There’s been a lot of talk about long-tail keywords in pay per click (PPC). You could say it started in the entertainment industry with Chris Anderson’s influential Long Tail article in 2004, but it wasn’t long before the concept became mainstream among search marketers.

Long-tail keywords are those low-volume, obscure, infrequently searched-for keywords that turn up in your search query reports. ‘Cheap remortgage for bad credit history’ is one example of a long-tail keyword. ‘Remortgages’ is not.

The theory goes like this:

  • Long-tail keywords, en masse, can provide significant search volume (high impressions)
  • Long-tail keywords have less competition than generic keywords (lower cost per click (CPC), higher click-through rate (CTR))
  • Long-tail keywords are more specific than generic keywords, so ads can be better tailored to match the searcher’s needs (higher CTR, higher Quality Score, less wastage from irrelevant searches)
  • People making long-tail searches are often further along in the buying cycle and more willing to buy than people making generic searches (higher conversion rate)
  • These lower CPCs, higher CTRs and higher conversion rates mean long-tail keywords can be extremely profitable (lower cost per acquisition (CPA))

So are long-tail keywords all they are cracked up to be? Are they worth all the time, effort and commitment they require?

In short: yes.

Over the course of this article you’ll see exactly how search volume, CTR, CPCs, average position, conversion rate and CPA differs for searches containing different numbers of words, and how long-tail keywords can benefit your business immensely. Using three months of real Google AdWords campaign data, you’ll see that long-tail searches outperform generic short-tail searches on almost every measure, and provide a great opportunity to connect with customers which is generally not being taken by the majority of advertisers.

1. Search Volume (Impressions)

Let’s start with search volume. Do people make long-tail searches in any meaningful volume?

Look at the example below. Although 1 and 2-word searches may be under-represented in the example (the account has a natural bias towards keywords of at least 3 words), it is clear that as the number of words in a search query increases beyond 3, the number of searches made using that that number of words falls.

This isn’t surprising. You would of course expect search volume to drop as searches start becoming obscure and lengthy. It is little surprise that more people are making shorter searches such as as ‘cheap televisions Brisbane’ (3 words) instead of longer searches such as ‘low cost Sony Bravia television shops in Brisbane’ (8 words).

Long Tail Keyword Search Volume

What is worth noting, however, is the power of these long-tail keywords en masse. Added together, searches of 5 words or more accounted for 21% of all impressions. While long-tail keywords may be individually insignificant, a PPC campaign with thousands of long-tails can be a serious source of additional traffic.

Fact: Long-tail searches have significant search volume

2. Click-Through Rate (CTR)

Another common belief among search marketers is that click-through rate (CTR) is higher for long-tail keywords. Their reasoning being:

  1. Long-tail keywords have less competition, so there is a higher chance someone will click your ad
  2. Long-tail keywords are more specific in their requirements, so you can write a more targeted and relevant ad to encourage the searcher to click

While the first point is perhaps rather tenuous (Google’s broad-matching mechanism often sends long-tail searches to advertisers’ short-tail keywords), the second point is definitely true. If someone searches for ‘cheap Sony Bravia 46 inch televisions’, and your ad mentions the words ‘Sony Bravia’, ’46 inch’ and ‘televisions’, perhaps with latest prices for that model, it makes sense that your ad will be more appealing than a generic ‘Sony televisions’ ad.

Let’s have a look at CTR for searches of different word counts. While searches of 1, 2 and 3 words have a relatively low CTR, CTR appears to increase significantly for searches of at least 4 words. CTR, it seems, is considerably stronger for long-tail keywords.

Long Tail Keywords Have Higher Click Through Rate (CTR)

Fact: Long-tail keywords can achieve a higher CTR, as long as ads are tailored to the search query

3. Cost Per Click (CPC) & Average Position

Many search marketers also believe long-tail keywords are cheaper. They have less competition, fewer people bidding on them to drive up their prices, so CPCs will be kept relatively low.

