Keywords are actually whole phrases, and "long-tail" keywords are phrases with four or more words in them. Here's an example:
Short keyword: ski vacation
Long-tail keyword: honeymoon ski vacation aspen colorado december 2009
You can see that the long-tail keyword is far more specific and focused than the shorter keyword. But is it worth going after something that specific? There can't be that many people searching for it. Exactly.
With long-tail keywords, it's much easier to get your target market's attention because there's less competition. Most of your competitors aren't concentrating on these keywords, so they are, and always will be, your golden eggs.
The numbers tell the story. For "ski vacation" you'll get results in the tens or hundreds of millions. But for a more specific, long-tail keyword you're only competing with a couple of thousand. That means a lot fewer websites you'll have to climb past to get to the top spot in the search results.
But long-tail keywords sell for another reason: People tend to use long-tail keywords for searches when they're getting close to making a purchase.
A person's buying cycle can be broken down into three phases: interest, research and purchase. As people get closer to the purchase phase, they tend to use longer, more specific keywords in their searches. This means the traffic you get from your long-tail keywords is far more likely to lead to a purchase than the traffic resulting from your short keywords.
Long-tail keywords will bring highly targeted traffic to your site when you use them in pay-per-click ads or as anchors in external links back to your site from your articles, blog entries and any social networking you do online. But you can't just leave them hanging there. Someone who uses a long-tail keyword is looking for very specific information. If they follow a link they think is relevant, only to discover that it leads to a vaguely, sort-of-related page, they'll leave.
Once they get to your site, they need to know immediately that they've found exactly what they were looking for. Here are the top three ways to realize that goal:
1. Create a landing page for each long-tail keyword cluster. Keep your landing pages focused on one problem statement. Use one to three very similar, long-tail keywords that address that problem; include synonyms.
For instance, along with "honeymoon ski vacation aspen colorado december 2009," you'd include a couple of other honeymoon- and Colorado-related keywords, but not keywords about spring skiing or family ski vacations.
Search engine spiders--particularly Googlebot--love websites with lots of pages, so with your new set of landing pages you'll be able to please both human and robot readers.
2. Optimize your landing pages for each long-tail keyword cluster. Be sure to use the keywords you've optimized in the important places in your code: page title, meta description, headers and image alt text.
Your title tags are particularly important here. In your keyword research tool, look for the top three 24-hour results for each cluster. Use those in your title tags (up to 100 characters).
Make sure the phrases also appear naturally in the content of the page at least three or four times, along with synonyms. Watch for duplicate content, too. Most of the content on each page should be unique. The goal here is to get to the top spot in natural search results.
3. Mix your long-tail keywords with short keywords. Short keywords play an important role, too. Short keywords drive a high volume of less-focused traffic to your website, providing an opportunity for you to ask for your visitors' e-mail addresses.
Short keywords are also really good for establishing your business as a brand because people who recognize your business name or URL from the early phase of the buying cycle are more likely to click on it later, when they're getting ready to buy. It's not the priority to get the top ranking for your short keywords (although it's great if you can do it), but the closer you can get to the top, the better.
Long-tail keywords are ideal for connecting with your niche market, they're easier to rank than short-tail keywords and they launch you into a customer's buying cycle at exactly the right time.
Derek Gehl is Entrepreneur's e-business columnist and the CEO of the Internet Marketing Center. He is an internationally renowned internet marketing expert whose techniques and strategies for building a successful online business have been implemented by hundreds of thousands of businesses worldwide. The Internet Marketing Center has just released the new, online edition of its best-selling course for online entrepreneurs, The Insider Secrets to Marketing Your Business on the Internet.