Long tail keywords are pretty much what they sound like; they’re longer, more specific keywords which pertain more strongly to your business than other more general – and perhaps more frequently used – searches. Essentially, the usefulness of long tail keywords lies in the specificity of the keywords which greatly increases the chances of traffic actually going to your site and becoming a customer.
This isn’t about getting your site to show up on a vast number of generalized searches; it’s about being found for searches which are likely to actually bring you business. If you’re trying to get traffic to a small, local, or super-specific site, these types of keywords are essential. When you’re part of a specific niche market, even if someone manages to find your site with a general search, it’s much less likely that they’re searching for exactly what your website does. In these types of situations, optimizing only for general search terms wastes both your and your potential customers’ time.
The simple truth is that sites like Amazon.com are always going to snap up the majority of super general searches. Long tail keywords are all about being found for what your site really is and does. If your website is optimized for this keyword, you’re basically guaranteed a website visit an an increased chance of customer conversion.
Let’s look at an example. Say you’re a potential customer trying to figure out where to eat in an unfamiliar city. You could search for “burger restaurant” and receive a few million search results, the first few pages of which will be filled with mega-chains like Red Robbin, McDonalds, and the like. People will often start with more generalized searches and refine them if they don’t find satisfactory results, especially if they’re doing research on the options available to them. This is where those additional details become critical, if you’re looking for a specific product or service, you won’t find applicable sites unless this criteria is reflected in the site’s keywords.
Now, unless you were searching for a massive worldwide burger chain, most search-engine-savvy people will automatically refine their search by adding specific details about what they’re looking for until it looks something like “local burger restaurant in Bellingham, WA”. This long tail keyword search will show nothing but locally owned burger joints in one specific city, filtering out the big chains entirely. This is crucial, especially if your website shows up on the first page of results, because you’ve got about a 1 in 10 chance that the searching person is about to come to your restaurant.
As a last note, it’s important to remember that, as useful as long tail keywords can be, they’re only as good as the content they describe. You can bring in all the potential customers you want with specific keywords, but unless your site actually has the information the customer requires, nothing is going to be able to increase your customer conversion. Great content is, in the long run, vastly more important to the success of a website than any SEO.