Most marketers believe that using long-tail keywords is the most effective way to get traffic that converts without having to spend big, especially with Google Ads. In marketing, many people believe that using long-tail keywords generates high-conversion traffic, making it possible to even double a client’s profit by transforming simple keywords into long-tail keyword phrases with more than four words. In general, this belief comes from the idea that most searches are over four words long.
But the truth is that using long-tail keywords isn’t the best strategy for converting traffic through ads. Converting multiple short-tail keywords into long-tail keywords isn’t going to be effective in the long term, and it actually won’t increase your profit like you think.
A Brief Explanation of Keyword Strategy
Keywords have always really been composed of three key qualities to focus on: relevance, search volume, and competitiveness. Relevance centers on ensuring that the keyword you choose to try and rank for is actually connected to what your business centers upon. Instead of selecting keywords that are distant from your business focus and hoping that some visitors will instead pay attention to what you have to offer, you should focus on driving the right visitors to your website—those who are searching for something relevant to what you do best.
Search volume is a little more obvious because clearly, we all want to rank for keywords that are actively and frequently being searched for. No one wants to rank for something that’s obscure and hidden, but we all want to find the ideal keyword that is being searched for frequently by lots of visitors.
Competitiveness means that you want to find a keyword where you have a chance of being seen—you want a term that’s searched frequently, but doesn’t have so many results that you get lost in the noise and won’t rank. Instead, from a competitiveness standpoint, you want a keyword with low competition—it’s easier to be seen in 100,000 results than it is to be seen in 1,000,000.
Based on those things, you might think that you have to get super specific with your keywords, which can lead you to the idea that long-tail keywords are the most effective. However, it’s important to note that these qualities were the only thing to focus on when the internet first became popular. Now, there’s a whole different strategy and approach that actually makes using long-tail keywords a poor strategy for ranking with ads.
What Are Long Tail Keywords?
Let’s start by figuring out exactly what long-tail keywords are. Long-tail keywords are longer, more specific keyword phrases tailored to a specific audience doing relevant searches. Because of the specificity that happens when you’re using long-tail keyword phrases, you’re more likely to draw in visitors who are actively looking for that topic or thing. You can connect with visitors who are seeking something you offer, rather than using a short-tail or general keyword with more competition.
Inherently, you will draw less traffic with a long-tail keyword than a short-tail keyword due to the specificity of the search, but that traffic will be focused, committed, and more primed to act since they are using that more targeted search.
The more words in a keyword phrase, the more specific the search—so someone who is searching for “wedding cake” might not have the same level of intensity as someone searching for “colourful modern wedding cake in New York.” Using long-tail keywords helps you find your niche audience, but can also limit the number of overall users and visitors you receive through your ads.
The Biggest Problem With Using Long Tail Keywords
One huge issue with long-tail keywords is how significantly the number of impressions per keyword drops when search phrases contain four or more keywords. In order to generate one click per month, you would need 200 long-tail keyword search phrases each containing five or more words. This means that to generate that one click per month, you would need to add an overwhelming amount of keywords to your ad account in order to capture them, which makes efficient management almost impossible.
Moreover, even if you successfully add the correct number of search terms as keywords, using long-tail keywords isn’t likely to actually increase your performance because of character limits—improving performance with more specific long-tail keywords only happens when you pair those keywords with more specific ads, but because of the four-or-more keywords in the ad headlines, it’s virtually impossible to make the ad itself more specific. What does this mean? On a basic level, even though the cost per acquired visitor is lower when using long-tail keywords, your actual results are diminished because of an inability to create more specific advertisements to reach that interested buyer or client.
Bidding With Long-Tail Keywords Isn’t as Effective as You Think
Marketers frequently believe that ad bids will be more accurate when using long-tail keywords. However, this argument isn’t proven at all because of how long it would take to gain enough data on returns in order to make a clear judgment—long-tail keywords have lower impressions per keyword per month, so the overall time it takes to get enough data on bidding accuracy is much higher.
Simply put, long-tail keyword traffic from search terms between five and seven words long will likely generate 10-20% of conversions, so you shouldn’t ignore them altogether. But adding extraneous amounts of long-tail keywords where they wouldn’t naturally occur in order to capture that traffic really takes a lot of your time.
Instead, you should focus on spending the most time on your top 20% of short-tail keywords, which will generate 80% of your conversions, and then from those, build out your ad account with more mid to long-tail keywords to accurately reflect those effective phrases you’re targeting. You can use tools like BMM or Phrase Match to try and get accurate long-tail keyword phrases.
How Long Should Your Keywords Be?
When you are creating keywords, on a general level, they should typically be between two and four words. Depending on your specific niche or industry, one-word keywords can also perform well.
If you’re using long-tail keywords of four or more words, you often actually end up generating fewer impressions and conversions than you’d expect, leading to a disparity between time spent optimizing those keywords and the ROI—instead, you should prioritize improving the quality score of that top 20% of keywords you identified earlier, which will yield much higher results and conversions for you.
The key takeaway is to not focus so much on using long-tail keywords as a loophole to getting quick and cheap results, but instead, build out your keyword list so that most of your keywords are in the three-to-four word range for the best ROI when considering the time it takes to optimize your list.