Long Tail Keywords: how to get TONS of traffic from ‘unpopular’ search queries

David McSweeney

David is the owner of Top5SEO and a white hat SEO evangelist. SEO case studies make him a lot happier than they should, and he has a tendency to overuse ellipses...

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    It’s time to reconsider how we think about long tail keywords. And it’s also time to reevaluate the process we use to research them.

    Search Google for ‘long tail keywords’, click on a result in the top 10, and you’ll get a definition that goes something like this:


    You’ll also get a crazy long process for finding long tails to target, which will normally involve:

    • lots of manual Google searches;
    • multiple tools;
    • lots of ‘rinsing and repeating’;
    • huge spreadsheets;
    • hours of ‘exhaustive’ research;
    • trying to shoehorn these keywords into your header tags and content

    But you know what?

    These articles are all out of date.

    And the research processes are a complete waste of time.

    Now don’t get me wrong:

    Long tail keywords are still super important for SEO.

    But these days:

    Finding (and ranking for) them is simple.

    In a moment I’ll show you how. But let’s start with that definition.

    What Are Long Tail Keywords?

    Long tail keywords are the search queries with very low individual search volume, but an enormous total search demand as a group. The name comes from the “long tail” of the so-called “search demand curve” — a graph, that plots all keywords by their search volumes.

    As a general rule (but not necessary), these keywords tend to be longer and more specific than more commonly searched for keywords.

    Most definitions for long tail keywords start with some arbitrary length.

    Depending on which article you read, that length might be 3 words+, 4+, 5+…


    Um… so which is it?

    Well actually, the correct answer is none of the above.

    Because the thing that makes a keyword long tail or not has nothing to do with length (although admittedly you won’t find many 2 word long tails).

    So if it’s not about length, then what is it about?

    What Really Makes A Keyword Long Tail?

    There are two elements that truly make a keyword long tail:

    1. Search volume
    2. Specificity

    And actually, the two go hand in hand.

    Because the more specific you get with a search phrase, the less volume there is likely to be.

    In fact, many long tails will have ZERO existing search volume. That’s because around 16–20% of daily Google searches are for completely new phrases that have NEVER been searched for before.

    Which might make you think that they are a waste of time.

    But you would be wrong.

    Because while individual volumes are low, long tail keywords actually make up around 40% of all search traffic on the web.

    So even though individual volume is low, the fact there are so many phrase combinations (probably an infinite number), means that the collective volume is high.

    And as a bonus, because they tend to be very specific, long tail keywords can be great for conversions.

    Editor’s note
    Turns out some people weren’t persuaded by David’s explanations, so I decided to jump in and give some extra details.

    Search volume or “search demand” (or simply “how many times people search for this keyword per month”) is the ONLY thing that differentiates “head” keywords from “tail” keywords.

    The name “long tail keywords” originates from an illustration called “search demand curve” (which you can see on the image above), where the “head” of the curve consists of a few keywords with insanely high search demand and the long “tail” represents a huge amount of keywords with very low search demand.

    And obviously the number of words in a keyword has absolutely nothing to do with differentiation of keywords into “head” or “tail” of the search demand curve.

    David also mentioned “specificity”, but it is rather a byproduct than a defining trait of a long tail keyword.

    And I have a great example to illustrate all of the above.

    Here are three keywords:


    All three of them have the same number of words in them. All three of them have the same level of specificity. But one of them is long tail keyword while the other two are head keywords. Can you guess which one is long tail? 🙂

    PS: we have also carried out a pretty cool research of 1.4 Billion keywords and some of our takeaways about the “long tail” of search are pretty insightful. Check it out here: What we learned about “Long Tail” by analyzing 1.4 Billion keywords

    Tim Soulo
    Tim Soulo
    Head of marketing at Ahrefs

    One of my favourite analogies about the way Google ‘thinks’ is AJ Kohn’s wonderful description of search engines as ‘blind 5 year olds’.

    Words are of great importance to search engines. It’s one of the easiest ways it can categorize a page. But it is not reading the page like you or I. A search engine wouldn’t score well on a reading comprehension test. Instead it’s trying to understand the page by what words are most prominent, based on the number of times a word is mentioned and the size and placement of those words.

    It’s easy to grasp:

    Search engines are dumb. You have to spoon feed them information.

    But that analogy is from 2008. And a lot has changed since then.

