By Nick Cesare
02 Sep 2021

How to Rank for Highly Competitive Search Spaces Using Long-Tail Keywords

Basic SEO     SEO Strategy     Keyword Research

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Imagine that you sell manufactured goods online. Let’s call that product a widget. One of the best ways to bring people to your website and convert them into customers to buy your widgets is to rank well on Google or another search engine for searches related to widgets.

The best search terms to rank for will be short searches where the user intends to purchase a widget. These will be searches like “widgets for sale” or just plain “widgets.”

Unfortunately for you, many other companies sell widgets — some have done so for years before your company even produced its first widget. Like you, these companies have recognized the importance of earning traffic from widget-related searches. Like you, they want to rank well on search engine results pages (SERPs). Maybe some big players like Amazon and Walmart have even broken into the space.

So here’s the question: how do I get eyes on my product pages when the SERPs are so competitive?

There are many strategies for earning traffic through organic search in highly competitive spaces. We’re not going to talk about all of them here. Instead, we’re going to talk about long-tail keywords.

What Are Long-Tail Keywords?

Long-tail keywords are keyword phrases containing three or more words. They are often, though not always, composed in natural language. Natural language is the way a person would speak or write normally.

Long-tail keywords are more focused than shorter keyword phrases. They often represent the searcher’s attempt to get an answer to a specific question. For example, if “widget” is our base keyword, then some related long-tail keywords might be “how to install a widget” or “how many widgets do I need.”

Why You Should Use Long-Tail Keywords

If you are in a highly competitive organic search space, then there are four major benefits to using long-tail keywords.

Long-Tail Keywords Are Less Competitive

Websites that are ranking very well for short-tail keywords may not even try to rank for related long-tail keywords. They may also have a content gap around those longer keyword phrases.

This means that you don’t have to compete with all of those high-powered companies that are dominating the SERPs for your baseline keywords like “widget.” You can go around your competitors by earning traffic through longer-tail keywords.

Long-Tail Keywords Have More Focused Searcher Intent

Searcher intent for long-tail keywords is extremely specific. The intent is baked right into keyword phrases like “how to install a widget” or “what color widget should I get.” 

By going after keywords with more specific searcher intent, you can bring a more engaged audience to your website. This is an audience that is already interested in your products. You can use their questions about your products as a way to bring them into the marketing funnel.

Long-Tail Keyword Content Can Improve Topical Authority

One factor that affects SERP rankings for keywords like “widget” is something that we call topical authority. Just like it sounds, topical authority represents a given website’s authority on a specific topic.

One of the best ways to establish your authority over a given topic is to write lots of good content that answers user questions about that topic. In other words, you can become an authority about widgets by writing high-quality content based on long-tail keywords about widgets.

In short, by writing good long-tail keyword content about widgets, you can improve your topical authority and become more competitive for all keywords relating to widgets.

Long-Tail Keyword Content Can Earn Backlinks

One of the most reliable link building strategies starts with creating content that answers user questions. Then, you link back to that content — to those answers, essentially —  in guest posts that you’re writing elsewhere on the web.

Building links in this way helps you earn authoritative and natural backlinks, and you can’t it do without long-tail keyword content.

Since backlinks are a critical ranking factor, creating long-tail keyword content and building links to it can help you increase your SERP rankings across the board.

How to Find Long-Tail Keywords

Finding long-tail keywords is just one part of a larger keyword research strategy. However, for long-tail keywords specifically, there are a few strategies you can use:

Use a Professional Keyword Research Tool

Popular tools like Moz’s Keyword Explorer, Ahrefs, and SEMrush can streamline your search for long-tail keywords. In a keyword research tool, there are a few strategies you can use to find long-tail keywords specifically:

  • Use a built-in feature such as SEMrush’s “questions” tab in their Keyword Magic Tool to sort for long-tail keywords in particular.
  • Search for keywords that include “how” or “why” or other words that signal a question. Since long-tail keywords tend to represent searcher attempts to get an answer to a question, this is a great way to find those keywords.
  • Search for keywords with lower search volume. Short-tail direct keywords like “widget” tend to have a much higher search volume than their long-tail peers. Diving down into keywords with lower volume isn’t a guaranteed way of getting good long-tail keywords, but it can help to narrow the field.

Take Hints from Google’s Autocomplete Feature

Google’s search engine contains an autocomplete feature that will suggest long-tail keywords based on popular searches related to the words you’ve typed in. This is a very rough method for keyword research, but it can give you some ideas to get started on long-tail keyword content.

