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Search Engine Optimization: short tail versus long tail

Posted by VerboliaSeptember 4, 2019

As discussed in an earlier article, SEO is not a one shot process: instead, it is something that requires
constant refinement and reconsideration. The same is true for short tail and
long tail focus keyphrases: there are more ways than one to go about SEO. In
this article, we will highlight the difference between short tail and long

Short tail

A short tail focus keyphrase literally has a short tail, because it consists of three words or less. If someone is looking for tips and tricks about search engine optimization, this person might type in ‘SEO tips tricks’ in Google – and is likely to get an enormous amount of results. Because that is the thing about short tail keyphrases: web users do not have a lot of patience or time, which means keyphrases need to be easy to type in Google or any other search engine.

As a result, these search terms suffer from a lot of competition, because lots of websites are using this focus keyword in order to end up at the top of the ranking.

Long tail

But while a high ranking in Google is certainly something to strive for, there are also other ways to attract visitors: long tail keyphrases. These consist of four words (but usually more) and have a smaller search volume. If the same user has already tried the more general SEO tips and tricks and is looking for more specific information on SEO, this person might type in ‘SEO tips wordpress plugin’ or ‘SEO automation solution tips’ (or something longer).

It takes more effort to type these keyphrases, but there is also less competition. While this is the long and short of short tail and long tail keyphrases – but which should you pick? That depends on the type of visitors and traffic you want to attract to your site.

Which one to choose

As stated before, the search volume for short tail is much larger. The same goes for the potential audience and conversion (visitors leaving their contact details, making a request, or buying something. On the other hand, there is long tail. The search volume is smaller – but the competition is much lower as well.

In addition, people with a specific search query are probably also looking for a very specific answer, so there is a large chance that, if you have  what they are looking for, they are probably immediately going to go for your offer.

It Is, however, harder to dedicate pages to specific long tail keyphrases instead of short tail variants. Take, for example, washing machines. All online shops have dedicated pages for various types of washing machines, but these are more often than not short tail: not many people with a broken washing machine are going to search for “washing machines with 8 kg load capacity” or “energy-efficient washing machines A+++”.


Still, it is important to notice that online stores like Amazon are making the most money on long tail. Look at short tail as a traditional bookstore: a brick and mortar building with limited space to display books. This means the shelves are only going to contain books that will be a guaranteed hit.

While Amazon is selling these books as well, it is making more money on titles that are attractive for a much smaller audience. These may sell fewer copies per title, but because there are so many of those, Amazon is still able to make a large profit.

Think about goals

In order to be able to make the right choice, it is good to think about the ultimate goal, and how much money you are able/willing to spend. In the short term, short tail will produce most results, provided all SEO conditions are met. If you choose long tail, it will take more time before concrete results are achieved.