    Our blind 5 year old is now a teenager. She’s getting smart.

    Here’s a simple example.

    Google’s Understanding Of Synonyms And Similar Words

    I’m going to illustrate here with some short (or at least medium) tail keywords. Don’t worry, I’ll get to the relevance to long tail in a moment.

    Take a look at the following 4 keywords:

    • creepy photos
    • scary photos
    • terrifying photos
    • horrifying photos

    I’m sure you’ll agree, they are pretty much the same thing. That’s easy for us as intelligent, literate humans to understand.

    But, for our blind 5 year old Google it wasn’t so easy.

    Unless we spoon fed her the connection by including ALL of these phrases on page, she wasn’t going to be able to tie them together.

    Which lead to lots of unnatural sounding, written for SEO content, and one of my favourite SEO jokes:

    How many SEO copywriters does it take to change a lightbulb, light bulb, light, bulb, lamp, bulbs, flowers, flour…?

    Boom boom.

    So how about our teenage Google? Can she make the connection?

    Let’s find out.

    Take a look at the following page content:


    Here is the HTML title tag for the page:

    <title>The 30 Creepiest Photos Ever Taken</title>

    I’m sure you’ll agree that page is optimised for the keyword ‘creepy photos’. The words ‘scary’, ‘horrifying’ and ‘terrifying’ aren’t included anywhere on the page.

    But here’s the cool thing:

    It actually ranks in the top 3 spots for all of them.


    Position data from Ahrefs ‘Organic keywords’ report

    Which tells us 2 things about the way our teenage Google ‘thinks’:

    1. She now recognises the connection between the words
    2. She also realises that if a page is a good fit for one of these keywords, it should be a good fit for them all

    But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Because that page doesn’t just rank for 4 keywords. It ranks for 564 keywords!

    Keyword data from Ahrefs Site Explorer

    Keyword data from Ahrefs Site Explorer

    In the first few results, we can see that Google recognises ‘photos’, ‘images’ and ‘pictures’ as the same thing. The page ranks for them all, without being directly optimised for them.

    But the above are still short/medium tail keywords with reasonably high individual search volume.

    It’s when we start looking at long tail keywords that things really get interesting.

    First though, let me explain how (and why) the above is possible.

    The End Of ‘Words On Page’ SEO

    It’s clear that Google is now able to:

    • Group keywords together into topics;
    • Understand words with the same meaning;
    • Look beyond the ‘words on the page’ when deciding which content to rank

    But actually, despite some recent high profile articles professing otherwise, this is not particularly new.

    Because they have been doing that since (at least) 2013.

    How Google Hummingbird Changed The SEO Game

    In August of 2013, many SEOs noticed an increase in traffic for content rich sites.

    I personally noticed the spike on an affiliate site I ran at the time. The site was small (c 30 pages), but each page featured detailed, high quality content targeting a top level keyword (or topic) in the niche.

    This increase in traffic was due to the roll out of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm.


    75% spike in search traffic after roll out of Google Hummingbird

    Google’s stated aim with Hummingbird was to better understand the meaning behind queries, rather than focusing on matching specific words to content on a page.

    Danny Sullivan explains this change is his article on Search Engine Land.

    In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.
    Danny Sullivan
    Danny Sullivan Search Engine Land

    Now I have long been an advocate of writing natural copy for humans (not search engines), and covering topics in depth.

    It’s the practice I have followed for as long as I have been building (and optimising) websites.

    But for those SEOs who had not, this was a game changing moment. Particularly as it followed Panda, Google’s low quality content killer which launched in 2011.

    The End Of Cookie Cutter Content

    You’ve probably read articles which state that ‘500 word blog posts no longer cut it’. You may have even heard it said by me.

    And Hummingbird is the reason why.

    As Google’s understanding of content improved, it began to prefer detailed pieces covering topics in depth, over short pages targeting individual keywords.

    Like this:


    And in fact, I picked the keywords in the illustration above for a reason. That’s because our own anchor text guide ranks top 5 for them all.


    The long tail keyword ‘how to create anchor text’ is a particularly effective example.

    That phrase does not appear anywhere on our page.


    And an ‘allintitle:’how to create anchor text’ search on Google shows us that there are 40 pages which are directly optimised for the keyword.


    Yet, because of our in-depth coverage of the topic ‘anchor text’, we rank above them all.


