Sorry To Burst Your Bubble: The Long Tail Keyword Myth

Todays article is a controversial one, with many PPC marketers believing that long tail keywords are the holy grail of Adwords and that they are the best way to get cheap high converting traffic.

I am forever hearing from so called “PPC Experts” say that they were able to double a clients profit by taking all of their 2-4 word keywords and turning them into long tail keywords with 4+ word phrases so they could generate lots of cheap high converting traffic because they believe that 70% of searchers are 4+ words long.

But in this article I am going to explain to you (using real data from accounts that use our PPC management service and also data from an article written by Sam Owen over at PPC Hero)  why long tail keywords are not the holy grail in Adwords and it is simply not possible to double your profit by taking lots of short tail keywords and turning them into long tail keywords.

Don’t belive me? Think I’m using fixed data? I’ve even included a section explaining how you can run this analysis on your own accounts.

What Are Long Tail Keywords?

Long tail keywords are longer more specific versions of keywords that are likely to appeal to people who are later on in the buying cycle. Which is generally why they convert better and receive lower cost per conversions than head terms. Most marketers consider that long tail keywords are 4+ words long.

For example if you are a mortgage broker your head term might be “mortgages” or “residential mortgage” however a long tail keyword would be “buy to let mortgage brokers in sheffield”.

Here you will see that the long tail phrase is much more specific and the user knows what type of mortgage that they want and where they want it from. These users are late in the buying cycle and are highly likely to convert compared to people who just typed “mortgages”.

long-tail

Image source: SEOsitecheckup

It is generally thought that the exact match head terms such as “shoes” account for around 10% of the search volume, with mid length keywords between 2-4 words accounting for around 20-30% of the search volume and the other 60 – 70% coming from long tail phrases.

However I will actually be showing you the real data from some of our accounts to show you that this is not in fact accurate, infact in a lot of the accounts that we have analysed this is almost the opposite way round the as much as 52% of the impressions coming from single word phrases

The long tail keyword myth

There are three arguments that I am going to make backed up by real world data:

  1. From an optimisation time perspective your time is 33X as effective working on your top 20% of keywords as it is working on your long tail keywords that contain 4+ words. Keywords that are over 4 words in length only account for 2.4% of your total number of conversions on the accounts that we analysed, so from an optimisation time perspective it makes more sense to spend your time working on the 10-20% of keywords that generate 80-90% of all of your conversions. For example if you increase your Quality Score from 5 to 7 on your keywords that are 4+ words in length this would reduce the CPC by 26% for these keywords according to studied by Wordstream. Overall resulting in a 0.62% decrease in CPC overall in the account. However if you increased spent the same time increase the Quality Score from 5-7 for your top performing keywords then you would get a 20.80% decrease in CPC for the account overall. Which would you choose?
  2. 90%+ of all impressions are generated by search terms that are 4 or less words long, so the long tail only represents 10% of all paid search traffic, not the 70%+ that most search marketers believe. It would be virtually impossible to double your profit by making all of your keywords long tail as you would loose 90% of your impressions and over 80% of your conversions.
  3. For keywords that contain 5 or more words you would need 200 keywords on average to generate 1 click per month. which I think you will agree is going to provide very difficult to mange for only a small uplift in performance.

Argument 1:  Your time is 33x more effective working on the top 20% of keywords than your long tail keywords.

Here is the data from the study that PPC Hero conducted that showed the performance of keywords based on the number of keywords that it contained.

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Image source: PPC Hero

One other thing to notice here is that keywords over 5 words in length only generated 15 out of the 608 conversions which amounts of a measly 2.4% of the total conversions, which came from 138,638 keywords.

That is a lot of keywords to manage for just 2.4% of your conversions and it would make a lot more sense to work on optimising the top 20% of your keywords that will be generating 85% of your conversions and making sure that they have a Quality Score between 8-9. This would have a much more drastic effect than adding 136K keywords that generate a few conversions per month.