So are long-tail keywords cheaper than generic keywords?

To answer this question, it is important to bring average position into consideration. Since CPCs and ad rankings are closely connected (a higher CPC typically means higher ad ranking), both average position and CPCs need to be considered together.

First, let’s look at CPCs. For searches of 13 words or more, CPCs do tend to be cheaper. For searches under 13 words, however, CPCs tend to be very similar. A 9-word search query costs pretty much the same price as a 4-word search query. CPCs do fall very slightly as word length increases from 3 to 12 words, but I would hardly call that significant.

long tail CPC

Now let’s look at average position (a higher bar represents a higher ad ranking). For 1, 2 and 3-word searches, ad ranking is relatively low, and ads are appearing near the bottom of the first page. As word length increases, however, ads are shown significantly higher. They are appearing in the top positions.

Higher Google Search Engine Rankings from Long-Tail Keywords

So although CPCs were relatively similar for searches of all word counts, long-tails were often shown in a higher position.

When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. When you set a maximum CPC bid for each keyword, Google will show you as high as possible without going over your maximum bid. If long tail keywords are cheaper, Google won’t necessarily charge you less. It is in their interest to charge you as much as possible, so they will instead keep your CPCs close to your maximum bid but show you in a higher position.

Fact: Long-tail keywords are cheaper for the same ad ranking, or the same price for a higher ad ranking

4. Conversion Rate

So we’ve seen that long-tail keywords have a significant search volume. They exhibit a strong CTR and are often cheaper than their short-tailed rivals. But clicks are no good if people don’t engage with your site or part with their cash. It’s often conversion that really matters.

So are long-tail searches more likely to convert?

Many search marketers seem to think so – their reasoning being that people who make longer, more specific searches have already done their research and know exactly what they want. They are further along in the buying cycle so are more likely to open their wallet.

Let’s have a look at conversion rate for searches of different word counts.

Long Tail Searches Have Higher Conversion Rate & Higher ROI

It’s a pretty convincing trend. As the number of words increases, so does conversion rate.

Fact: Long-tail keywords have a higher conversion rate

5. Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)

Finally, what does this mean for CPA, profitability, return on investment (ROI)? Is it cheaper to acquire a customer through the long-tail?

Let’s have a look at the CPA column.

long tail CPAAgain, there appears to be a clear trend between word count and CPA. Conversions from long-tail searches seem to be cheaper than conversions from generic, short-tail searches.

And it’s not just one or two conversions which are coming through long-tail searches, either. Remember how long-tails of 5 words or more accounted for 21% of all searches? Well, those 21% of long-tails generated a massive 40.5% of all conversions.

Fact: Long-tail keywords have a lower cost per acquisition and can be extremely profitable

Long-Tails Are Your Friend

As we have seen, the benefits of long-tail keywords are many:

  1. Significant search volume
  2. Higher CTR
  3. Cheaper CPCs (or higher ad ranking)
  4. Higher conversion rate
  5. Lower CPA

Quite simply, they outperform generic, short-tail keywords on every measure.

Don’t get me wrong, long-tails shouldn’t replace your short-tail keywords. Short-tails, if used wisely, are great for building interest and awareness at the early stages of the buying cycle. Your long-tail keyword strategy should complement your short-tail strategy.

So by all means continue showing on your high-volume keywords – after all, they may be your bread and butter that keep your business afloat. But the next time you work on you AdWords account, spend some time researching relevant long-tail keywords. Try to think what people are actually searching for and use keyword tools to help. Structure your keywords into closely-themed ad groups and tailor your ads and landing pages to cater for these specialised long-tail searches.

Your Moment to Shine

Of course, researching thousands of keywords and structuring them into hundreds of closely-themed ad groups, each with tailored ads and landing pages, is by no means easy. It will take considerable time, effort and dedication, not to mention the many hours of keyword and search query analysis, ad group expansion and ad copy testing once your keywords are live.