    To be clear: I did not specifically attempt to rank for any long tails with that article. I just covered the topic of ‘anchor text’ in depth and Google automatically associated multiple long tail keywords to the post.

    Of course the above example is anecdotal. So let’s back it up with some data.

    What Our Analysis Of 2M Keywords Says About Topic > Keyword

    We recently analysed over 2 million keywords for our study of on-page ranking factors.

    Here are two key takeaways from that study which support the view that Google is:

    • Less interested in traditional ‘words on the page’ optimisation;
    • More concerned with associating keywords with overall topics

    1. Keyword In Page Title

    Conventional SEO wisdom says that to rank for a keyword you should include it in your page title.

    So did the data support this?


    We found that the majority of pages ranking in Google’s top 10 did not contain the keyword (in exact match form) in their title.


    2. Keyword In Content

    So how about in content?

    Did the majority of pages ranking top 10 at least include the keyword somewhere on the page?

    You’ve probably guessed — again the answer is no.


    Despite our data finding that pages could rank for keywords without including them in exact match form, we would still recommend that you include your ‘main’ keyword in the usual places (title, header tags, content etc).
    The Takeaway: Optimise Your Content For Topics
    The old school SEO approach of creating huge lists of keywords, then creating separate pages for each of them is a thing of the past.

    One strong, authoritative page, covering a topic in depth, can rank for multiple short, medium, and long tail keywords.

    Even when those keywords are not included anywhere on page.

    Let’s find out how to do it.

    So let’s get to the point:

    We recommend that you focus on optimising your content for topics instead of targeting individual long tail keywords.


    Because Google is smart enough to group individual long tail keywords into topics and subtopics.

    The evidence clearly shows that ranking for multiple long tails is now a bi-product of creating super high quality content with in-depth coverage of a topic.

    You no longer have to worry about including every long tail you want to rank for on-page. Those days are (thankfully) gone.

    And the cool thing is that even though individually those long tails have sucky volume, when you add them all up, you can get some serious search traffic.

    One brick is useless. But if you have lots of bricks you can build a wall (no, not you Donald Trump).

    But, now for the caveat:

    In-Depth Content MUST Be Combined With Link Building

    The evidence also shows that just creating great content is not enough.

    It’s when great content is combined with strategic promotion and proactive link building that the magic happens.

    Because our study of 2 million keywords also found that backlinks continue to be the single biggest SEO ranking factor:


    To be clear: once you’ve created awesome in-depth content covering a topic, you still have to build links if you want to rank in the top spots.

    So how do you go about creating super in-depth content that (with the right promotion) can rank for multiple long tail keywords?

    Here are 2 methods.

    In the first method I’m also going to include some tips on working out how many backlinks you’ll need to rank. The same tips will also apply to the second method (although I won’t repeat them).

    Multiple Keyword Ranking Method 1: Competitor Research

    The ‘Top pages’ report in Ahrefs Site Explorer is your secret weapon in long tail keyword research.


    Because it will show you competitor pages that are already ranking for HUNDREDS (or even THOUSANDS) of long tail keywords.

    Here’s the process.

    Step 1: Find Your Competitor’s Top Content In Organic Search

    Let’s take a look at the ‘Top pages’ report for one of my favourite content marketing blogs — copyblogger.

    Site Explorer > Enter domain > Explore > Organic keywords > Top pages


    Here is a quick explanation of the metrics I highlighted above:

    • Traffic — The total organic search traffic for the page
    • Keywords — The number of individual keywords for which the page is ranking
    • Top keyword — The individual keyword which brings the most organic traffic to the page. This is likely to be the ‘topic’
    • Its volume — The total monthly search volume for the top keyword
    • Pos — The position the page ranks in for its top keyword

    To view the individual keywords that a page is ranking for, just click the arrow next to the number under the ‘Keywords’ column.


    Looks like this one is ranking for lots of interesting keywords under the topic ‘how to get a book published’.

    Step 2: Export The Keywords For Analysis

    To view them all, I’ll export the report into a CSV file and open the spreadsheet in OpenOffice.


    Step 3: Filter And Group Keywords Into Subtopics

    Here’s what I’m not interested in doing:

    Trying to shoehorn all 363 of these keywords into my content.

    As I’ve already demonstrated, that would be a complete waste of time.

    Instead what I want to do is group all these keywords into subtopics, or headers.

