What we learned about “Long Tail” by analyzing 1.4 Billion keywords

Tim Soulo

Tim is the guy responsible for marketing and product strategy at Ahrefs. But most importantly he’s the chief evangelist of the company. Learn more about Tim

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    I’m sure you’ve heard it many times that short keywords tend to get tons of searches per month, while the long ones are never popular.

    But I don’t recall any substantial research that didn’t qualify their findings with vague words like “tend” or “rarely.”

    So I pinged our data scientist on Slack and asked:

    - Do you think we could run a few queries on our ENTIRE keywords database (*that is 1.4 billion keywords for the United States), and not just a sample of a few million like we usually do?

    And he said, “Yes!”

    So today I’m happy to share a bunch of cool insights that we’ve got from studying 1.4 billion keywords.

    Distribution of keywords by length

    It’s generally assumed that the majority of Google searches have 3+ words in them.

    But what is the actual distribution of all searches by their length?

    Pretty cool, right?

    One-word keywords account for only 2.8% of all the keywords people search for (in the United States).

    Distribution of keywords by monthly search volume

    The next thing we studied was the popularity of all keywords in our database.

    The following pie chart shows the distribution of all the keywords in our database by their average monthly search volume:

    This is where you see the “long tail” start shaping itself.

    As it turns out, 96.54% of all search queries in the US have less than 50 searches per month.

    Keyword length vs Search volume

    After we studied the length of keywords and their search volume, it was time to study the relation between the two.

    I was keen to learn how many one-word keywords had miserable search volume, and how many keywords with 5+ words were insanely popular.

    To study that, we distributed all keywords into 8 buckets by their monthly search volume and looked at the percentage of keywords of different lengths in each of these buckets:

    Looks pretty nice, right?

    Clearly, there’s a very strong correlation between the length of the keyword and its search volume (which was expected).

    But, at the same time, our data shows that “length in words” is not necessarily a prerequisite of a “long-tail keyword.”

    9.3% of keywords with a search volume over 1M have 3+ words. Here are some examples:

    • star wars the force awakens (1,320,000)
    • martin luther king jr. day (990,000)
    • fantastic beasts and where to find them (721,000)
    • why is there a leap day? (646,000)
    • who invented the mechanical television (596,000)
    • rick and morty season 3 (567,000)
    • what day is mother’s day 2016? (513,000)

    12.7% of keywords with a search volume of 0 to 19 have less than 2 words. Here are some examples:

    • am254
    • anii80
    • animacrack
    • schould
    • schpoology
    • rajajooga
    • rajaprasong
    • zipsnipcutter
    • zirkelmagier
    • zs2015

    (zipsnipcutter is a fun one, you should check it out)

    A lot of people define long-tail keywords as those that have 3+ words in them:

    Well, as you can clearly see from the numbers and examples above, longer keywords are not necessarily less popular.

    We have already shared our concerns about these misleading definitions in our recent article: “Rethinking Long Tail Keywords: how to get TONS of traffic from ‘unpopular’ search queries” But real data is always better than just an opinion, right?

    In fact, we also studied the “popularity” of each length group, by summing up the search volumes of all keywords in it.

    And got this:

    So it looks like there’s no specific length that would drastically outperform all others.

    The “Long Tail” of the “Search Demand Curve”

    The term “long-tail keywords” comes from the “long tail” of the so-called “search demand curve.”

    In raw data from our 1.4 billion database, that search demand curve looks like this:

    In the “head” of the curve, we have a few keywords with an extremely high search volume. But they hardly account for even 10% of all searches.

    In case you’re wondering, those two 100M+ keywords are “youtube” and “facebook.”

    And at the “tail” of the curve, we have a monstrous pile of keywords with miserable search volume. But they account for almost 40% of all searches.

    To actually see this long tail on a graph, we need to plot all our keywords on the X-axis in the order of decreasing monthly search volume.

    The real graph wouldn’t look very pretty because of its scale, so we’ve created a slightly modified visual representation instead:

    How to take advantage of the long tail

    So roughly around 40% of all searches are coming from billions of long-tail keywords that have less than 50 searches per month.

    There should be a way to use this to your advantage, right?

    Well, there is such a way!

