There is a tendency in SEO to go blazing after the most competitive “glamour keywords” in an attempt to get them ranking high in the SERPS. This is certainly not a fool’s pursuit as there are benefits to ranking for such terms. However, more SEOs these days are waking up to the potential power of longtail search terms and some are even finding they give a much better ROI. So which should you be going after, the head or tail of the search term beast?

Top Generic Terms

The competiveness of top level terms within each niche varies. Trying to rank for “fishing equipment” for example, is likely to be a lot harder than trying to ranking for “tree surgery equipment”. However, as the SERPS become more competitive each day, it can require a lot of time and effort to reach the first page in even the smallest markets. So should we really be investing our blood, sweat and tears in trying to rank a few measly keywords.

First of all, the most generic keywords tend have the highest search volumes. Therefore, if you can get into a good position in the SERPS, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get some traffic from them. Also, by going after the top level terms and building links using these terms in the anchor text, you’re likely to pull in a number of the longer-tail keywords at the same. For example, if you do a lot of work on the term “car insurance” and you see movement up the rankings, you’re likely to see some boost for terms such as “car insurance quotes” or “buy car insurance”. Additionally, ranking for top level terms often helps brand awareness and credibility. When most people see a site ranking highly in the SERPS for competitive terms, they are more likely to assume that site has quality and is trustworthy…if only they knew!

As mentioned earlier, trying to rank for competitive generic terms often requires a great deal of time and effort and can be a little like trying to climb a mountain without actually knowing how high it goes. Whilst SEOs can make informed guesses about just what it will take to move up the next slot in the SERPS, no one can really know for sure and so a term you are plugging away at for months might not even budge an inch. Also, by narrowing your focus on such specific terms, it is very easy to ignore a whole load of terms on the next level down that can also provide good traffic in their own rights. Lastly, the more generic (often single-word) terms do not convert as well as longer-tail terms. Ignoring brand terms, this report shows that conversion rate increases with the number of words in the search query, all the way up to four-word phrases.

Tomorrow we’ll post part II of this this article.

Duncan is an SEO engineer from England. He is also passionate about travel and blogs for a river cruises agent.