Forget short-tail keyword optimisation – long-tail is the future

Apple SiriAs user habits change, has your search strategy done likewise?

Anyone working in search or involved in online marketing in any form, should know by now that search queries can no longer be considered in terms of short two-to-three word phrases. The world has changed.

Way back when during the days of spammy, over-optimised sites stuffed with keywords, it was considered the norm to treat search the old way by literally ensuring your content was geared towards the shorter, two-to-three word phrases that were most commonly used. But nowadays, user habits, mostly dictated by a change in device and algorithmic technology, has made us find the information we want in far more varied forms.

Search queries are evidently longer. You only have to look back over your historical analytical data and compare it to recent months to see a startling difference. Typically, queries are far longer and varied over the past two years. Optimising for short tail is no longer relevant. But why?

The cause in search query changes

Unsurprisingly, there’s more than a single root cause for this change but what is clear is that the reasons are all intertwined and have effectively influenced each other to reach this point.

So here’s a breakdown of the main factors that are influencing a huge shift in online search habits:

Semantic Search Indexing

A major change in how Google interprets queries and the results it delivers the end user has influenced the change in user behaviour in a big way.

When first released, Google’s search mechanism worked in a very simplified fashion. It would basically take the users search query and break it up into individual components i.e keywords, and displayed websites that matched those components the best in the search engine result pages. Websites with the most keyword matches would rank the highest; hence the huge level of search manipulation by SEOs that went on in the early days.

Nowadays, Google uses latent semantic indexing which analyses the intent of the users search query far greater, and tries to find sites that best fit the needs of the search and the end goal. The artifical intelligence behind Google became far more advanced.

Because of this fundamental change, short tail keyword searches are far less effective at matching the users intent and thus, it led users to start using more descriptive long-tail searches to find what they essentially need. In short, Google grew up!

Depth & Use of Information

It’s no great surprise that the internet has grown hugely in recent years and so finding high quality, useful information has become even more difficult.

Because of the sheer saturation of websites out there, which sadly to this day, many are of poor quality and usability, it has meant users are forced to be more varied in their search queries and thus again, they have become longer and more descriptive.

Basic, ambiguous searches only return generalised websites from wikis or brand sites which invariably is not what users essentially want to find. So by going long tail, they eliminate these kinds of useless, generic search results.

Dictation via Mobile Devices

Voice recognition software is practically on every mobile device, most notably phones. Whether you’re an Apple Siri user or prefer Cortana on Windows or Google Now, telling your phone what you want is far more convenient and quicker than typing.

It also eliminates the annoyance of having your phone’s autocorrect change your typing to some random nonsense that ends up delivering search results that are so off subject, you feel like breaking your phone.

Dictation when it works, makes life so much easier and thus, when we ask our phones audibly what we want, we tend to ask with far more detail and colloquially than a typed search. Conversations are always long-tail and because of this, queries have become more conversational and less formal.

So if short-tail is dead, what action should you take?

Instead of purely focusing on keyword tactics, look at your dilemma from a quality perspective.

So rather than optimising your site for just simple, short-tail phrases by including them verbatim across your entire website (come on, are you seriously still doing this?), write about topics that address the kinds of long-tail key phrases you expect your audience to search for and improve your sites overall quality. By doing so, you’ll tell Google you are a trusted resource and build authority that will put you ahead of the pack when the world goes fully long-tail.

Never forget what your core strength and business niche is because frankly, as more and more sites launch, the competition for short tail becomes even greater. So why focus on techniques of the past in a pool that is overflowing when you can take advantage of current end user trends and focus on building a site that is rewarded for offering in-depth, original quality content?

In the next few years, short-tail will undoubtedly have had its day so by being a step ahead, you’ll already be well placed to take advantage when that day comes!

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