For example if you increase your Quality Score from 5 to 7 on your keywords that are 4+ words in length this would reduce the CPC by 26% for these keywords according to studied by Wordstream. Overall resulting in a 0.62% decrease in CPC overall in the account. However if you increased spent the same time increase the Quality Score from 5-7 for your top performing keywords then you would get a 20.80% decrease in CPC for the account overall. Which would you choose?

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The graph below shows the percentage of the total conversions that were generated by different keywords containing various numbers of words.

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Here you will see that only around 2.5% of all of the conversions have come from keywords that are 5 or more words in length even thought there is good long tail keyword coverage with 139,889 keywords that are 4+ words in length.

Argument 2: The next few charts back up the argument that If you change all of your short tail keywords to long tail keywords you will loose 90% of your impressions and 80+% of your conversions so you can’t double your profit by relying on a long tail strategy.

The pivot table below shows the performance of search terms by the number of words that each search term contains.

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Here is 30 days worth of search term data for one of our accounts.

From the search terms report you will see that 434 conversions out of the total 532 were generated by keywords between 1-4 words long accounting for 81.5% of the total number of conversions. You should also see that 581 conversions were generated by search terms that were 4+ keywords long accounting for 18.5% of the total conversions.

Furthermore 94.9% of al impressions came from search terms that were 4 or less words in length. (Some impressions appeared to be omitted within the SQR as the CTR was not around 20%).

The graph below shows the total percentage of conversions that have come from search terms by number of words per search query.

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The first takeway from this data it that by changing your short tail keywords out for longer tail keywords that are 4+ words in length you will loose 80+% of your conversions. Which would make it virtually impossible to double your ROI

Furthermore you will see that 87018 impressions came from the search terms that are between 1 – 4 keywords long out of the total of 91716. Which equates to 94.8% of their impressions.

Here is the data from the study that Sam Owen did over at PPC Hero

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Image credit: PPC Hero

Here you will see from PPC Hero’s data that 1,028,543 of their impressions came from search terms that were 1-4 words in length. which equated to 93% of their impressions. So here by changing all of key short tail keywords to long tail keywords that are 4 or more words in length then you would loose out of 93% of your impressions share.

This shows that the “experts” that keep telling you that only 30% of impressions come from search terms that are 1-3 words long is infact completely inaccurate. From PPC Hero’s study they found that infact 51% of their conversions had come from single word search terms and that 74.5% of impressions came from search terms that were between 1 and 3 words in length.

Futhermore 1071 conversions out of the total 1253 conversions were generated by search terms that were generated by keywords that were between 1 – 4 words long. This equates to a total of 85.4% of the total conversions.

So from our own data and from the data of PPC Hero it is fairly conclusive that by changing out your short tail keywords for 4+ length keywords it is going to be  impossible to recuperate to 80+% of conversions that are generated by search terms that are less than 4 words in length.

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Argument 3: You would need 200 keywords containing 5 words or more to generate 1 click per month, which will be inefficient to mange.

One of the biggest issues with catching all of these search terms is that you will require a huge number of keywords to do this. If you look at this data that Sam Owen over at PPC Hero put together. You will see that with keywords that contain 4 or more keywords the number of impressions per keyword on average drops of significantly.

This results in you needing to add a significant number of keywords to your account to be able to capture them, which is going to be nearly impossible to manage efficiently. Fro example to generate one impression you would need on average 10 keywords that are 5 words long and with an average CTR of 5% you would need 200 keywords to generate 1 click per month.

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Image Source: PPC Hero

Even if you do succeed in adding all of these search terms as keywords the truth is as I’ve mentioned before you are unlikely to actually increase your performance because it is impossible to make the adverts any more specific than they already are with 4 word keywords and the improved performance comes because your ads and keywords align better.

The reason being is that over a certain keyword length the character limit of the adverts will limit how relevant you can make your adverts to the keyword.

When your keywords get to around 4 words in length you are generally limited by the 30 character headline limit and are unable to make your adverts any more specific to the search query. This then results in diminishing returns where even though the cost per acquisition would be lower for long tail keywords, because of the buyers intention, you could not reduce it by creating more specific adverts.