    That’s going to be a manual process of running through the spreadsheet and filtering out everything that’s basically the same.

    It took me about 10 minutes to do it for this page. Here’s what I’m left with:


    So we have filtered our original list down to just 22 keyword groups.

    But as we know, we can still rank for all 363!

    Here’s how.

    Step 4: Outline A New Post Using Grouped Keywords As Headers

    We’re now going to create a new Google doc and create a post outline.

    We will use our grouped keywords as headers (H2) and subheaders (H3).


    We know that these are the main subtopics that Google associates with the parent topic ‘how to get a book published’.

    So by covering them all, we will be able to rank for all the variations we found when we exported the full list of keywords.

    And what are those variations?

    Long tail keywords!

    Step 5: Write Up An Awesome Post!

    The keyword research process above made it simple to outline our post and create keyword targeted subheadings.

    And we can rank for hundreds of long tail keywords without even thinking about them.

    But of course, a list of subheadings isn’t going to rank anywhere.

    We need to write up each section, making sure we go super in-depth to create a truly awesome post.

    And then we can move on to the final step.

    Step 6: Get The Post To Rank

    Unless the topic you are targeting has very little competition, to get it to rank you’re going to have to:

    • Promote it
    • Build links to it

    I’m not going to get into link building tactics here. Our link building guide will tell you everything you need to know.

    But what I will do is show you how to figure out the number of links you’ll need to rank in the top spots.

    We’ll start by entering the main keyword ‘how to get a book published’ into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

    Keywords Explorer > Enter keyword > Explore


    This will take us to an overview page for the keyword.

    Straight away we can see that the keyword has a difficulty score of 22. Which means we will need to build links from approximately 24 sites to rank on page 1.


    We use backlinks to calculate keyword difficulty as all our research finds link popularity remains the single most important ranking factor. We do however advise that you manually check a search result before picking a keyword to target. There are many other factors that influence rankings, for example content depth/quality, overall domain authority, other on page factors, so KD score should be used as an initial indicator only.

    Now page 1 would certainly be a good start. But for real traffic we really want to break into the top 3 results.

    So how many links would we need for that?

    To find out, we can scroll down to the ‘SERP overview’ report.

    This report gives us a preview of Google’s top 10 results for the keyword. It will also show us the number of backlinks and referring domains for each page.


    We can see that the page at position 1 has acquired links from 142 unique domains.

    There are also a couple of pages with links from 50+ domains.

    So it looks like to be certain of ranking in the top 3 positions, we will need to pick up links from around 50 different sites.

    Tough… but not impossible!

    Now onto the second method.

    Multiple Keyword Ranking Method 2: Parent Topics

    So we know that to rank for a ton of long tail keywords all we have to do is:

    1. Pick the right topic
    2. Make sure we cover it in depth (preferably using secondary keywords as subheaders)
    3. Build links to it

    Reverse engineering our competitors is a cool way to do that. But of course we’ll also want to find topics that our competitors don’t already cover.

    So how do we find even more keyword topic ideas?

    Simple: we use Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer 2.0.

    Here is the process.

    Step 1: Enter A Seed Keyword Into Keywords Explorer

    Let’s stay on the same subject and use ‘book writing’ as our seed keyword.

    Keywords Explorer > Enter seed keyword > Set preferred country > Explore


    Step 2: Find The Parent Topic For The Keyword

    On the overview screen we can see that particular keyword has a reasonable search volume of around 1,100 US searches per month.


    But actually, it’s not the best keyword for us to target with our content.

    Because it turns out that ‘book writing’ has a parent topic ‘how to write a book’, which gets 26,000 searches per month!

    So our ‘main’ keyword (or topic) should in fact be ‘how to write a book’.

    Let’s take a closer look at it.

    We work out the parent topic for each keyword by examining the #1 ranking result and finding the most popular phrase that it ranks for.

    Step 3: Check The Metrics For Your Parent Topic

    Turns out we found a pretty good keyword!


    Let’s quickly go over the metrics I highlighted above:

    1. The keyword has a difficulty score of 34, which means we will need backlinks from approximately 43 sites to rank top 10.
    2. US search volume is 26,000. Note however that only 69% of those searches result in clicks.
    3. Return rate is a relative number, which indicates how often a user will search for this keyword again. This does not mean that a user will return 1.24 times on average, but the fact this figure is above 1 means there are likely to be some repeat searches.
    4. The ‘Clicks’ figure of 27,000 indicates that searchers are likely to click on more than one result.
    5. The average number of clicks per search is 1.04.
    6. The keyword has a global search volume (all tracked countries) of 51,000.
    7. If we ranked at #1 for this topic, we could expect to receive around 16,000 organic visits when we combined the volume of all associated subtopics and long tail keywords.

