Long-Tail Keywords: Definition & How To Find and Use Them

Tim Soulo
Tim is the CMO at Ahrefs. But most importantly he’s the biggest fanboy and the truest evangelist of the company.
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    Are you tired of trying to rank for the same high-competition keywords as your competitors?

    I’ve got two and a half words that will help you solve this problem:

    Long-tail keywords.

    Why should you care about long-tail keywords?

    Because they can drive a TON of high-converting traffic to your website and dramatically increase revenue for your business.

    See how organic traffic to the Ahrefs blog is skyrocketing this year?

    Organic traffic to the Ahrefs blog, via Ahrefs’ Site Explorer

    That’s because we’re actively using the keyword research strategies that I’m about to share.

    In this guide, I’ll explain how to take advantage of long-tail keywords to get TONS of search traffic with the least amount of effort.

    But let me first share some interesting data to help you better understand what long-tail keywords are and why they’re so important.

    What are long-tail keywords?

    Long-tail keywords are terms with low search volumes. Despite what many people think, it has nothing to do with how long or short a keyword is, how well it’s likely to convert, or how specific it is.

    Why are they called long-tail keywords?

    We’ll get to that in a second.

    For now, you should know that the vast majority of Google searches are very specific and unpopular (i.e., long-tail).

    We analyzed the ~1.9 BILLION keywords in Ahrefs’ US database and found that a whopping 92.42% of them get ten searches per month or fewer.

    long tail keywords search volume distribution

    Let’s “unfold” this pie-chart onto a (simplified) scatter graph.

    long tail keywords search demand curve

    Do you see why less popular keywords are called long-tail keywords now?

    It’s because they fall on the veeeeery loooong tail of the search demand graph.

    Editor’s Note

    If we view this data in a table, we discover another interesting fact.

    long tail keywords search demaind curve in numbers

    60.67% of all “search demand” is generated by only 0.16% of the most popular keywords (with search volumes of 1,001 or more)

    Which means that the other 39.33% belongs to the 99.84% of queries with one thousand or fewer searches per month—i.e., “long tail” keywords.

    Joshua Hardwick
    Joshua Hardwick
    Head of Content

    Here’s a fun fact about long-tail keywords…

    There’s a common misconception among SEOs that shorter search queries have higher search volumes than longer ones.

    Here’s an example that busts that myth:

    weight loss keywords 1

    You can see that the four and five-word phrases have significantly more search volume than the two-word phrase “lose weight.”

    Is this just a one-off? Not at all. 

    From that same study of 1.9 BILLION keywords, we discovered that 29.13% of keywords with 10,001+ monthly searches are made up of three or more words.

    long tail keywords word length

    Here are some examples of “long” keywords with high monthly search volumes:

    1m plus queries three words

    Also, 13.53% of keywords with ten searches per month or fewer consist of only one or two words.

    Here are some examples of “short” keywords that fall on the long tail of the search demand curve:

    fewer than 2 words

    Key takeaway: You can’t (and shouldn’t try to) determine Keyword popularity by looking at the number of words in a query. Short search queries can be “long-tail” keywords, and long queries can be “head” keywords.

    In other words, be aware of your biases and don’t judge the search popularity of keywords by their length in words.

    How to find long-tail keywords

    That was some fun data with which to impress your SEO friends.

    But now you’re probably wondering how to find long-tail keywords.

    Well, one of the easiest ways is to take a broad topic and begin typing it into Google. You will then see Google autocomplete suggestions, like so:

    google autocomplete

    These will be more specific and less popular searches related to the overall topic for which you’re searching.

    You can also check the “People also ask” box

    people also ask

    … and the “Searches related to” area at the bottom of the search results.

    searches related to

    These give some insight into the other, less popular (but more specific) searches people are making around that topic.

    However, collecting these keywords manually from Google can be quite time-consuming. So you might want to use a professional keyword research tool to help you find thousands of juicy long-tail keywords in a matter of seconds.

    Enter Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

    Just enter a seed keyword, choose a report from the left-hand menu, then use the Volume filter to find keywords with search volumes that you consider to be low in your niche.

    long tail phrase match ahrefs

    If you’re looking for more specific queries as opposed to general ones, you can also use the word count filter to find long-tail keywords that consist of many words.

    word count long tail ahrefs

    Another trick is to use the Questions report in Keywords Explorer. These types of queries are highly likely to be “unpopular and specific” (i.e., long-tail queries).

    questions long tail ahrefs

    If you’re looking for a cool free tool that does something similar, try Answer the Public.

    answer the public best protein powder

    Another great way to discover great long-tail keywords in your niche/industry is to browse the keywords for which your competitors are currently ranking.