There is also the argument that you will be able to bid more accurately if you use long tail keywords, however this is also likely to be inaccurate. To make bidding decisions you need a large amount of data and if your long tail keywords are generating 0.1 impressions per keyword per month the you would have to wait about 100 years to get enough data to make a statistically accurate judgement even if the keyword had a 10% CTR.

So you are going to have to aggregate bids to make a statistically significant decision, just in the same way that using a shorter tail keyword would use the same bid for a large number of longer tail variants.

All in all long tail traffic from search terms that are 5-7 words long is still likely to generate around 10-20% of your conversions and should not be ignored. However by adding huge numbers of long tail keywords to try and capture this traffic is going to be a huge suck on your time.

Instead spend your time on your top 20% of keywords that are going to generate 80% of your conversions and then build out your account with hundreds of mid to long tail keywords (3-4 words) in BMM or Phrase match to as accurately as possible capture these longer tailed enquires.

How to run long tail keyword analysis and search term length analysis.

If you are interested at looking at this analysis for your own account it is fairly straight forwards and I would recommend doing it to see if long tail keywords are adding anything to your account.

STEP 1. Go to the keywords tab within your account and then download a report for your keywords or search terms depending on which pivot table that you would like to create. Make sure that you have the columns, clicks, cost, impressions, conversions included with your download as shown below. One final thing is to set the loopback window to 30 days if your account is not very seasonal you may be able to get away with setting the loopback window to 90 days to give you more data to analyse.

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STEP 2. Open this document in Excel. the fist thing you need to do is delete everything in the keyword status column and change the header to “words per keyword instead”. Now add this formula to the first cell which should be A3 =LEN(B3)-LEN(SUBSTITUTE(B3,” “,””))+1. This will then calculate the number of words per keyword (the keywords are in column B).

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STEP 3. You need to select all of the data within your pivot table excluding the total rows at the bottom as these will skew your results if these are included. Once you have done this go to data in the top menu and then down to pivot table as shown below.

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STEP 4. Your pivot table should then be step as follows. In the row labels you should have “words per keyword” and in the values column you should then have the “sum of clicks” the “sum of impressions” the “sum of cost and finally the “sum of conversions”.

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STEP 5. Once you have done this you then need to add some calculated fields. You can do this using the formula =sum(number of clicks / impressions) * 100 to calculate our CTR and =sum(number of conversions / clicks) * 100 to calculate your conversion rate. To calculate your cost per conversion you can use the formula =sum(cost / conversions).

You should now have a pivot table that looks like the one below. You can add conditional formatting to make it easier to intemperate and create graphs using the data if you wish to make things more visual.

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-19-22-15

This will only take you around 5 minutes and give you a lot of insight into what is working and what is not when it comes to long tail keywords within your account. Every account is different however most generally have around 80% of their impressions for keywords within the 2-4 word length range.

One thing to make sure you watch out for is statistical significance. Here keywords that are only one word long only had 14 impressions so you would not be able to include this as part of your study as there is not enough data to make a statistically accurate decision.

So how long should your keywords be?

Generally speaking between 2-4 words however in some industries keywords that are 1 word in length do perform well.

Generally when keywords become over 4 words in length they generate very few impressions and conversions and it gets to the point where the time spent optimising them would provide a much better ROI by working on your top 20% of keywords and working towards getting these to a 10/10 quality score by refining your relevance and ad copy.

So we would suggest building out your keyword list so that the largest proportion of your keywords are in the 3-4 word length zone provides the best ROI when taking into account optimisation time.

The 3 Most effective ways to do keyword research for Mid to Long tail keywords

  1. Search query mining to find mid to long tail keywords

Probably the best way to find new long tail keyword suggestions is within your search terms report. The search terms report shows you all of the searchers that users have typed into Google where your adverts have been displayed.

This a gold mine for finding new long tail keywords opportunities. What you need to do is go into your campaigns that have broad match modified keywords or phrase match keywords within them and then view the search terms report which I will explain how to do in a minute.

You should then see lots of potential long tail variants of the keywords that you have within that campaign. For example if you have the keyword +PPC +Management then you you will see search terms like “PPC management services in York” which may be a good long tail keyword for us.