But think about your target audience for a minute. They are calling out for someone to meet their needs in a personalised and relevant way. It’s the age of social interaction, and people are sick of seeing generic ad after generic ad. And despite many advertisers claiming they are “doing this already”, consumers are not currently getting a personalised and relevant service (see The Australian PPC Opportunity).

If you can be the advertiser who understands your audience using search query analysis, if you can cater for their individual needs with relevant ads and landing pages, if you can be the one who makes a mark in your industry, customers will reward you with their wallet. It’s your opportunity to stand out from the competition. So take it.

Alan Mitchell

Alan Mitchell is a Google AdWords PPC specialist, based in Melbourne, Australia, with a proven track record at improving return on investment (ROI) from Google AdWords. Find out how Alan can help your business.

  • Annette

    Great article.
    I have waisted a lot of money on short keywords before i learned to focus on only using long keywords to targed my visitors.


  • Rob

    ALL very true. Been doing this for 2 years now.



  • Mike


    Yes, true we also advice the same thing to our clients to go for the long tail keywords when the website is new.


  • Rob

    A little off topic but what do you think about loing tail organic SEO?

    Take a KW like:

    “Alpharetta homes for sale”

    If you check the exact match (not broad), Google says this one gets 2900 searches per month. Well worth trying to get 10% of those to your site.

    Instead of AdWords, why not trying to get a individual page, one deep off my mainpage to rank top 10 for this exact phrase.


    The entire page is SEO’d for this KW and obtain maybe 100 backlinks with the exact term as anchor text coming in.

    Wonder if that could make it to the top ten?


  • Alan Mitchell


    The same principles of long-tails still apply for SEO – compared to generic keywords such as ‘real estate’, long tail searches such as ‘Alpharetta homes for sale’ have less competition so are easier to rank for, can have significant search volume en masse, and since they are generally more qualified and specific in nature, can often exhibit stronger conversion rates.

    Deep-linking to very specific pages, as you point out, is a strategy popular with many top advertisers. If you have a deep-link page that is highly relevant to a keyword, optimising that deep-link page (rather than the homepage) for the keyword will have a much higher chance of ranking. If it’s highly relevant, it benefits Google, the customer and the advertiser, so why wouldn’t Google show you?

    In terms of metrics, Google Webmaster Tools provide a wealth of information on backlinks and rankings for specific keywords. Once you have decided which long-tail keywords you would like to focus on, you can benchmark their positions and monitor their rankings as you make changes.

  • SEO Vantage

    Good discussion about long tailed keywords.
    The domain name url structure is of course important, but also main factors to take into consideration are the Page rank of the website and also the age of the website. If you use a completly new website with no PR then that will be harder and take longer to optimise than simply using a deep landing page on an already exisiting well established website with good PR.

  • V SEO

    Great article!

    Optimization for Long Tail Keywords is very important, not even in overcrowded niches.

    If you need a free tool to generate Long Tail Keywords from Google Suggest Data, try πŸ™‚

  • Limeyboy

    Great post, best article on the long tail I have read. What a great way for people to jump into the related long tail results. It’s even more compelling to see the volume of traffic when implemented correctly, thanks.

  • E Internet SEO

    Agree long tail keywords are very important when it comes to serps. Especially when it comes to blog posts and articles.

  • Santap

    Really interesting post. However I still do not understand how amount of long tail keywords can give enough focused traffic as the main keywords.

  • Alan Mitchell

    @ Santap

    Your’e right – individually long-tail keywords can provide negligable volume, especially when compared to more generic keywords. However, en masse, they can provide a significant number of highly-targeted visitors, each at a lower cost and of a higher chance of conversion. The key is to create highly-focused campaigns, granular ad groups, and tailored ads, each which closely match the ad group’s keywords.

    If you can cater for the specific needs of searchers, and provide them will a helpful, efficient and personalised user journey, long tail theory says they will reward you with conversions.