    Now let’s find out how many subtopics and long tail keywords are associated with this topic.

    Step 4: Find Subtopics And Long Tail Keyword Ideas

    Once again, finding additional keywords which Google associates with this topic (and we could rank for with our content) is easy.

    We simply click on the ‘Also rank for’ report and we’ll get a list of additional keywords that pages in the top 10 results.… well… also rank for.


    In this case there are 890 additional keywords, with a combined search volume of 142,000.

    Step 5: Export The Report Or Create A List

    As before, we’ll want to group these keywords into subtopics.

    We can either export the list and work in a spreadsheet, or alternatively we can create a list directly within Keywords Explorer.

    To create a list we simply select the keywords we want to add, click the ‘Add to lists’ drop down, then create our new list.

    Select keywords > Add to lists > Create new list > Enter name of list > Create > Apply


    We can then access this list from the Keywords Explorer home page.


    Once we have a full list of subtopics for our content, we can repeat steps 4, 5, and 6 from the ‘Competitor Research’ method to create our page and rank for hundreds of long tail keywords!

    And that’s all there is to it.

    • No multi-tool processes;
    • No rinsing and repeating;
    • No shoehorning hundreds of keywords into your content (or creating thousands of pages)

    With smart research, careful topic selection, and solid promotion, you can rank for thousands of long tail keywords without even thinking about targeting them in the traditional sense.

    Much easier right?

    But finally…

    I’m sure you can see the huge benefit in optimising your content for head keywords and topics, rather than worrying about individual long tails.

    You’ll get much more ‘bang for your buck’.

    But like most aspects of SEO, there is an exception to the rule. There are some cases where you might want to create content that specifically targets a long tail keyword.


    Because ultimately, traffic is all about creating revenue.

    And some long tail keywords, are just too valuable (in terms of dollars and cents) to ignore.

    I’ll illustrate with a particularly extreme example. Take a look at the following long tail keyword:


    With a US search volume of 40–70 and a total traffic potential of 11–40, it doesn’t seem like it would be worth paying attention to.

    But that’s until you discover what someone searching that phrase is actually looking for:


    Yep, that’s a 5 MILLION pounds iPhone!

    Now I don’t know about you, but I’d be quite happy with selling just one of them a month. In much the same way that Usain Bolt is ‘quite’ fast.

    Like I said, that’s a pretty extreme example. But hopefully you get the point:

    If a particular keyword is super important to your business in terms of revenue, then regardless of how small the search volume is, you’ll want to make sure you rank at #1.

    And that will probably mean creating content which specifically targets that long tail keyword, then building links to it.

    Other than that…

    Go for topics over keywords!

    Over To You

    Do you agree that the days of exhaustive long tail keyword research are over? Are you already optimising your content for topics?

    Or perhaps you disagree entirely and believe that specifically optimising for multiple long tails should still a key part of SEO?

    Either way, let me know in the comments!

    And of course, if you have any questions about the takeaways or processes above, then feel free to shoot them my way.

    David McSweeney

    David is the owner of Top5SEO and a white hat SEO evangelist. SEO case studies make him a lot happier than they should, and he has a tendency to overuse ellipses...

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    Shows estimated monthly search traffic to this article according to Ahrefs data. The actual search traffic (as reported in Google Analytics) is usually 3-5 times bigger.

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    • Darien Chiropractor Brian McKa

      You guys are quickly becoming a goto site for a wealth of information

    • I’m putting your picture on my wall Mr McSweeney. This is a great post. Super informative and easy to implement. Cheers!

      • haha thanks John! And yep, that’s the whole point in the post — the process should be simple 🙂

    • Hi David,

      That’s another one filed under ‘epic content’. Cheers.

      I definitely agree that creating better content is the way to go. I really like the way you suggest breaking it down into sections using the keyword searches & using them as the Headings. Nice, I like that.

      One little thing I noticed with the keyword explorer on the parent topic is that sometimes it suggests a brand rather than a keyword. That probably suggests that a particular brand is dominant in that area so I’ll try refining the searches.