Here is a diagram explaining how the process works.

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Image Source: Chad Summerhill

Here are the steps that you need to take to build a comprehensive list of long tail keywords from your search terms report.

STEP 1. Navigate to your search terms with the Adwords interface, this can be found within the  keywords tab and then in the search terms sub tab.

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STEP 2. Download your search query report for the last 30 days in excel format as shown below. Make sure that you have the following columns, clicks, conversions and cost per conversion.

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STEP 3. You now need to find good candidates to add as new keywords. There are generally three types of keywords that you will want to add as new keywords.

  • Keywords that have converted more than once to a single keyword ad group in your top performers campaign.
  • Keywords that have converted at least once as an exact match keyword in the campaign and ad group that they came from.
  • Keywords that are have at least 3 words in the phrase and have at least a few clicks.

The first two are fairly simple to do just by ordering your spreadsheet by conversions, but the third one is slightly more complicated so I will run through how to add these mid to long tail keywords.

STEP 4. Select the search terms column and then right click on the search terms column and then go down to insert. From the popup select “shift cells to the right” as shown in the screenshot below. To add an additional column. Name this column “words per keyword”

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STEP 5. To calculate the number of words per keyword you need to use the following formula. =LEN(D8)-LEN(SUBSTITUTE(D8,” “,””))+1). Copy and paste this in and change the cells that it is looking at to the one that contents your search query (it is currently looking at D8).

STEP 6. You should now have a column within your Excel spreadsheet that have the number of words that your search terms contain. You need to select this column and then click copy then paste special > values so you can sort the sheet based on the number of words within the keyword.

STEP 7. Sort your spreadsheet based on the number of words per keyword and then delete all of the search terms that have more than 5 words and less than 2. So you are left with just the search terms that have between 2 and 5 words within the search term.

STEP 8. Now sort the excel spreadsheet by the number of clicks. The keywords that have a large number of clicks and don’t have a spend that is considerably above your CPA targets will make good candidates for long tail keywords. You can then upload these into Adwords using the Adwords interface back into the ad groups that they were in before but in Exact and BMM match types.

2. Ubersuggest Keyword tool for finding mid to long tail keywords

Ubersuggest is one of my favourite tool for finding mid to long tail keywords. It works by scrapping the suggestions that Google makes when you search for something, as shown in the screenshot below.

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Here is a step by step guide to building huge list of 3-4 word keywords using Ubersuggest.

STEP 1. Go to ubersuggest.io

STEP 2. Enter the keyword that you want suggestions for into the search box as shown in the screenshot below. Here I have used the word “blue socks” as a example

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STEP 3. The tool will then give you suggestions for each letter of the alphabet as shown in the screen capture below.

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At this point if you think that the keyword is relevant and is between 3-5 words long then you can select it by checking the radio box next to it.

STEP 4. When you have found a relevant keyword you then want to expand it so that it will give you suggestions for keywords that contain that phrase. You can do this by clicking the little arrow next to the keyword and then expand, as shown in the screenshot below.

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STEP 5. The tool will then churn out a list of long tail keywords that contain that root keyword  as shown below.

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Once again select all of the keywords that you think are relevant to what you are advertising.

STEP 6. Now go to the keyword selected tab as shown below.

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STEP 7. you now have two choices, you can either download them into a spreadsheet and then upload them into Adwords that way, or you can view them as text which then gives you a list online which you can copy and paste into Adwords directly.

3) Keyword multiplier tools for creating mid to long tail keywords

Keyword multiplier tools are a smart way to very quickly generate very large numbers of long tail keywords and are especially suited to ecommerce websites where you have hundreds of different categories and sub categories.

Let me show you an example of how you would generate a large volume of mid to long tail keyword suggestions for the fashion brand Asos. Here is there page for polo shirts.

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Along the side you can see that there are a number of different filters that can be applied which will refine the search and bring up the most relevant polo shirt. We want to use these values to create lots of long tail keywords using the keyword multiplier. This is how you can do it.

STEP 1. Go to SEOautomatic’s keyword multiplier tool.

