Top Generic Keywords or Longtail? Which Should You Go After? (Part 2)

Longtail Keywords

The less competitive and more specific ‘longtail keywords’ are the epitome of opportunity. There is almost endless amounts of longtail traffic out there and if optimised in the right way, sites can capture a great deal of them. But is it worth spending time creating lots of content and optimising it to pull in longtail traffic?

Firstly, websites don’t necessarily need to be all that powerful to rank for longtail keywords. This means that if you have new or weak site and you cannot compete for the top terms yet, you can always tap into the longtail search at some level. It is very difficult indeed to rank well for a whole host of generic terms as well, whilst there isn’t really anything stopping you ranking for many thousands of longtail terms. This post shows that in order to pull in more longtail traffic, 50% of the work you need to do is onsite work, compared to only 5% onsite work for the top level keywords. With this in mind, if you are not proficient in link-building, but can look after your onsite optimisation and copy, you can still perform well under your own steam, rather than having to outsource any offsite work. The most important thing to say about longtail search terms though, is that they convert much better. As mentioned earlier in part 1, longer keyword searches perform better than short, and so even though traffic might be lower with longtail, sales can still be higher.

Longtail search terms can be something of an unknown entity when it comes to predicting just how much traffic they will provide. To a large extent we know that generic keywords will provide a least some traffic if we rank well for them, but there is no guarantee that longtail search terms will do the same. In order to get anywhere will longtail search, you need to have good amounts of unique copy on your site. You often play a law-of-averages game with longtail – the more content you produce, the greater the chances someone will search for longtail search terms found within it. Not everyone has the time or ability to produce large volumes of content though, and it can seem like a risky investment in resources if there is no guarantee of traffic. Lastly, long tail search habits tend to change more frequently than the large generic terms. For example a certain range or style of dolls house might be popular on month and then receive no search the next, but people will always search for the generic term “dolls houses”. This means that you might spend lots of time optimising for keywords that your research shows people are using, only to find they are redundant before your pages even get crawled.
So what is the answer then?

Annoyingly this really depends on many factors specific to your site. For example, how powerful is the site? What are you selling? How competitive is the market? Etc. What I have found from experience however is that a happy medium is often best. By all means go after the top terms if you think your site has a chance of ranking, but at the same time, make sure you site is positioned to capture as many longtail terms as possible. What I can tell you though, is the worst thing you can. That is, blindly throw all your efforts in one or the other month after month, without considering where your best ROI might come from. Unfortunately, I see many SEOs do this very thing all the time.

Duncan is a search and online marketing specialist in the UK. He is also passionate about travel and blogs for an Oceania cruises company.


  1. It is almost like gazing into a crystal ball to see which method is best for which website. When working with small businesses, I think the long tail option can give them hope, because they can compete on their uniqueness, rather than having to spend buckets of money competing against a bigger company. I like that. Maybe the little guy can win!

  2. Really I am a supporter of using words fix less competed to obtain more traffic.

    Thank you for the article and congratulation.

  3. Good insight, targeting long tail keywords usually convert as searches reached your site through a highly specific keyword, your content is more likely exactly what they were seeking.
    All in all target long-tail keywords and provide persuasive, quality content to raise conversion rates.

  4. My targeting a long-tail keyword for each page you can boost your rankings for the core keyword, so even though search patterns may change you will reap the benefits in the short term and the long term.

  5. Hi again, just stumbled upon my comment from a while back. After experimenting we’ve had unpredictable success with long-tail search terms – as you note it’s hard to predict how popular they’ll be.

    Our own blog post on this topic was v popular – seems to be a popular topic. Would you be interested in writing something on keyword optimisation for our blog? In return for copious links / promo tweets ;-)


  6. Very interesting topic concerning SEO. It is always better to make certain that you have the proper content in ordet to compete in the online arena. Also Longtail for smaller and just getting started sites.


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