Long vs Short Tail Searches Part 1: The Tale of the Long Tail Search

Part One of the Epic of the Keyword Tails: What is a Long Tail, and Why Shouldn’t you Neglect Them?

For those of you who have been optimizing your websites with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) methods, or even those who are new to the entire process, you may have come across the terms “short tail keywords” and “long tail keywords” in regards to searches. Here is an overview of long tail searches, an often overlooked but important part of SEO, as well as a quick understanding of why the different types of searches have an impact on Click Through Rate (CTR) and SEO.


But first, it is important to know what these short tailed and long tailed searches actually are. Whilst it is amusing to think of lots of long and short tailed mammal detectives running our search engines, sadly, the terms actually refer to the specificity of the words used in a search.

Long tail searches have more search terms or words (usually between 3 – 5), and are often looking for a more specific answer to their inquiry. Whereas, short tail searches, you guessed it, have fewer search terms (usually less than 3).

An example of a long tailed search – not a cunning mouse detective after all.

Confused? Well, for example, the search term “drums” is a short tail, because it is incredibly broad in its scope (16,400,000 results, in case you wanted to go into the drumming business). However, the search term “drum kit sale Melbourne” is much more specialised, and more likely to be what the user is looking for (the number of results are 245,000, for those Melbourne-based drummers on a budget).

As a bit of background on long tail searches, it is associated with a theory by Chris Anderson. He noticed that in the age of the Internet, the majority of searches are actually done by more specific terms, rather than being clustered around short tail or “head” terms.

Since we no longer live in a society where the “economics of scarcity” rule, there is virtually unlimited demand for products – the demand just gets smaller. Think of a market or a bazaar, which has all the products of the world lined up. Now, there will be a lot of competition around more popular items like the fruits or jewelry (the short tail, or competitive section), but most people will be happy to cruise the markets and find the particular knick-knack that they really want or need. Most products will sell – in fact, the majority of them will only sell small amounts – but the competition for some will be much harsher than other.


It is often neglected, because it is hard work to tailor your Adwords and searches for long tail searches. But it is important to remember that there are numerous advantages to the long tail approach. Firstly, the longer the “tail”, the less competition you have, which is a great start to having a quality click through rate. Because there is less competition, it can also be noticeably cheaper to have this investment.

Second advantage is the quality of searches. When you type “drums” into Google, you may be simply after information about what drums are, or maybe you want to watch that sweet drum solo by Mike Portnoy again. But the person who types “drum kit sale Melbourne” is much more likely to be interested in purchasing a drum kit from your business. With specialization comes a greater chance of scoring that CTR and low bounce back rate you are after.


Of course, the long-tail isn’t a silver bullet to your SEO and CTR problems. There are some problems with this strategy. The first is an obvious one: there is often much less traffic coming your way. And whilst you may have higher quality traffic, with better CTR and bounce-back rates, you will still have less to start off with.

Second problem with long tail searches is that the search can sometimes yield weird and irrelevant searches to your business. How many times have you typed in a more specific search and half of the results on the SERP are to do with pages that have no bearing on the search at all. Well, with long tail searches, this is a risk you run.

Third problem is the fact it can be challenging to accurately get the search terms you need. And you should always be careful when employing long tail keywords that you don’t enforce an exact phrase match (unless you are really targeting that particular phrase). For example, if I type in “drum kit sales Melbourne” as my fixed term, then “sales of drum kits in Melbourne” may not turn up, even if the search is very relevant to the website being promoted.


For desktops, long tail tends to be more common than short tail searches. However, for mobile searches, short tail searches are king. As a result, it pays to be much more economic with URL’s, page titles, and meta descriptions is even more crucial for mobile SEO. CTR tend to be very low for mobile searches that are cluttered with text. The smaller space is something to consider when writing the copy for your ads or organic search terms.

As with all manner of SEO and CTR based advice, the trick is to do things in moderation. Don’t only focus on long tail keywords, like you shouldn’t focus only on short tail. But, considering long tail keywords are an often under utilized aspect of SEO, they are something to consider when engaging in your online strategy. Use your knowledge of how people typically search for your business, take advantage of what the data in your account is telling you, and test a few strategies to figure out what works best for your account.