STEP 2. There are 4 fields that allow you to multiply different words together. In the first one you want to enter the different root keywords “polo shirts” and then in the others you want to add the values from each different filter that can be applied.

So in the first desired valuable box you may want to add the different sizes from XXXS to XXXL. In the second desired variable you may want to add the colours for example beige, blue and cream as shown in the screenshot below.

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STEP 3. go down to the bottom and click on the blue “create list of keywords” button and it will then generate a list of keywords for you. to save you time you can set it to add exact and broad match modified keyword parameters to the adverts so you can easily copy and paste them into Adwords.

It will then generate you a huge list of different variations of your keywords as shown below. Just from the few variations that we added before it has generated 150 new keywords that are potentially a good fit for this account.

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At this point it may well be worth copying ad pasting this list into Adwords keyword planner to see which keywords have at least 1o searchers per month. Otherwise you are likely to create a huge number of keywords and adverts that have low search volume and are hardly ever shown.

Conclusion

Overall when analysing data from our own accounts and from the accounts that Sam Owen managed over at PPC Hero it was very quickly apparent that the long tail curve that most marketers believe to be correct does not hold true for PPC marketing.

Where we found that around 94% of impressions came from keywords that contained 4 words or less. Compared to the 30% that most marketers have been taught. Making it virtually impossible to double your profits by making your account long tail that most marketers believed to be possible as they believe 70% of search traffic is long tail.

When it came to my second point of argument, we found that 2.4% of conversions were generated by keywords that contained 4+ words in comparison to the 80%+ of conversions that were generated by the top 20% of keywords. So you would be 33X more effective by spending your time optimising these keywords as opposed to working on adding new long tail terms.

Finally when analysing the data we saw that on average you would need to add 200 keywords that were 5 or more words long to generate 1 click per month on average, which would prove very difficult to manage and would consume a large amount of time for the very small increase that you would see.

By all means theses stats will vary from account to account, however we have not yet found an account where the main arguments that I’ve made don’t hold true. I would invite you to analyse your own account using my short guide and seeing if your long tail keywords are actually contributing to your account or if they are negatively effecting it.

There are hundreds of different guides to finding long tail keywords that cover a huge range of different techniques, but the 3 I have shown you in detail are from my current understanding the 3 fastest ways to generate a comprehensive list of mid to long tail keywords.

If your account is lacking when it comes to mid to long tail keywords then using these tools, especially the search terms report is a really good quick way to pad out your keyword list with relevant new keywords that you know already perform well with your audience.

With this being such a controversial article I am interested in hearing other peoples views on the study and welcome some debate, though ask members to be respectful in doing so.

wesley parker
About wesley parker

Wesley is Founder and CEO at Clicteq. He currently manages a £6 Mil Adwords portfolio across a range of different sectors. He regulally features in leading search publications such as Search Engine Journal, Econsultancy and Certified Knowledge. You can follow him on Twitter or connect with him on Linkedin

65 thoughts on “Sorry To Burst Your Bubble: The Long Tail Keyword Myth

  • I think there’s a danger here of concentrating too much on the statistics as seen by the ppc agency and not as seen by the business owner. The real question for them, using the example data, is are they happier getting 169 conversions @ £115.37 each or are they willing, (or able) to pay £163.05 per conversion in order to get 296 of them. Factor in the 15 conversions @ £95.76 and it’s easy to see where the effort should be going. A difference of some £68 per conversion is difficult to compensate for by twiddling the knobs on Quality Scores. This speaks for itself; if the budget, and margins are limited, then spend the time finding more, longer, phrases that signal intent to buy and which should convert at a much lower CPA.

    • I see your point Stephen but your not taking into account two things. The 5 word search terms will be picked up by the 4 word long keywords. Even by adding 5 word keywords you are likely to actually improve the performance because you can’t make the ads more specific because you will run out of characters. The CPA will therefore not be affected by adding the 5 word keywords, the CPA is just naturally lower because the terms are more specific. Second it does not take into account the volume of each of these keywords. Granted an £68 decrease in CPA is going to be very difficult to compensate though improving Quality Score, however the main point being that by improving the Quality Score for your main 1-3 word keywords that are responsible for 85%+ of your impressions will make a much bigger impact than spending time adding new long tail keywords that are actually not improving the performance of your account.