    Look at this page, which ranks #3 for the keyword “website traffic”:

    The search volume of the keyword “website traffic” is almost 10,000 searches per month. So if you rank #3 for it, you can expect about 10% of that traffic at best, which is only 1,000 visitors per month.

    But Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer shows that this page is bringing almost 7,000 visitors per month. And this traffic is generated by nearly 600 keywords that it ranks for in organic search results.

    That is long-tail traffic in all its glory.

    Let’s put the URL of this page in Site Explorer and see all these long-tail keywords that it ranks for:

    It looks like people invent hundreds of peculiar ways to ask pretty much the same question. Google understands it and ranks exactly the same page for all these search queries.

    So by looking at the search volume of an individual keyword, you can’t make a good prediction of the total search traffic potential of your page. You have to examine the top-ranking pages and see how much search traffic they are generating from long tail.

    The same principle applies to researching the keywords your competitors rank for.

    If you look at the best keywords that send traffic to IncomeDiary.com, you probably wouldn’t pay attention to the keyword “how do websites make money” because it has only 800 searches per month:

    But if you look at which pages send them the most traffic from search, you’ll see this:

    This page is bringing them a ton of highly targeted search traffic, all because of the numerous long-tail keywords it ranks for.

    Think long tail

    I’m pretty sure that most of the takeaways from our research didn’t come as a surprise for you. They’re quite intuitive, after all.

    But, at the same time, I see way too many people overlooking the power of long tail and focusing on search volumes of individual keywords (as if it’s 2010).

    So let me know if you had an “AHA” moment while reading this post, and if you’re now going to rethink your SEO strategy with long-tail keywords in mind.

    Tim Soulo

    Tim is the guy responsible for marketing and product strategy at Ahrefs. But most importantly he’s the chief evangelist of the company. Learn more about Tim

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    • M Aamir Mursleen

      Amazing, Tim!

    • Well research Tim!

    • Absolutely true.

      On one of my sites, I targeted a keyword with 480 searches per month.

      Guess what?

      That article brings in 200–400 visitors PER DAY thanks to all the long tail variations.

      Thanks for the awesome article 🙂

      • Hey David. That’s pretty damn impressive indeed! 🙂

        I wonder what does Ahrefs say about this article? how many keywords we see it rank for? 🙂

        • Thanks Tim! 🙂

          • Md Samiul Haque

            I think Tim wanted to know how many keywords is ranking for that article, as seen on Ahrefs 🙂

      • Najjar

        Hey David that’s great!

        Do you always tend to target low searches/month — for the sake of lower competiton when trying to rank your articles?

        After that — are you adding related terms inside article — with also low search but also low competition?

        • Hi, Najjar.

          I try to target keywords that forums or other thin sites are ranking for since it’s easier to outrank these sites.

          I don’t actively place related terms in the article, I simply try to make the article as useful as possible.

          It’s a numbers game really. For every 100 posts I wrote, about 5 end up blowing up.



      • You are right , the same thing happen with my blog too.
        As we always try to hit main keyword but if we start with long tail then we can easily move on to main.I am trying with new experiment , later i will discuss it on my blog.

    • Nice post!

      Any chance you might be able to give us a list of the most searched for strings, in order of number of words? eg 1: weather, 2: donald trump, 3: youtube to mp3. I’m curious for what 10 or 11 would be. What are the longest phrases that large volumes of people search for?

      (A top 3 or top 10 list for each set would also be great… ha ha.)

      • yeah, that could be fun! Will try to get these top10 lists and share in our FB group 🙂

        • There is a FB group of Ahrefs blog readers? 😮

          If yes, how can I join?

    • Nigel Griffiths

      We love Ahrefs. Message Ends.

    • The evolution of longtails come from the fact that people are now more comfortable in searching for exactly what they want on search engines. Somehow, there is also a trust factor in search engines that is not there before. This gives us business owners plenty of opportunities to meet our customer needs.

      • Murray Finlayson

        I agree with this 100%. I know that as I have become a more sophisticated/confident searcher, I’m a lot more comfortable using much longer search queries. I’ve also noticed in the last couple of years the results have gotten much better, whereas in the past they might have had no result.

    • Nice article, Tim. Great data. Thank you.