  1. Open up the Google homepage in incognito or another private browsing mode, since past search history can change the results you get here. 
  2. Type in your website’s head term — this could be the name of a product or service that you offer. I’ve chosen “climbing shoes” in the example below.
  3. Read Google’s auto-complete suggestions and think about how to create content based on those searches.

Here I have typed “climbing shoes” into the Google homepage in an incognito browser. Some of those keywords are not meaningfully different from the base term I typed in. For example, searcher intent for “climbing shoes near me” and “climbing shoes sale” is virtually identical to searcher intent for just “climbing shoes.”

 

However, some of these do give me ideas for robust content that I could write. For example:

  • An article about finding the right size of climbing shoe. I could include general tips about getting a good fit, a size chart, and tips for readers with wide feet.
  • A guide on picking out the right climbing shoes for beginners. I could include advice about how much to spend as a beginner, the right type of shoe for new climbers, and tips on upgrading shoes later.
  • An article about resoling climbing shoes. I could include a guide for recognizing shoes that are worn down and ready for resoling, a list of resoling providers, and advice for when to get a new pair of shoes vs resoling an old pair.

If my product is climbing shoes, these are three pieces of content pulled from Google’s autocomplete tool that would be great for my website.

Make Guesses Based on Frequently Asked Questions

This final method has no connection to actual search engines. However, searchers are real people who bring their real-life experiences online. Using this method is not likely to leave you with keyword-optimized content, but it will help you to create content that answers user questions, which is better than nothing.

If you don’t have access to a professional keyword research tool and Google’s autocomplete is not working well for your specific keyword phrase, you can make guesses about what people are searching for based on your own experiences with customers.

Think about the challenges customers often face when they’re thinking about purchasing or have purchased your products. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • What pain points do my customers experience? Sometimes long-tail keyword content can focus on a specific pain point related to the purchase of a given product.
  • What problems does my product solve? If your product solves a specific problem (e.g. keeping wasps away from your patio), then creating content about that problem can help to draw in interested users.
  • What challenges do customers face when using my product? If there are common challenges that people face when using your product, you can create content about those challenges to improve topical authority and earn backlinks. For example, “how to install widgets” falls into this category.

Long-Tail Keyword Examples

Let’s walk through everything we’ve just learned. In this example, we will follow a hypothetical called Planet Cats that sells cat food. Unfortunately, the cat food space in organic search is highly competitive, with major players such as Chewy, Amazon, and PetCo dominating the first page of the SERP.

Since this is a highly competitive space, Planet Cats faces a steep uphill climb when it comes to ranking well for searches for “cat food.” They’re also going to have a tough time earning traffic through organic search in general.

Thankfully, there are plenty of opportunities to rank for long-tail keywords related to cats and cat food. In this example, we will use SEMrush’s keyword research tool to dig up a few of these long-tail keywords.

SEMrush’s keyword research tool has shown me a plethora of questions related to cat food. I can click on any individual keyword phrase to see who else is ranking and get more information about searcher behavior in that space.

 

Right away, I can see that “how much wet food to feed a cat” would make a great piece of content for Planet Cats. The top competitors on this SERP are still large, authoritative websites, but my competitors from the “cat food” SERP — Chewy, Amazon, and PetCo — are nowhere to be seen.

This piece of long-tail keyword content would also establish a baseline of topical authority related to feeding cats for Planet Cats. This topical authority will be essential if Planet Cats wants to go after shorter-tail keywords like “cat food” in the future.

If I dig even deeper for long-tail keywords with lower search volume, I can find even less competitive SERPs. 

“Can you buy cat food with food stamps” is a fringe long-tail keyword that still has 590 MSV, according to SEMrush. Even better, there are no sites that deal with cats and cat food at the top of the SERP. This would be a great piece of content for Planet Cats because it answers a unique question that is directly related to purchasing cat food. It’s also not competitive at all compared to other keywords related to cat food.

Content based on this keyword phrase would also create link building opportunities for websites that wouldn’t normally talk about cats and cat food. Creating this piece of content could help Planet Cats to earn a wider range of backlinks that would not otherwise be open to them.

Ultimately, whether it’s for Planet Cats or for your very real website, using long-tail keywords is an essential part of any strategy to rank well in highly competitive SERPs. Long-tail keywords can allow you to earn organic search traffic from less competitive SERPs, while still speaking to an audience that’s interested in your products.

Creating long-tail keyword content can also help you to build topical authority related to your products and earn backlinks from a wide variety of other authoritative websites. These are the building blocks of a content strategy that can help you rank for more competitive short-tail keywords in the future.

Nick Cesare

Nick develops and oversees content strategies meant to support natural link building and earn traffic through organic search. He's always thinking about how to create better content that serves users first.