      But again, a great post. Thanks

      • hmm, interesting spot re brand keywords and I suppose that makes sense. I guess that’s something the dev team will look at 🙂

    • websitescreated

      From what you a saying this appears to be blurring the distinction between keyphrases and article ‘centric’ content, which would make it more difficult to ‘play’ the search engines. I am all for it, if it means that a good solid article, post or other content is recognised and not pushed down because of search engine manipulation.
      Go Google!

      • Definitely, but like I said in the post, it has been that way for a good few years now. Just seems to be the word is spreading slowly!

    • Thats another epic article. Well done David. I really like to read your articles 😉

    • unik

      I have an affiliate amazon website and noticed that when i create best list if a brand is not mentioned in my list my post will not rank for that product even if the post cover 90% from products existing in market

      • Couple of questions spring to mind there:
        1) Do you have original content in your post?
        2) Are you targeting competitive products/keywords?

        • unik

          1. the content on my posts are original. The blog receive like 17k UV/month without doing link building.
          2. I target low competition keywords

    • Donald P Maddox Jr

      In the infographic “how to write a book” how did you determine how many backlinks you needed? “The keyword has a difficulty score of 34, which means we will need backlinks from approximately 43 sites to rank top 10.” Thank you

    • Thanks David, a great article. I always check Google directly for this data. If for example I type in dui lawyers denver, within the results, google will highlight the keywords dui and lawyer throughout the page, but they also highlight attorney, DWI etc.

      Going more longtail, try funny hamster photos, Google will highlight pictures of hamsters, funny pictures, funny hamster, cute baby hamster photos etc etc.

      • yep, that’s true. I’ve previously pointed that out about ‘guest posting’ and ‘guest blogging’. Search for one and they will highlight the other one too.

    • Many thanks for the great information. Especially good for the explanations about the long keyword.

    • Hi David,

      Great article and very good explained, but I have some questions for you.

      What about long tail keywords that have few monthly searches, but not possible to connect with other long tail keywords.

      For example, I have a website with tutorials for WordPress.

      If someone really needs to see how to create a post do you think I should add another 10–15 etc long tail keywords explaining something else in the same article?

      Also how accurate is the keyword difficulty? is the number of backlinks the only thing to consider?

      Thank you

      • Hi Dragos, actually yes, that sounds like the kind of thing you should probably add to your article. Although if you think the keyword is valuable enough on its own, then create separate content.

        At the moment backlinks are the only factor taken into account, but we are already working on adding more factors.

    • Paul Tufts

      Nice job David — I would say that the ahrefs articles are really top of class. Moz who?
      Looking forward to more great stuff

    • Well done David. Very deep insight post about long tail keywords.

    • Really interesting. I always thought that long tail keywords worked best only for adwords. I rarely considered targeting long tail keywords in SEO. It might be because it is hard to convince clients to go for long tail keywords who decides keywords list just on the basis of search volume. But after reading this article I really want to give it a try.

      • remember, long tails make up 70% of search traffic and with increasing use of voice search, that figure will only get higher 🙂

    • This is one of the best articles of its kind I’ve ever seen.

      I’m interested in evaluating keyword competition by looking at intitle data — simply, how many pages have my keywords in their html title, in any order.

      I wonder, do you happen to know of a free tool that will do this, and also does ahrefs provide this data?


      • I think scrapebox would be the tool to use here — although not free unfortunately 🙁

    • Gary Redmond

      Mind Blown

    • David McSweeney, I can say the best quality information I’ve read with great joy in recent times.

    • that’s custom coding unfortunately 🙁

    • Wendy DeBord

      I’m pretty sure I just read some great information, but; I’m a new blogger and your explanations require a more experienced level of understanding. If you could get someone to simplify your content it sure would be incredible! There are tons of small time bloggers like me, that find this article to have too much info. and details in one post and would sure love it, if you could write for us too. Perhaps we aren’t your target readers but there are a lot of us. Thanks.

      • Hi Wendy, thanks for your feedback. I did try to make this as simple to follow as possible, but I guess if you’re new to the keyword research/link building process it might seem a little tricky. It would be tough though to remove anything here as it’s all required to explain how things have changed and how keyword research should now work. That being said, the main takeaway is to write authoritative (best) content on a topic and promote it hard!

