When creating content, a key factor to the long-term success of that content is the keyword it focuses on.

The focus keyword is what you want to be found for when people enter that search query into a search engine. There are three basic categories for these keywords: short tail, medium tail, and long tail keywords.

Short, medium, & long tail keywords for SEO

Each category of keywords is based off of three things: their specificity, their keyword volume (how many people search for the term per month), and keyword difficulty (how hard it is to rank for that keyword in search.)

If you focus on a keyword that’s too broad and you may never rank well for it.

Focus too specific and very few people will search for it.

Short tail keywords

Short tail keywords are very broad keywords. They have a lot of search volume and are very competitive.

In the example above, the keyword “asteroid” returned about 32,800,00 results. It has over 100,000 people searching for it every month, but the competition for it is very high.

If you wish to target that keyword in your content, you’re not going to rank highly for it for a very long time – if ever.

Within your content marketing strategy you can try to get search visibility for a short tail keyword, but be prepared to wait a long time (and to create a lot of supporting content) for it to come to fruition.

Long tail keywords

On the opposite end of the spectrum are long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are very specific and usually contain more than 3 individual words. They also have very low competition and search volume.

Ranking highly for a specific keyword with low search volume doesn’t move the needle much in terms of traffic to your site.

This is where a now old-fashioned SEO technique took root.

Because search engines used to rely on specificity in the searches (looking for an exact match to the user’s query) many content creators and SEOs based their entire strategy on long tail keywords.

For example:

“Where did the dinosaur extinction asteroid hit?”

would be a different long tail keyword than,

“Where did the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs hit?”

which was also different than,

“Where did the dinosaur killing asteroid hit?”

So SEO’s would create a web page for each of these terms. And crazy enough, it actually worked! Websites would rank for multiple iterations of the exact same long term keyword.

Many people getting into SEO now still hear these stories and think that long tail keywords are the way to go. Unfortunately, this isn’t always correct.

These types of long tail techniques no longer work like they used to.

The main reason these long tail terms don’t work anymore is because search engines now see the three examples above as requesting the same thing. It doesn’t matter how its worded, search engines understand the intent of what searchers want.

So if you want to rank for a keyword related to where the dinosaur extinction asteroid hit, you’d better focus all of your attention on creating one great page about that topic, not multiple pages with different iterations of that long tail keyword.

Medium tail keywords

We’re saving the best (in our opinions) for last.

Medium tail keywords are the best of both worlds. They have some specificity in them, so their competition isn’t as high as short tail keywords, but they still have some decent search volume.

As stated in the long tail keywords example, search engines are getting good at figuring out what people are searching for. So many times they seem to automatically take a long tail keyword and try to match it up with a medium tail keyword. So why not just start with a medium tail keyword?

Medium tail keywords still take a lot of work to rank well. The content you create has to be great, and you need to get inbound links to your content for search engines to really pay attention to it. But focusing on a single medium tail keyword allows you to focus on that single piece of content instead of multiple pieces, which should make that single piece of content more effective.

How to find medium tail keywords

Some of our favorite tools for identifying medium tail keywords are Moz, KWFinder, and of course our own content analytics software (which finds medium tail keywords already being used on your site and by your competition.)

You can also find medium tail keywords for free by using Google Adwords Keyword Planner, which requires that you sign up for a free Google Adwords account. Keyword Planner’s keyword volume estimates are surprisingly inaccurate and their keyword difficulty is based on how much it costs to buy ads for that keyword, not on how hard it is to rank organically for them.


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