    • Dayanat Aliyev

      Yes Tim, all i wonder is why you ahrefs blog get so little organic traffic (100k according to Ahrefs, 300k according to similarweb) with such a good content. your contents rock all over the web. great job

      • why are you asking, when you can get all these insights from Ahrefs? 😉 we just don’t have too many articles atm 🙂

    • createandcode

      Super, SUPER post Tim! Loving ahrefs 🙂

    • Tim, hi.

      It’s a great post. He say about importence long tail keyword in digital marketing. I live in Belarus and make blog for russian speaking peoples.

      We have no similar analyze in our internet erea.

      Thank for your case study.

      Best regards, Nick.

    • I wonder how many searches “zipsnipcutter” has after this article. Maybe check it now and after 2–3 months and update me/us?

      • lol, will check it for sure in Keywords Explorer, once we upload fresh data 🙂

        • Forgot about this. Can you please check zipsnipcutter? Would love to see some data

    • Great article! I just wonder how I should do onpage-seo for a few hundret long tail keywords on one page. Do you have any hint?

      • yeah, I guess we need to write another guide about this. But tbh — there’s no “bulletproof formula” that is guaranteed to work 100% of time. I’d go with experience / gut feeling / best judgement / user feedback / and other things along these lines 🙂

    • Great post, thank you

    • Julian Hooks

      Great insights. I’ve started producing longer more in-depth articles for this very reason. But then you have to balance long informative articles that rank for a ton of things, or shorter my concise articles that perfectly answer a search query and is more relevant.

      • amazing question… and the best part is that it’s the question that equally bothers Google too. Do they rank a more general article for that term or do they go for a shorter but more specific piece.

        I’m sure as machine learning advances, everything will depend on what people want. If Google sees that for this particular search query people prefer shorter and very specific answer — so be it. But if they see that searches are far more satisfied if they’re shown a bigger picture — that’s what will rank.

        So my advice — get in the heads of people, searching for that specific thing. What will satisfy them best? A short and detailed answer? Or a bigger picture with extra detail?

    • Anjo Bacarisas

      The search volume of the keyword “website traffic” is almost 10,000 searches per month. So if you rank #3 for it, you can expect about 10% of that traffic at best, which is only 1,000 visitors per month.” — I as a user of google would say that I will look into the content of the first three pages and see who contains the information I need and the user-friendliness of the website.

    • Great post, as always. The challenge is to convince clients to focus on the (very) long tail. Most business really just come up with their main short tail keywords and that’s all they want to rank for ^^

    • Jakub Charkiewicz

      Very interesting. One thing that makes me curious as a non-professional, but tangled into world of SEO:
      So is it better to rank for hundreds of unpredictable long-tail keywords, or to invest more into improving domain rating and on-page SEO? I would go for this second option, but I can see there are multiple offers in the web, that are trying to automatically spam website with crappy links for millions of long tail keywords.
      Anyway, nice research, I’m loking forward into more such materials 😉

      • hey @jakubcharkiewicz:disqus , actually it’s almost impossible “to rank for hundreds of unpredictable long-tail keywords” if you’re not “improving domain rating and on-page SEO” 🙂

        The trick of taking advantage of the long tail is all about picking the right topics (that have the long tail potential) and creating the kind of content, that Google will love (in terms of detail, relevancy and backlinks).

        Hope that makes sense 🙂

    • Glad I ran into this article. Live to longtail one more day.
      Lovin these stats. Now I can move forward knowing that there is some truth behind what I felt in my heart for a long time.

    • Murray Finlayson

      Great stuff Tim — thanks!

      Isn’t this Google’s semantic search in all its glory?

      One query I have on all this though… There is no doubt that the long-tail keywords as a whole entity are smashing it. But since there are 49 million of them, what are the chances of picking the right long-tail keywords?

      In fact, what percentage of the 49 million actually do hit the jackpot? By ‘jackpot’ I’m simply referring to examples like David’s below, with 200–400 visitors per day’.

      • hey @murray_finlayson:disqus , thanks for the question, but I’m not sure I understand it. At the end of the article I suggested a way to “test” if a certain topic is able to generate tons of longtail traffic or not. Or that’s not what you’re asking?

    • Great post but …

      With mobile being already more that 50% of the traffic, and taking into account that when we search on mobile devices we probably try to use less terms, I wonder if results would differ segmenting by device.

      Also, Google’s suggest has a great impact on the search terms, I wish google would allow to understand if the query was 100% written by the user or was modified by Google’s suggest.