    • I must say amazing article. Now its time to focus on niche instead of keywords.

    • Hi david
      i know about the benefits of long tails but they are only good for few niches and hard for b2b site like wholesale clothing sites. I wanted to optimize for a long tail query ” wholesale hippie clothing” but i couldnt. But the strange thing is my competitors who has extremely low content and no seo optimized, they are doing really great. they have done no seo no back links anything just the basic and the domain is also new but they are on the tops. It is really strange and I am stunned by the results.

      • That keyword has a pretty low difficulty score, so I would be very surprised if you couldn’t rank for it (with the right content and promotion). What kind of links are you building? Also, your competitor may have a PBN or something that you can’t see with a backlink checker.

    • Hi David,

      Great post.

      At MarketMuse, we anticipated this change 2 years ago, and built a system that measures topical relevance and content quality.

      I’d love to walk you through it — shoot me an email, and I’ll find you on LI.


      Co-founder, MarketMuse.com

    • Hey David,
      1. Amazing post & great showcase of Ahrefs Kyewords Explorer (it’s the bomb). Your research process makes a lot of sense to me. I also like the way you grouped keywords into sub-topics to create an article structure. This is something I’ve been doing for a while now (even if it meant ignoring variations of the same keyword). I’ve actually had a lot of difficulty explaining to our clients that it’s better to focus on topical relevancy instead of repeating the same keyword like crazy. Now they can also hear it from the pros 😛
      2. Your Trump reference made me giggle.

      Thanks for the great article.

      • Hey Ioana, glad to hear you enjoyed the post and are digging Keywords Explorer 2.0 🙂

    • Kuba

      David, again a great read!

      That has been a part of our strategy for months, and the results are amazing — one of our websites is nearing 200k unique visitors monthly (6 months after the launch).

      With perfect execution, long tail keywords along with in-depth content can bring tremendous amounts of traffic. In some cases, way more than Ahref’s “traffic potential” metric suggests 🙂

      On the other hand, creating long-form content is super difficult. Longer does not equal better, and if just 20% readers make it to the end of the article (we used to be there when we started experimenting with long-form content), it’s not that great.

      That’s why engagement metrics and observing how users interact with our content is crucial. And that takes time and effort.

      But the question is, do we want to keep churning out 800-word pieces that will face seo-oblivion? Or perhaps, it is better to focus on creating a page that will drive 5k, 10k or even 25h visitors month by month.

      • Thanks Kuba, glad to hear you’re having good success with the tactic. I think in many ways it all comes down to the competition for the keyword/topic. The more competitive, the more you’re going to have to crush it with your content (and promotion) to rank. But generally if something is competitive, it’s because it’s profitable — so the hard work pays off 🙂

    • Before I reading the post, I am doing the same thing. But I learned it in more detailed way. Thanks for the post, David!

    • you have made clear about the long tail keyword, as most of us believed the long tail keyword means to the number of words. Thanks a sharing a valuable post.

    • otherwise

      Great article. Thanks!

    • Really good post David.. I like the depth. Not 100% I agree that it’s always a good idea to go down the topical route, I’ve seen some significant growth by creating 1 HUGE piece (like you suggest) then creating several smaller, longtail focused content “assets” as supporting articles.. I did a post on Topical SEO ( https://charlesfloate.co.uk/topical-seo-introduction ) back in August.. Might have to update it with some Ahrefs stuff involved. I am working on a review of your KW Explorer 2.0 tool though 😉

      • That’s a good approach Charles. Definitely works well for affiliate sites and I think whatever you can do to reinforce your authority on a topic is going to be a good way to go.

    • Hi, David. You’re did a huge job for this article. Many thanks for it. After reading, i understood that i need change approach for keyword research.

    • Chris Ward

      In-Depth Content MUST Be Combined With Link Building”. It’s blanket statements like this that get SEO a bad name.

      Every topic, industry, niche is different, taking one part of Google’s algorithm and applying it to all of them with one fell swoop is wrong. Whether or not link building is needed depends on the industry and the level of competition. But as Google gets better at assessing engagement metrics link-building will become less important.

      • as Google gets better at assessing engagement metrics link-building will become less important”

        isn’t that a blanket/assumption based statement right there?

        I’m not saying I disagree, however, all the evidence shows that links are still the trump card.

        • Chris Ward

          Ha ha yep contradicting myself there — that comment was a bit too brief!

