Is There Scale in The Long Tail of Search?

Most sites struggle with staying relevant in organic search. To be successful at SEO, site managers need to be able to target topics that have enough volume to drive meaningful results. But as the Internet expands, industry competition is increasing. As a result, it’s getting harder to find those keywords that will deliver.

SEO Evolution into the Long Tail

SEO campaigns used to be concentrated around “head terms.” These are usually large volume, wide topic keywords, such as type 2 diabetes, or plaque psoriasis. This strategy didn’t produce meaningful results for most marketers as these terms quickly became extremely competitive and only a few domains could rank well. 

Search marketers adjusted by expanding beyond the “head term” to be more descriptive. For example, type 2 diabetes recipes or plaque psoriasis relief. These descriptive terms are narrower in scope, but also typically lower in volume. However, these terms became very competitive as well. 

So search marketers narrowed their keywords even further into the “long tail,” e.g., type 2 diabetes recipes containing almond milk or plaque psoriasis relief at high altitudes. Long tail search was less competitive, so long tail search strategies became an effective way of ensuring meaningful albeit small traffic.

How the Long Tail is Changing

As consumers are getting more facile and more specific at typing their exact queries into search engines, and search engines have gotten better at serving results, we are seeing a new type of long tail query. These queries are even more specific, narrower in scope, and reflect the clear intent of the user. For example, this could be how many carbs per meal for diabetes type 2.

These searches are lower in competition as most sites are not targeting topics with this specificity. They are thus easier to rank for. Plus they have an obvious user intent, which allows sites to deliver well against them, and yield higher audience quality. And surprisingly, compared to the long tail searches of yesterday, these newer search approaches have significant scale. 

How to Find the Scale in the Long Tail

It’s a little harder, creatively, to find this scale within the long tail: It takes a keen eye and disciplined process to uncover what users are actually looking for. That’s probably why they face low competition. 

Here are a few tips:

  1. Gaps: Look for long tail terms driving traffic to current head term overview pages for ideas. When Google cannot find a strong intent match, it will usually rank your or a competitor’s head term page.

  2. Listening: Talk to your users, browse forums and other places your audience is having conversations, and review user feedback or comments on broad topic pages to identify where there is demand for new content. Use that to inform your seed keywords and build out variants.

  3. Expansion: Expand on successful long tail pages. If you noticed leg cramps at night performed really well, what about leg cramps in the day or other conditions at night?

  4. Tools to Use: Look at Google’s ‘People also ask’, Related Queries, and auto complete for new topics, and pay attention to long strings that seem out of place.

  5. Tools to Avoid: Don’t rely on auto suggest keyword tools. The long tail search strings are typically too long for them to populate these topics for you.

Search engines will keep getting better at delivering answers to very specific queries. So users will continue to ask increasingly specific search questions. This provides an amazing opportunity for content and search marketers to achieve user reach with minimal competition.

If you’re interested in more information about how the keyword research process enables our partners to align with content which has rankings, reach, and relevance, email us at

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