commercial Builder in Chester”, which again would feature the short tailed phrase “Builder”.

The rule of thumb here is that the longer the phrase the less competitive it becomes. So to rank for “Builder” would be much more difficult than “Commercial Builder in Chester”.

The search terms for Builder would be significantly greater, hence the harder to rank aspect.

So, why bother with the longer tailed phrases?

The good news is that although these phrases are searched less they are much more likely to result in a conversion (this means enquiry at this stage).

Imagine searching with the phrase “Commercial Builder in Chester” and you see a page that contains specific information relating to that query. Providing what you see makes sense, you are more likely to make contact with that firm.

However, if you searched for “Builder”, there are no guarantees that the results you see would relate to a specific type of builder or indeed the location that you are in.

Content Structure For Relevant Search Terms

Ideally you would create different sections on your website. Ones that focused on the specific areas of your overall service.

Doing this gives you the opportunity to target longer-tailed versions of your main head phrases.

Switching back to the Lawyer / Solicitor example, you might have something like this:

  1. Family Law
  2. Employment Law
  3. Civil Law
  4. Criminal Law

And, if your business covered several locations / territories you might have pages that are location specific too. It could look like this:

Family Law
i) Family Law in Liverpool
ii) Family Law in Manchester
iii) Family Law in Blackburn

Employment Law
i) Employment Law in Liverpool
ii) Employment Law in Manchester
iii) Employment Law in Blackburn

Civil Law
i) Civil Law In Liverpool
ii) Civil Law in Manchester
iii) Civil Law in Blackburn

Criminal Law
i) Criminal Law in Liverpool
ii) Criminal Law in Manchester
iii) Criminal Law in Blackburn

So now you can see the initial subset of 4 pages has grown to 12 individual pages, each with its own individual page title, headings and content.

This again helps to deliver the user with the most relevant information for the user’s search. Not only that, it is seen as best practice by search engines and helps massively with ranking!

The content on each of these pages would incorporate synonyms of the phrase, along with other long tailed variations.

One of the easiest ways to check for these is to scroll down to the bottom of the search results, you will see a section called “Related searches:”.

Your “Employment Law in Manchester” page might benefit by incorporating some of these phrases naturally within the content.

Employment Law Related Searches from Spark Digital

It’s perhaps easy to see that longer tailed search terms are great for delivering specific information that closer matches the searchers intent.

While at the same time also allowing you to rank for the shorter versions of the phrase.

The Wrap Up - Short Tail & Long Tail Search Terms

Hopefully this has given you a decent overview of these types of search terms.

The benefits of using the longer version is that you can rank quicker and provide much more closely related content to your visitor. Content that once it is viewed is increasingly likely to result in some form of conversion activity.

Short term phrases are fantastic for high volumes of visitors, but be aware that much of it isn’t finding you because of intent or location. So this traffic might not be very high value.

It is likely that the short termed version features more heavily in a robust local organic search strategy.

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