          All the evidence shows…” is another absolute.

          The majority of evidence will continue to show that links are the trump card as long as people continue to build links. If someone creates in-depth content but then builds links to it before it’s had the opportunity to rank without them, how do you know if it’s engagement, links, or something else that’s causing it to rank?

          If one site has 10 links and 3 minutes dwell time, does it deserve to rank more than another site with 0 links and 6 minutes dwell time, for the same query / intent?

          IMO as Google becomes better at measuring engagement / dwell time, links will be more of an indirect ranking factor. More links = a higher crawl frequency, which means greater opportunity to update your content, get it crawled again, improve engagement metrics, rank higher.

    • Yes you right, long tail keywords are very important to improve search engine rankings.

    • Hey David, AWESOME article. I’m in a scenario where the parent topic is not actually the true parent topic, it’s an item in a list.

      The overall topic is Felony with sub components A, B, C, D. The keyword “Class C Felony” is listed as the parent topic, but in reality falls under the overall topic of Felony.

      From the crux of your article, I’m thinking it makes the most sense to create a Felony page with all the sub components as H2 and H3 sections. But, the parent topic classification makes me think twice.

      Ever some across this type of situation?

    • Jacob Andra

      So, on the Lite plan one can’t perform the basic research set out in this article?

    • samtana23

      We are a small ecommerce company and my competitors are amazon and other large marketplaces in India. Most of the keywords they rank for are their own brand names. Are there other methods/ideas to find longtail keywords using Method 1?

    • Sreelal G Pillai

      “One brick is useless. But if you have lots of bricks you can build a wall (no, not you Donald Trump)””…lol!!

      Definitely a great informative post David.

      In many cases I see that the posts from a high DA/DR websites rank very easily. I know, it is contrary to the Ahrefs KD theory, but couldnt help.

    • Krishna Bogati

      yes i agree with you but in many case high DA sites are easily on the top of google why?

    • This is insanely good content. Loads of actionable gems. Need to go back and re-read this a few times as I’m doing new keyword research and content development.

    • Sebastián Álvarez

      Best article ever, thank you!

    • Mohamed Elbazigh

      Hello David,
      In the example of 16,000 traffic potential (how to write a book), is it the traffic potential of just the keyword “how to write a book” or for all keywords related to it!
      Thanks in advance.

    • Bethany Callora

      Hi David, if a site needs 42 backlink to rank in top 10, does it mean that it is an easy win for sites with more than a hundred backlinks already?

    • TheSolidBarCompany

      Hello David, as a complete amateur I did (surprisingly, well to me at least!) find the majority of this well structured content to not only be simply explained but also to add great value to a ‘my level reader’, so thank you. It sparks great thought and two immediate questions:

      - firstly, and out of interest, did you apply ‘your own theory’ as written here to the outlining and drawing up of this article? I guess you probably did or I possibly wouldn’t have found it in a random search.

      - secondly, going back to me being an amateur in ‘this world’, is it realistic for someone who also has to deal with the day to day hands-on oversight of a small, but very, business to undertake this sort of tasking to restructure blog and product pages to feature higher in search and thereby bring customers in (what time involvement would you expect for just one article/product)? Or, is it best left up to the pros?

      Thanks again for the interesting, stimulating and thought provoking read!

      Cheers, Nick

    • Hi David, you gave me lots to think about. I didn’t consider that some longtail might have no traffic and be new. This has been very insightful. I quite liked the Panda update, most of my ranking increased for keywords I wasn’t really targeting.

    • It’s long tail keywords always better.

    • Numaan Jinabade


    • Thank you for this in depth article, very eye opening.

    • Great article!

      then I will read it again..

    • What a great article. Thanks David. I’m about the resurrect/rejuvenate a blog so will work through this several times 🙂

    • Hello, I liked your article, it has helped me a lot in this respect and from today
      I will follow up on your site, and put into practice what you teach on your site!
      thank you.

    • Thank you for In-depth article.

    • Wealth Management

      TBH, I really enjoyed reading this post. It’s very informative and eye-opening. Thanks for sharing.

    • I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing.

    • 1 word — 7 letters


      2 additions (if I may be so bold)
      1. Sort columns
      2. Filter columns

      Once I complete your process and have my article posted how do I find out where Google is ranking my article at and how long does it take for such rankings to rise to the top?