  • Hi Wesley,

    Thanks a lot for sharing this. It’s a lot of work in one post.

    I agree with nearly all your analysis. The only point where I could diverge a little bit is about the structure of the ad groups in a campaign. Like for the “long tail keywords” theory, there is also with PPC experts, an ideal keywords /ad groups organisation in a campaign, many telling us to organize by match types.

    But, as you can see with your example, +PPC +management can allow you to find long tail keywords like [PPC management services in York] which is 31 letters long. 31 letters is long to put it exactly in an ad. It’s better now with 80 characters in the description with expanded ads.

    For me, creating different ad groups is good if you can differenciate the ads. If this is the same ads between several ad groups, I am not sure of the pertinence of splitting more and more.

    Actually, I am trying to structure my campaigns in an account by pertinence of the keywords, indepently of the match types. It makes more sense for me to manage the spent budgets between the pertinence instead of a technical match type. I know that 100% of my budget on the most pertinent campaign is well spent, even if there is broad modified keywords, but in these keywords, I know there is at least one word which is very pertinent for my client.

    Of course, it depends of the budget of the account, the complexity of the business, the granularity you can find, the activity of the keywords, the competitors. Still testing, testing, testing !

    • HI Bastien,

      You have made a really good point about the expanded text ads, with the 80 character long description there is a lot more room to add long tail keywords, however if this is a good spend of your time or not is another question. For some accounts where there are very small margins this may be a valid option, however I would imagine for the vast majority of accounts probably not. But as you said test test test!

      I would be interested to run this analysis again with some expanded text ads and see if the results stay the same.

  • No mention of brand v. generic in the entire article. If you’re going to analyze keywords and ctr, you separate brand and generic no matter what.

    Obviously two/three word keywords bring in more volume and have a higher ctr. They include your brand name. Brand ctr is always 25% or above, and non-brand fathead keywords have much much lower ctr and impressions.

    IMO all the data is suspect if you leave brand in there. As it stands its a better comparison of brand v. generic rather than fathead v. longtail.

    • Great point about Brand v Non brand. This is a relevantly new company with very very few brand searches (less than 10 per month) so is unlikely to have skewed the results.

  • The optimization of time is by far the best argument. That said, this leaves out that there is a relatively easy way to generate long tail keywords in a part of your workflow that absolutely should exist: mining the search query report. You should be doing so anyway to make sure you are using negatives effectively, and it’s very easy to add long tail queries you notice from there without adding a bunch of time.

    • That is correct, however to improve performance you must also write adverts that are tailored to your long tail keywords. Otherwise you will end up with the same results as you would have done provided that you had just used shorter tail keywords picking these up.

  • Wesley’s results are very general. They depend only only on the fact that keywords with more words have lower search volume. For any industry for which this is true (i.e. any), you will find qualitatively similar results.

    If you think about it, it’s a trivial result. In any other industry if I tell you “I’m going to focus on increasing the ROI of 10% of our sales”, you’d laugh. Why not focus on increasing the ROI of the other 90% of the sales?

    However, it does depend on the account. On an account where you have the same number of 2 word keywords as 5 word keywords, of course the 5 word keywords will have a tiny tiny percentage of the impressions (say 1%). But obviously a marketer who goes for the long term strategy will tell you that you need 100x more 5 word keywords, in which case the 5 word keywords would have the same number of impressions as the 2 word keywords. But in comes the author’s argument that you can do virtually nothing to manage that many keywords (we’d be talking millions here).

    • It is certainly correct that in any other industry you would focus on the 90% of sales not the 10% however when it comes to Adwords many marketer seems to completely overlook this in my experience.

      I would disagree with your second point though. If you take a look at the search query data you will see that over 80% of the searches come from where users have typed less than 2 words in length. Only a small number of impressions are coming from searches that are 5 words or more in length so even if you had 1 million 5+ word keywords you would never be able to get the same number of impressions as you would with 2 word keywords if that makes sense.