      An my last point is about voice search and conversational search.

      Voice search is probably going to change the business 180º, users are going to feel save about using very very long tail keywords searches, how is google going to pass that information back to the advertisers?

      How about conversational searches?, when people search for “restaurants in chicago” and then after results are shown the users complements the search with “italian vegetarian”

      is that 2 searches? is that one very long search? “restaurants in chicago italian vegetarian”

      The world of search is going to change so much so fast! Be prepared!

      • Murray Finlayson

        Great point about mobile. But remember ‘long tail’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘long keyword’. I agree it would be interesting to segment by device and perhaps voice vs word

      • love the comment, Enrique. I guess you won’t be surprised that I don’t have the answers for you. All I can promise it that here at Ahrefs we’ll try to keep our hand on the pulse of what’s happening and whenever we see something interesting — we’ll share it with you guys 🙂

      • Attilio Di Nunno

        You would think with the rise of mobile (and voice search) terms will start stretching to a ‘longer-tail’ keyword — just on the basis that we tend to be more conversational with our queries using voice… what do yall think?

    • Deng Queen

      It’s all I need. Thank you so much

    • Nice research!

    • Nick Fawbert

      Shouldn’t we be using the term ‘keyphrase’ instead of ‘keyword’?

      • or maybe “search query” ? 🙂

    • Clare Hoang

      awesome post & study as always. the sad truth is that many SEOs out there (even from big agencies) still charge clients by individual keywords with high search volumes :D, which to me is a shame. Think long tail. Long tail gives us fantastic idea about search pattern/topics to optimise too!

      • hey Clare, totally agree with you 🙂

    • Thanks for the awesome article 🙂

    • Great post, Tim. I completely agree with the takeaway, namely that digital marketers need to incorporate long-tail keywords into their content. I have my own success story to share: I was unsatisfied with the traffic that a certain post was getting. The post, which is about French curse words, was better than the other content out there on the same topic (in my completely unbiased and totally objective analysis, of course!). Anyway, I did a rewrite and incorporated a few variants of my keyphrase, and the results have been great. This one page ranks for over 300 keywords, traffic to the page is up 300%, and Google now displays it in featured snippets and image packs for certain keywords. Nice!

      • hey Matthew! Awesome case, mate! I’m a huge advocate of improving your existing content to it’s very best, instead of creating more “so-so” content. So yeah, it’s not just about the “long tail” it’s also about making the web a better and a cleaner place 🙂

    • Rohit kumar

      Very nice post Tim.

    • a priceless article about long tail keyword.

    • Nice post! Two things I wonder about:
      1) Only one of those keywords has a search volume > 1M:
      star wars the force awakens (1,320,000)
      martin luther king jr. day (990,000)
      fantastic beasts and where to find them (721,000)
      why is there a leap day? (646,000)
      who invented the mechanical television (596,000)
      rick and morty season 3 (567,000)
      what day is mother’s day 2016? (513,000)

      2) Those keywords are… not helpful for any English site to rank for:

      That brings me to the question: how do you guys put together your keyword database?


    • Sean Shapcott

      WOW! This is a gold mine. Thank you for sharing this data.

      From my experience long tail is great for SEO but it is even better for results (whether results are sales or some other metric).

      Also, your article did the job and I’m going to be checking out your Ahrefs product 😉

    • I totally agree with this, long tail keywords are easy to rank in SERP. Always should try to use long keywords but parallel, search volume also important. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hey Tim!

      I’ve been reading your articles for about 6 hours straight now and I’m learning quite a lot.

      I thought I had a good understanding of long-tail keywords until I ran into your own articles. I have to admit that my strategy up until now has been keyword stuffing but now I know that I’ll only waste my time because they’re more effective ways.

      Can’t wait to implement everything I’ve learned from you in my own blog!


    • Awesome tips. Reminds me of a post I had. I targeted a keyword that wasn’t that much popular. But when the post started ranking near the top of page 1 (around #5) the article started getting around 100 unique visitors a day — ranking for all manner of keywords related to the head term.

    • Sean Smith

      Have you or your team thought about creating a study for this for Amazon? I own an Amazon advertising agency and would love to see if this holds up on that platform.

    • Yes, its true that long tail keywords are easy to rank in SERP. We must try to use some long tail keywords. Great points.

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