    You can easily do that in Ahrefs.

    Enter a competitor’s domain into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, go to the Organic Keywords report, then filter for keywords with low search volumes.

    competing site long tail

    That is a great way to find long-tail keywords in your niche that you may not have considered.

    Here are a few more methods for finding things that people in your industry may be searching for on Google:

    1. Get inside your customers’ minds: Think about how your customers may search for the products or services you offer. What language would they use? How would they phrase things?
    2. Talk to your customers: There’s no better way of finding out what kinds of words, phrases, and language your customers use.
    3. Look at threads in online communities: Check industry forums to see what questions your customers are asking and how they phrase them. You can also check Facebook groups and other social media platforms.

    Learn more about those final tips here: 4 Ways to Find Untapped Keyword Ideas With Great Traffic Potential

    How to get TONS of search traffic from long-tail keywords

    Long-tail keywords tend to be easier to rank for than “head” keywords.

    For example, look at the top-ranking pages for the long-tail keyword “turmeric weight loss” (2,500 monthly searches):

    turmuric weight loss serp overview

    Here, most of the top-ranking pages have fewer than 20 referring domains.

    Translation: If you were to create a page on this topic and build some links to it, you could expect to rank in the top 10 quite easily.

    Now let’s compare this to a popular “head” term like “weight loss” (98,000 monthly searches):

    weight loss serp overview

    This time, all of the top-ranking pages have tons of backlinks. Your chances of outranking them are slim.

    So as a general rule, it’s easier to rank for and get traffic from long-tail keywords. 

    Or is it?

    Let me confuse you for a second.

    The keyword “easiest way to lose weight” has 3,000 monthly searches, which is around the same ballpark figure as “turmeric weight loss.” Does that mean that this keyword is also easy to rank for since the popularity is low?

    Let’s look at the top-ranking pages:

    easiest way to lose weight

    Damn. It seems as though this keyword is crazily competitive. But why?

    It’s all because this search query doesn’t comprise a unique topic of its own. It falls under the broader topic of losing weight.

    Let me explain.

    When different people search for things like…

    weight loss keywords

    … they’re all searching for the same thing.

    Google understands this and ranks a near-identical set of pages for all those long-tail queries.

    Editor’s Note

    We validated this specific example by checking the Traffic share by pages report in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer to see which pages get the most traffic from the above list of search queries.

    traffic share by pages

    The top result (from healthline.com) not only gets the most significant share of traffic but also ranks for five of the six keywords we checked.

    If we then also check the Organic traffic report for this page in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, we can see that it ranks in the top 5 for over 8,000 SIMILAR keywords.

    top 5 ranking 8k keywords

    That proves this topic is very broad and consists of many long-tail queries.

    Joshua Hardwick
    Joshua Hardwick
    Head of Content

    Which brings us to a significant point:

    Each topic has a ‘search demand curve’ of its own.

    Here’s what it looks like for the topic of weight loss:

    long tail keywords search demand curve weight loss

    You can see that while there are a few “head” terms, there’s also a very long tail consisting of thousands of low-volume keywords. All of those are part of the same overarching topic.

    But this isn’t the case for all keywords with low search volumes.

    Some long-tail keywords are topics in their own right, like “turmeric weight loss.”

    long tail keywords search demand curve turmeric weight loss.png

    Let’s call these “topical long-tail keywords,” for lack of a better name.

    Now here’s the crucial point:

    You’ll need a different ranking strategy for so-called “topical long-tail keywords” than for “supporting” ones.

    Let’s expand on that.


    1. How to rank for “supporting” long-tail keywords

    Before I talk about how to rank for such keywords, let me first explain how to identify them.

    Let’s say you’ve found a long-tail keyword, like so:

    how can i lose some weight

    Remember that this is a long-tail keyword NOT because of the number of words in the query, but rather because the search volume is low.

    The easiest way to figure out whether it’s part of a broader topic (or not) is by looking to see if the top-ranking pages are general or focused.