      By all means it is possible to manage accounts with huge numbers of keywords and we regally do at Clicteq through using things tools such as Adwords Editor and Adwords Scripts, however I would argue that for doing this with 5+ words keywords is probably not an effective use of your time

  • This is a start, but the underlying data is something like $200k of SEM spend across what looks like a couple of campaigns. How confident are you that this is not specific to the campaigns/industry/clients/etc?

    • Hey, you’re correct about the data being from a couple of account with a few hundred thousand in spend. We have however run this on several accounts with several million in spend and found very similar results in varying different industries. By all means test this on one of your own accounts and see the results for yourself, Id be interested to see what you find!

    • Sure it makes sense to optimise for the long tail as well for SEO as it requires very little effort to add long tail variants to the page, though I’d argue for PPC its less effective way to spend your time.

  • Hey Aahna, thanks very much for pointing this out. You are right! It looks like following the new switch to secure search, Bing Webmaster Tools might become the “next best thing” for getting Bing search traffic (as it happens now with Google).

  • I’ve got to be honest, I read this three times through in order to grasp the support for your argument. I’m new to SEO and keyword selection (though not from a searchers perspective) and intuitively felt that long-tailed-key-words would help reduce competition and result in a better click through rate, but your numbers are convincing.

    I appreciate that you demonstrate an effective method for finding good long-tailed-key-words, but it looks like that’s not the place most businesses should be pouring their efforts into.

    I feel like I’ve had a revelation (although my brain hurts a bit now).

    Thanks for taking the time to lay-out your arguments so clearly. Intuition isn’t always right and it’s good to be corrected if it improves performance.

  • I am confused on this point. A long tail keyword includes a shorter keyword. For example the long tail keyword above, “red Nike mens running shoes” contains the word “shoes” as well as the words “running shoes” and “mens running shoes”. So if someone searched for “mens running shoes” they could find your post entitled “red Nike mens running shoes”. They could also find it if they searched for “running shoes” or just “shoes” (assuming it was ranked high enough). So I don’t understand why the article makes the long and short tail keywords sound mutually exclusive?

    • Hi Laura, this is a very valid point, however we have treated them as being mutually exclusive by looking at the search terms report that shows you what users have actually typed in to Google. Here if a user has typed in red Nike mens running shoes then that would be the exact search, so this allows you to differentiate between the keyword red Nike mens running shoes and the keyword running shoes that could have triggered it if that makes sense

    • IT really depends on your goals but long talk keywords are never going to be the holy grain that most marketers promise

  • Yes I think the more specific you can be, the more targeted traffic you are going to get…You also will pull in some of the other less specific folks too.

  • Too many talks about this subject. Instead of believing to those so-called PPC/Keyword experts, like the writer above, just do your own reseach and testing what will work and what is not. This guys won’t tell all the story behind their success.

    • Hi Esrom, I can see why your dubious about believing this research, however the figures are 100% real data from real accounts and if your run this analysis on your own accounts (and we strongly suggest you do following the section within the guide) the chances that you will find similar results are very high.

    • It can still be effective for some advertisers but it depends on your goals of your campaign. It does generate cheap traffic but at the expense of a huge amount of search traffic.

  • Broad/BMM keywords for discovery. Mine your search term reports for converting longer tail and add them as exact.

    Rinse and repeat.

  • Nah, I never cared about long tail keywords. Why add them if you have a solid foundation of broad match modified? So that you can have hundreds of 1-2 click keywords in your account? Waste of time.

  • Firstly, anyone who uses the same keyword strategy for all clients is missing the boat. Some situations call for massive long tail build outs and others warrant just a handful of well chosen keywords. Same goes for match types. We have a bunch of tools in our toolbox, and our job is to figure out how to cook the fish after we catch it. There are all sorts of objectives of campaigns, types of queries (i.e. transactional, navigational, informational, micro moments), etc.. with different context, requiring different strategy.

    Secondly, Voice search is growing exponentially, which is certainly leading to longer search queries with specific types of intent that require well crafted ad copy.

