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Long-tail keywords: what are they and how do they improve your search ranking?

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

Using long-tail keywords improves your chance of ranking highly in search engine results pages. Not only that, they help you attract purchase-ready prospects who want to buy your products.

Illustration of a long-tail lemur typing on a keyboard - demonstrating the idea of long-tail keywords

Keywords that are easier to rank for and get better results? Here’s everything you need to know about rank-boosting, sale-making long-tail keywords.

What are long-tail keywords?

Long-tail keywords are more specific keywords that people search for, usually when they’re ready to make a purchase.

Instead of being one or two words long, long-tail keywords can be phrases or whole sentences. For example:

  • Keyword: Dog basket

  • Long-tail keyword: Tartan dog basket for small breeds

What’s the difference between keywords and long-tail keywords?

At the most basic level, the difference between keywords and long-tail keywords is length.

The word ‘tail’ sometimes confuses people. But if you take that out of the equation, you get your answer. Long-tail keywords are LONG keywords.

But that isn’t the only difference. As you’ll discover, long-tail keywords also perform differently to shorter keywords. And that’s why we love ‘em.

Why use long-tail keywords?

Long-tail keywords have superpowers. Use long-tail keywords in your digital marketing content and you’re more likely to:

  • Rank highly in search engine results pages (the SERPs)

  • Attract readers who will click through to your site

  • Convert those readers into customers

That’s because long-tail keywords attract people who:

  • Know exactly what they want to buy

  • Are further through the buyers’ journey (decision stage)

  • Are showing clear buying intent

There’s also usually less competition for long-tail keywords.

Four advantages of long-tail keywords

  • Lower organic competition = easier to rank for = higher organic visibility

  • Lower paid competition = lower-cost advertising

  • More targeted = higher click-through rate = relevant traffic to your site

  • More purchase-ready visitors = higher conversions

How do long-tail keywords work?

Long-tail keywords work because they’re super-specific.

When someone types a long-tail keyword into Google, they know they’re going to find exactly what they’re looking for. And when they find exactly what they’re looking for, they’re more likely to buy it.

Take the earlier example of dog beds.

Doggy Deborah loves her sausage dog – Banger - almost as much as she loves her home country of Scotland. She’s worried Banger is getting cold on the kitchen floor, so she Googles ‘dog beds’.

That brings up WAY too many results and they’re not all relevant. She doesn’t need a Doberman-sized bed for dainty Banger.

So she narrows it down. ‘Dog beds for small breeds’. That’s better. Now she can see dog beds suitable for her little sausage. But they’re not really her style. What about tartan?

Back to Google. ‘Tartan dog beds for small breeds’. Success! There’s the perfect bed for Banger. And only £29.99? SOLD!

As you can see, by using more specific search terms (keywords), Debbie was able to find the perfect product for her pooch. As a result, she made a purchase.

Use long-tail keywords for lower competition

Long-tail keywords aren’t just great because they help you attract purchase-ready readers. They’re also easier to rank for.

Because they’re more specific, fewer businesses will be able to provide relevant content for them. And, because they have lower search volume, they’re often less attractive to some businesses.

This means you’ll have less competition for that coveted front page SERP ranking or ad spot.

  • In organic strategy, long-tail keywords can be easier to rank for

  • In paid strategy, long-tail keywords can be more affordable

Don’t be scared by long-tail keyword search volume

Pop into any keyword search tool and you’ll notice that long-tail keywords have lower search volume. Don’t let this worry you. You’ll reach a more relevant, interested and purchase-ready audience using long-tail keywords.

Put simply, you’ll get lead QUALITY over lead QUANTITY. It’s better to reach 1000 people who might buy your product than a million people with zero interest.

The long-tail keyword sweet spot

To be an effective part of your SEO strategy, long-tail keywords need to fulfil three criteria.

  • Good search volume – Although we expect lower search volume with long-tail keywords, we still need to see something here

  • Low competition – Some long-tail keywords are popular, so look for competition under 25 to boost your ranking chances

  • Relevance – Does the keyword map onto something you actually sell or provide. There’s no point attracting visitors if you can’t meet their needs - you'll just piss them off

Long-tail keywords and keyword modifiers

Keyword modifiers are another way to make your SEO strategy more effective. To find out more take a look at our dedicated keyword modifier guide - How to use keyword modifiers to rank, convert and boost sales.


Photo of Libby Marks copywriter - leaning against a glass wall in a modern office, wearing a fabulous leopard print dress.

About the author

Libby Marks is an award-winning copywriter and content marketer. After 15+ years in marketing and communications, she escaped the 9-to-5 and started Write on Tyne.

Write on Tyne is a small content and copywriting agency dedicated to making marketing managers' lives easier.

We provide top-notch copy for campaigns, content marketing, and websites - underpinned by expertise in marketing strategy and SEO.


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