    Here are a handful of the top-ranking pages for “how can I lose some weight”:

    how to lose some weight

    It’s clear that these pages are quite generic. None of the titles contain the phrase “how can I lose some weight,” so Google must group this query as part of the broader overall topic of losing weight.

    You can take your analysis a step further by throwing the keyword into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and checking the Parent topic.

    parent topic how can i lose some weight

    If the Parent topic is a more popular keyword, it’s another telltale sign that your keyword is part of a broader topic. That is the case here.

    You can delve deeper by checking the Top keyword for each of the individual top-ranking pages. Just scroll down to the SERP overview in Keywords Explorer.

    top keyword top ranking pages

    None of these pages have “how can I lose some weight” as the Top keyword, which further confirms that this is a supporting long-tail keyword.

    Final trick: check the Kw column to see the number of keywords for which each page ranks.

    If most of the top-ranking pages rank for lots of keywords, then the keyword must be part of a much broader topic (i.e., it’s a less popular way to search for something popular.)

    But how do you get traffic from “supporting” long-tail keywords like this?

    Answer: Target the main “head” term.

    Never target these kinds of long-tail keywords separately. You’ll waste your time because Google views all of them as being part of a broader topic.

    Here’s a quick hack for finding the “head” term:

    1. Grab one of the top-ranking pages for your long-tail keyword;
    2. Paste it into Site Explorer;
    3. Take a look at the Organic keywords report;
    4. Sort by Traffic (high to low)
    5. See which 3–5 keywords send the most traffic to the page.

    head terms

    If you can rank for any one of these “head” keywords, you’ll almost certainly rank for some of the hundreds or thousands of long-tail variations and get a TON of traffic.

    That is what currently happens with the top 10 ranking pages for “how to lose weight.”

    But how do you maximize your chances of ranking for as many long-tail variations as possible to collect as much of that sweet long-tail traffic for the keyword that you’re targeting?

    The best way is to study the current top-10 ranking pages. See how comprehensive and detailed they are, then make sure that your page is at least that good.

    The second best way is to analyze all the keywords for which the top-ranking pages also rank. That will help you create an outline of things that should be present on your page.


    When choosing between two or more topics with similar search volumes, always choose the one where the top-ranking pages get more traffic.

    Take a look at these two keywords:

    two keywords

    Clearly, “SEO tips” is a better keyword to target, right? I mean, it has 3x more search volume, so ranking for that will surely bring the most traffic.

    Not in this case.

    Let’s take a look at the SERP overview for both keywords.

    Top-ranking pages for “SEO tips”.

    Top-ranking pages for “submit website to search engines.”

    Notice that the pages ranking for “submit website to search engines” get around 10x more traffic than those ranking for “SEO tips,” despite the latter having 3x greater search volume.

    So what’s going on here?

    Basically, “submit website to search engines” is a broader topic consisting of many long-tail variations.

    submit website to search engines long tail

    You can see this by checking the Kw column in the SERP Overview in Keywords Explorer. All the top-ranking pages for “submit website to search engines” rank for more than 1,000 keywords, whereas those ranking for “SEO tips” rank for only 100–200 keywords on average.

    Conclusion: “submit website to search engines” is a better topic to target because it has higher search traffic potential.

    Learn more about why you shouldn’t blindly trust search volumes for traffic estimations here.

    2. How to rank for “topical” long-tail keywords

    Just to refresh your memory, topical long-tail keywords are low-volume search queries that are topics in their own right. They’re not part of a broader topic.

    Here’s an example of such a keyword:

    long tail topic

    If we check the top-ranking pages in Google, we can see that all of the pages are highly-focused on this topic. Just look at the titles.

    keyword cannibalization serps

    Furthermore, if we throw the keyword into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, we see that the Parent topic is the same.

    keyword cannibalization ke

    Same goes if we check the Top keyword for the top-ranking pages in the SERP Overview.

    keyword cannibalization serp overview

    It’s clear then that “keyword cannibalization” is not part of a broader topic. If it were, the top-ranking pages would focus on more generic topics.

    So how do you get traffic from long-tail keywords that are topics in their own right?

    Answer: Target each topical long-tail keyword with a unique page.

    Remember, you can rank for topical long-tail keywords easily. So instead of targeting broad competitive topics like “weight loss” (which are almost impossible to rank for), you can get tons of traffic from topical long-tail keywords by ranking for 20–50 of them.