    All in all, anyone who tries to sell any sorts of generalizations around strategy, or best practices that lack adaptability are peddling garbage.

    • Hey Dave, some interesting points made here. If you look at the data you will see that in almost all cases a long tail buildout would be pointless and BMM would be a much more viable option. I would be interested to hear how you would change your keyword strategy for a transnational v informational. All would require a variation of Long v Short tail keywords.

      I loved your third point about voice search but do you have any data to actually show this is leading to longer search queries. If so I would be interested to hear more about this. Otherwise we would be just making speculations which when it comes to Adwords is a dangerous route to go down.
      With regards to generalising strategy we would suggest running this analysis on your own accounts and seeing what you find.

  • As an agency, the BMM rocks the hell out of long tail keywords. If I have only 1-2 months (or even 6) or so to make it count, why bother with long tail per se.

    However, if you have been managing an account (the same one) for more than 6 years (yep, happy to have managed this and still squeeze great ROI out of it), then sometimes you want to see if you can get more returns for your buck for those 2-3 long tail keywords where you have gotten conversions in the past.

    • Even in the long term I think working on the short to mid tale is a much more effective use of your time. Squeezing the most out of the 2-3 word keywords is key

  • Who ever thought that long-tail keywords generate more impressions than one or two word keywords? This has never been the case. You have just spent many thousands of words dispelling a myth that never existed.

    • Hey Rowan, There are still a lot of advertisers that believe that you can generate more traffic by switching out your short tail keywords for long tail ones. Infant there are still case studies being posted to that effect.

  • Thanks for the article Wes – some good data here and an interesting read.

    On the whole I’d agree with your central point, that the impact of long tail keyword generation is often over estimated, and often brings management issues.

    The issue with google now assigning “Low search volume” to so many keywords means that it’s not practical to rely on long tail keyword lists to cater to variations. Those who take the naughties decade approach of catering to the long & short tail and not paying attention to the mid tail will find that their long tail keywords (at best) just end up matching against the head tail terms.

    • Thank you Matt! I think the management issues would now outweigh the benefits of having a full blow long tail strategy and that overall mid tail keywords using broad match modifier or phrase match are the way to go.

  • I simply must tell you that you have written an excellent and unique article that I really enjoyed reading. I’m fascinated by how well you laid out your material and presented your views. Thank you.

  • depend on which ads we choose, either its content networks or search! if we use content networks, long tail keywords are good enough, but if we use search don’t use long tail keywords 3- or more keywords, I think it will waste your time!

    • Great point about the display network. The articles data is only from the search network where 1-4 word keywords work best!

  • Nice post – I am constantly saying to clients to think in terms on ANY online marketing with a degree of common sense – for long tail terms – its all about where the user is in the journey in terms of buying or engaging – after that its down to the site – speed, UX, trust etc

    so 3 to 4 terms makes sense :
    1 – primary keyword
    2/3 – + primary keyword +associated terms
    4 – geo-locator if relevant

    Any longer and they “tend” to be researchers, price comparison monkeys etc

    Thats my input – been doing the “PPC dance” for 12 odd years – and it works for me

  • It’s all about effective use of your time which if you charging it out becomes a finite resource. If it were my website I would go deep in to long tail research but it’s impossible to justify the time required to a customer as the cots is simply too high.

    Pick out the obvious ones from analytics and concentrate on the short ones that convert.

    An amazing piece by the way, a real showstopper!

  • Deep research with scientific methodology, Wesley. Thanks for a lot.
    You are right that long tail keywords need a lot of time with a mimimal efficiency. But may be the main problem is software we use to find, sort and gather all keywords isn’t ideal?

    That’s why we create own version of keyword suggestion tool – http://kparser.com
    The main advantages we are highlight:
    – one of the biggest list of parsing sources.
    – one of the biggest list of results for every parsing.
    – easy to correct results in program interface without excel.

    A lot of tools can offer one-two functions of them. We offer all 3 in our instrument.
    I’ll be happy, if you try it and share you experience and conclusion.

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