Search engine optimization is a complicated beast. It’s not surprising that when you start trying to explain some of the more minute fine points of SEO, you’ll often see the listener’s eyes glaze over as they get lost in terms like meta tags and canonical URLs.

One concept that I do believe it is important to have familiarity with is long-tail keywords. Understanding how these function will help illuminate the inner workings of SEO, and why it is so valuable to have a specialized person or agency assisting with your keyword strategy, particularly if you happen to operate a small business.

What Are Long-Tail Keywords?

SEO keywords are words or phrases that are implemented into both on-page copy and back-end properties to help people find your site through search engines. Keywords should be highly relevant to the content on a page, essentially summarizing the main focus. The idea is that if someone enters these keywords into a search on Google, Bing or some other engine, they will find your page and be led to what they’re seeking.

A long-tail keyword is a more lengthy and specific phrase that describes your site in greater detail, as opposed to the short and generalized keywords that often come to mind. For instance, if you’re selling a couch, you could simply use “couch” as a keyword, but the long-tail version might be something like “antique brown leather couch in Indianapolis.”

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Long-Tail Keywords

We’ll start out with the downside, which is fairly obvious: Fewer people are going to type long-tail keywords into search queries. There will be much less search volume for a distinct six-word phrase compared to a common and general term. Sometimes a Web user is too lazy to type out a full description of what they’re looking for, and sometimes they don’t even necessarily know exactly what they’re looking for. By focusing on long-tail keywords, you miss out on this segment.

However, within that disadvantage lies the major advantage. The smaller subsection of searchers that are typing in specific queries are inherently going to be more well qualified leads. There is also much less competition for these keywords, so your chances of placing higher on search results and drawing meaningful traffic are increased substantially.Long Tail Keywords

So the positive impact on organic search is clear. But long-tail keywords are also very valuable when used in paid search¬†marketing, and that’s why they’re so crucial for smaller businesses that might not have massive marketing budgets.

Cost-Per-Click Benefit

Cost-per-click (CPC) advertising is a model that involves spending money for placement on search results with particular keywords, through services such as Google AdWords and Bing Ads. As the name suggests, you pay on a per-click basis and the cost is determined by the amount you’re willing to bid for a click as well as the relevancy of your keywords.

So from an ROI perspective, using long-tail keywords in CPC campaigns is a win-win. There is less competition for them, so you needn’t bid as much for high placement, and your relevancy scores will be higher because the phrases (ideally) describe the content on your site more accurately.

You’re also much more likely to capitalize on the traffic you do receive through these campaigns. When you get a click on your ad, you’re generally paying for it whether or not the visitor takes a desired action. So, using the aforementioned example, someone who is looking to purchase a couch might click to your site based on that general keyword, only to¬†find that you’re not offering the blue microfiber sofa they wanted. If they were searching for an antique brown leather couch, came to your site and found exactly that, then your marketing dollars are going to good use.


Long-tail keywords are not without their limitations, but they are a vital part of any SEO campaign, especially for small businesses. The tricky part is knowing which ones to use, and how to optimally integrate them into your website. Fortunately, the experts at TSM are here to help. Connect with us and we’ll help you maximize your exposure while getting the most out of your marketing spend.