Director of SEO, 10+ Years of Search Engine Optimization Experience
August 9th, 2021
Let’s face it: It’s harder than ever for a business trying to bring in leads through their website with organic search. Big-name firms with huge SEO budgets are going directly for the high-volume keywords that drive huge numbers of visitors by themselves, and it can seem impossible to gain a foothold against them. You're convinced that you want those visitors. That you need those visitors.
What if I told you that you didn’t want allthose visitors?
What if I told you that with a little work and a lot more focus, you can get traffic that’s better targeted, better looking (probably), and, best of all, more likely to convert?
This is the world of long-tail keywords, and they can supercharge your in-house content team’s strategy as a vital part of the They Ask, You Answer method.
Looking for a way to improve qualified lead acquisition? Long-tail keywords.
Want to make the sales process smoother? Long-tail keywords.
They can help you create content around The Big 5. They can help you create content for assignment selling. They can help you become a voice of trust in your industry.
In other words, if your business’s website is looking for a new best friend, long-tail keywords are waiting for you.
What are long-tail keywords and how can I use them?
In general, a long-tail keyword is a query that is used 10 or fewer times per month by search engine users. A query with that low a volume probably doesn’t sound that impressive on its own, but consider this: These keywords comprise over 90% of searches in Google in aggregate.
Long-tail keywords tend to be more specific and longer (think three to five words) and they frequently appear in the form of a question (more on that in a bit). They’re also underappreciated by most big websites that instead focus on the so-called “header” terms.
Let’s walk through an example of long-tail keywords
Let’s pretend you make an accounting software package designed to help make life easier for small and medium-sized business owners.
The keyword “accounting software” receives around 12,000 queries per month. That’s a lot! You’re going up against publishers such as Investopedia and Capterra along with companies such as Xero and Sage. That’s not even mentioning the paid ads that appear in the SERPs that are likely to get clicked by shoppers. Heck, even being a little more specific and aiming at “small business accounting software” means that you’re going after 8,100 search engine users a month.
That’s heavy competition and you probably don’t have the time or resources to devote to competing at that level. That’s OK, though!
The keywords “accounting software for hair salons,” “land development accounting software,” and “lawn service accounting software” get around only 10 queries per month each. The people who use those terms are users who have needs that have to be addressed, and they’re most likely being ignored by large-scale websites that are taking a one-size-fits-all approach to SEO.
These are also people who your accounting software firm could quickly create pages for. The language on those pages could address their specific concerns — chair rentals, impact fees, recurring maintenance — and feature imagery that’s focused on their industry. You’ll be engaging them in a way that nobody else has bothered to, making it more likely that they’ll fill out a lead form.
Now for the important question: Where are these long-tail keywords hiding and how can you flush them out?
How to find long-tail keywords
As with most things related to the internet, there are free ways to research long-tail keywords, and there are ways that you have to pay for. They each have their own advantages.
Free Method 1: Use Google itself
While it’s likely that the information that is displayed will be skewed toward both timeliness and overall volume, Google’s autocomplete suggestions can be very helpful when it comes to initial brainstorming around long-tail keywords.
You can also use Google’s “People also ask” functionality to find questions that users have entered related to your topic. This is a great way to find content for your business’s blog or learning center.
These are the sort of queries that are custom-made for the They Ask, You Answer business methodology.
In this particular case, we can see that Xero and QuickBooks are common topics for people researching accounting software. This gives you an opportunity to give a frank evaluation of their pricing versus your own or to talk about how you can beat them when it comes to handling small business needs.
Finally, there are the suggested searches that appear at the bottom of the search engine results page:
Here we can see that content that addresses ease of use and the needs of self-employed individuals can help you find new visitors.
The disadvantage of using Google’s suggestions is that you have no idea what the volume around any of these terms is without moving to a paid tool. Although you can follow the links and find any gaps yourself, this data tends to be imprecise.
Free Method 2: Use your own site data
If you want precise data that are based on your site’s current organic search performance, use Google Search Console. For example, you might have a less-focused page that consistently draws a few clicks a month for “free trial small business accounting software,” but it doesn’t feature that language in either the title or H1.
By creating a page that directly addresses that query, you can drive those users deeper into the funnel without reinventing the wheel or attempting to rank for something you’re not already achieving some success with.
It’s also worth looking at your content management system (CMS) for help in your search for long-tail keywords. Many CMSs offer site search analytics that you can tap into to better understand your current users.
Free Method 3: Browse the web
Yes, I’m serious. Sites such as Quora and eHow draw tens of millions of visitors a month, and they all want to learn something. To give you an idea of where you can find opportunities, here are three results from a search for “small business accounting software” on Quora:
Every question here is an opportunity for a business using They Ask, You Answer. You can create content that answers those questions in your learning center as well as create materials that help your sales team excel.
Invest in a paid keyword research tool
Yes, you’re going to have to spend some money, but this is the easiest way to get long-tail keywords with any kind of certainty. Simply enter a keyword, search for a volume of 10 or fewer, and in a second or two, you’ll get a list to work from. Here are a few that I recommend:
Semrush’s deep historical database and flexible research tools have made it the gold standard for SEO research, but it does have a higher price point. That said, if you can take advantage of its feature set, you’ll be making a good investment for your business. (Here’s our Semrush review if you want to learn more.)
Ahrefs started off as a backlink tool, but over the last few years, its keyword research functionality has really come into its own. I haven’t completely converted to it, but I do think it’s a great tool in its own right.
If you’re just looking for keyword research and you don’t need to go quite as deep as Semrush and Ahrefs allow, Ubersuggest is a low-cost alternative that allows you to create a long-tail keyword plan quickly.
Keywords Everywhere is built right into Chrome and Firefox and lets you stay on a single screen while doing your research. It doesn’t offer nearly as much in the way of reporting and tracking as other tools, but its credit system makes it easy to budget.
Questions as long-tail keywords
As you’ve seen, questions are a big part of long-tail keyword research and (obviously) a key component of They Ask, You Answer. While researching for this article, I came across a block of questions practically tailor-made for the TAYA approach. Each of these questions has between 10 and 30 queries per month (making them long-ish tail, really), but they show obvious potential for someone willing to invest in creating content that answers them:
How to evaluate accounting software.
How to choose the right accounting software.
Why use accounting software?
How to switch accounting software.
Can accounting software help reduce costs?
If you’re really invested in answering user questions, you should check out AnswerThePublic. It’s a keyword research tool that visualizes search user questions and suggested autocomplete searches. It uses categories centered around the five Ws (who, what, when, where, why) and other words such as “how,” “can,” “are,” “which,” and “will.”
(Yes, you can get the same data in spreadsheet form. The cloud visual is just neat, you know?)
If you’re interested in giving it a trial, you can take advantage of one free search a day on the platform (just make sure to select the right country for your needs), or pay $99 or more a month to use it as robustly as you want.
You can also use questions to try to get a featured snippet for your website, like this:
Long-tail keywords are a great way to invest in long-term search success
I’d like to think it’s obvious by now, but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway: Long-tail keywords are great. They help you grab low-hanging fruit while building your site’s search profile and engaging users who are being missed by the competition. They fit naturally into the They Ask, You Answer methodology and can be used to build out your content calendar with ease.
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