The content marketing keyword sweet spot

By the Editor In SEO 6 Comments

In our last blog post we mentioned that we’re going to do a series of blog posts by our talented team members on specific topics. This is the second post on SEO by our Director, Christopher Mills.


In light of our last blog post about SEO in 2012 and what to expect in 2013, we decided to focus on something related to content marketing and give you something to think about and/or apply to your strategies.

Over the years there have been thousands of articles stating why blogging, content marketing and content production is important, from establishing a brand to showing off your expertise, but one topic that hasn’t been covered in depth in a non-technical manner, is that of long-tail keywords. What’s that you might ask? A long-tail keyword is a phrase that someone searches for in Google that consists of more than a couple of words and is a specific search, here’s an example:

Long-tail keyword search

In the example above, a person is searching for a very specific phrase, a phrase that usually wouldn’t be the primary focus of a car rental company. Typically, a car rental company would optimize their website for terms such as “car rental”, “car hire”, “car hire cape town” or “car rental cape town”. These terms are far more competitive, meaning that the company would need to do a great deal of work to rank highly for them and that the person searching would have many more choices in the search results. On the other side, with a long-tail search, competition would be less and there would be fewer results, thus giving the company more chance of acquiring the searcher as a potential customer.

In such a case, the car rental company would need to find a way to incorporate these long-tail keywords into their strategy. The easiest way would be to write articles (or blog posts) on their website addressing these long-tail topics. The technical term of for is content strategy. By writing articles on these topics, the company stands a good chance of ranking in the search results for the long-tail keywords. Now, that’s not to say that someone could simply write an article on the topic of hiring a car in Cape Town near the airport and expect to rank right at the top. The process of content strategy and content marketing is far more involved, questions such as the following would need to be raised:

  • How competitive is the long-tail keyword really?
  • How can the article be written in a manner that is useful?
  • How long should the article be?
  • How do you discover long-tail keywords that are worth going after?

It’s all these questions that need to be carefully investigated and answered by a skilled professional. If it were easy, everyone would do it, then everyone would compete for every search query and we would be back at the start again.

Everything that has been said needs to be backed up by some statistics, so let’s have a look.

HitWise released results from a study that analysed the popularity of different length search queries in Google, in comparison to the last study in 2004:

  • 1-word searches = 20.29% (19.02% previously)
  • 2-word searches = 23.65% (32.58% previously)
  • 3-word searches = 21.92% (25.61% previously)
  • 4-word searches = 14.89% (12.83% previously)
  • 5-word searches = 8.68% (5.64% previously)
  • 6-word searches = 4.65% (2.32% previously)
  • 7-word searches = 2.49% (0.98% previously)
  • 8-word searches = 3.43% (0% previously)

The general trend visible here is that 1, 2 and 3 word searches are decreasing, whereas 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 word searches are increasing. In other words, people are searching for longer, more specific words in Google. This backs up the idea of producing great optimized content. Of course, one might argue that these long-tail phrases are searched for less so than the short-tail phrases and that’s a good question. The answer lies in the fact that the long tail terms are far less competitive, as mentioned, and are therefore easier to rank for. Instead of investing heavily into only highly competitive short-tail keywords, invest in a company that can assist you with generating great content that is highly optimized and is written to target well researched long-tail phrases.

The following graph visually represents what has been said above (please excuse my design skills, or the lack thereof): 

Long-tail keywords vs head terms

The sweet spot (as circled in green) shows a good mix between budget, competition level and search frequency – this is where we want to invest time and energy.

Bonus Section

If you’re familiar and would like to run some tests and/or comparisons between long-tail and short-tail phrases that are bringing visitors to your website, you can do so by creating some advanced segments in Google Analytics. The regular expression to be used for long-tail keywords is as follows: (s|+).*(s|+).*(s|+) and may be implemented as follows and tested against organic traffic or actual conversions.

Google Analytics Long-Tail Advanced Segment
On the other hand, if you want to pull a report that lists all the short-tail keywords, simply repeat the above and change the “Include” to “Exclude” like so:

Google Analytics Short-Tail Advanced Segment
Whilst producing content for your website, you need to measure everything to determine the return on investment. If you’re not measuring, you’ll never know whether your spend on content marketing is worth while.