    For example, it would probably be easier to target and rank for all of these topical long-tail keywords (with multiple pages)…

    long tail topical keywords

    … than to rank for a single competitive “head” keyword like “weight loss.”

    But an even smarter strategy to get traffic via VERY long-tail keywords is to use “modifiers.”

    Take a look at this: if I enter “black shoes” into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, then go to Phrase match report and filter for the search queries that contain the word “with”…

    black shoes with

    … it shows me over 3k search queries where people want to learn about different clothing pairings.

    And as you can tell by the Keyword Difficulty (KD), it’s super easy to rank for those keywords.

    So if you have a website about fashion and style, you could create a directory of user-generated Q&A’s and target each of those topical long-tail keywords with different pages.

    You wouldn’t even need to write long, detailed articles about every specific clothing pairing. You’d merely need to say if it’s a good or bad idea and show how it looks.

    It’d still be a ton of work, but likely much less work than ranking for “head” terms in the fashion industry.

    Another smart thing that SEOs do is append locations to their product or service keywords and create dedicated pages for each service area.

    Let’s search for “rent a truck in” with Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and go to the Phrase match report. This time we get over 400 keywords—all of which are very long tail.

    rent a truck in

    If you’re thinking that such keywords/topics aren’t worth your while due to them having low search traffic potential, think again.

    Even though each of these keywords only gets a handful of clicks per month, remember that you can likely rank for them with ease. Furthermore, you can target hundreds of these keywords with hundreds of pages.

    If you had 300 pages, each targeting a different topical long-tail variation, and each page got ten clicks per month, that would be 3K very targeted clicks every month (300 pages * 10 clicks).

    Plus, even though Ahrefs has an industry-leading keywords database, it still doesn’t contain ALL possible search queries that people may use.

    So you can safely append locations for which Ahrefs shows no search volume…

    no search volume

    … and still get a couple of visits per month to each of the pages you create.

    That will eventually add up to a very significant amount of traffic.

    Of course, it does take some work to set up a website with this amount of pages… but probably much less work than ranking for “head” terms like “truck rental.”

    Plus, topical long-tail keywords are more focused and likely to convert at higher rates.

    Why not all long-tail keywords fit neatly into these two “buckets” (and what to do about it)

    Let’s take a look at a few of the top-ranking pages for the long-tail keyword “how to name images for SEO” (80 searches/month).

    mixed bag serps

    Some of the results are broad and talk about image SEO in general, whereas others are more narrowly-focused on naming images for SEO.

    If we also check the top-ranking pages in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, here’s what we see:

    how to name images for seo focused

    The more focused pages have fewer backlinks and lower “authority.”

    So what’s going on here?

    The broad pages that rank in the top positions are there because of their “authority.” They have backlinks from hundreds of referring domains which allows them to “force” their way into the rankings for hundreds of narrower topics.

    But Google still ranks some more focused pages for this keyword, which means that there is still chance to rank. Just treat it as a topical long-tail keyword.

    In this instance, that would mean creating content about “how to name images for SEO” as opposed to the more generic topic of “image SEO.” Do that, and you won’t need as much “authority” to rank.

    Or you could do the opposite:

    That is to write about the broader topic, build a ton of links to the page, and watch as it ranks for not only closely related long-tails but also semi-relevant long tails (e.g., “how to make images for SEO”)

    You can see an example of this happening with Shopify’s guide to image optimization, which ranks for the “head” keyword of “image optimization” (800 searches/month) plus almost 2.9K other similar long-tail keywords:

    shopify image optimization keywords

    The route that you choose to go down will depend on your answers to these questions:

    • Is your website new or does it have “authority?”
    • How much value do these keywords have for your business?
    • How good are you at link building?

    Struggling with that last one?

    Here are a few of our best link building guides to help:

    Final Thoughts

    Long-tail keywords are not as straightforward as a lot of people think.

    By that, I mean that low-volume keywords aren’t always necessarily easier to rank for than high-volume keywords. Sometimes they’re part of a much broader topic, and Google shows the same results for the “unpopular” long-tail variation as they do for the “head” keyword.

    The goal of this article was to teach you how Google treats different types of long-tail keywords. Paying attention to these details will help you effectively target different kinds of long-tail keywords and get tons of traffic from search engines.

    • Monthly traffic 1,303
    • Linking websites 1,513
    • Tweets 498
    Data from Content Explorer