  • Move Ahead Media

    Absolutely agree that long tail keywords are critical in an PPC campaign. One thing I have noticed though with Google Instant is these long tail keywords are getting less hits now than before. Even so, structuring any campaign without the use of long tail keywords is madness.

  • Santap

    Thanks for your answer Alan,
    I think I now understand better. Indeed the conversion rate can be optimized with those words.
    I am already trying it with my sites.


  • Maria

    Great article about long tail keyword research. Although the idea is effective, my problem is how to know the exact data for each long-tail keyword, when the software I used displays one-two word keywords only? Thanks.

  • Alan Mitchell

    Hi Maria,

    Since most long-tail searches are very unique and are only made a handful of times each week/month/year, accurate data on long-tail keywords is extremely rare. It is possible to use paid tools to better research long tail keywords, although doing thorough research on keyword THEMES then permutating your own long-tail keywords can be extremely effective. You can them mine your search query data for new long-tail keywords ideas, and continute to build up your long-tail keyword list over time.


  • Galactic Fireworks

    My site generates the majority of its traffic through long tail keywords although my main generic is also highly search. However – the conversions on my long tails are way way higher. Great post by the way

  • Alan Mitchell

    @ Galactic Fireworks

    Great to hear you’re getting good traffic and high conversion rates from long-tail keywords.

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  • Chris Quinn

    I think this is the first blog article I have read that speaks of using multiple long-tail keywords in order to achieve good results.

  • Alan Mitchell

    @ Chris

    Long-tails are definitely most effective en masse. Individually a long-tail keyword might not receive much search volume, but when you have a portfolio of tens of thousands, the results can really stack up.

  • Raj

    Great! this article changed the way I used to think about long tail keywords will not get much traffic as its less searched on google. I will follow the your article in future to get recognised quickly on google. Cheers

  • Alan Mitchell

    @ Raj

    Glad you found it useful. Best of luck with your campaigns.

  • MAM Aus

    Absolutely agree that long tail keywords give a much higher conversion rate than generics. I believe that generic keywords and long tails are just as important as each other as the long tails have less searches but higher conversions whilst the generics have higher search volumes with a lower conversion rate, however, it’s all business. Paul.

  • Alan Mitchell

    @ MAM Aus

    It’s good to achieve a balance in your campaigns, with more generic keywords complementing long-tails when more volume is needed. Casting a wide net and taking a holistic approach with your keyword selection is in my opinion always the best strategy to maximise you chance of success.

  • SEO Hello

    Absolutely agree that long tail keywords are critical in an PPC campaign. One thing I have noticed though with Google Instant is these long tail keywords are getting less hits now than before. Even so, structuring any campaign without the use of long tail keywords is madness.

    Have to agree there, its also good for varation in keywords, help with a whole ‘natural’ link profile too.

  • Alan Mitchell

    @ SEO Hello

    I’ve also found some long-tail keywords receiving fewer clicks due to Google Instant, but since people are now being pushed down more clearly-defined searches, other long-tail keywords are receiving significantly more searches. You can see these artificially-high searches in almost any search query report – they’re those 9 to 10 word phrases which receive a disproportionately high impression and click volume for their word length. Capturing these artificial long-tails with a clear strategy in place can deliver great results due to their relatively low CPCs.

  • Joel

    Long-tail keywords are only useful depending on your search objectives.
    If your search objectives are to increase sales of goods and services that you sell online, then long-tail keyword becomes a benefit.
    However, if your search objectives are to increase brand awareness and online visibility, long-tail keywords may hinder visits to your website and could prove in-effective.

  • Alan Mitchell

    @ Joel

    I often find that long-tail keywords can be effective in achieving both ROI and branding goals.

    What you are doing with a long-tail strategy is reaching people who are making a wide range of different types of qualified searches. Connecting with these searches with targeted ad messages is therefore a viable strategy whether your goals are ROI or brand focused.

  • Bung Kerani

    Should I use two or three words to make a long tail keyword?

  • Alan Mitchell

    @ Bung

    A 3-word phrase might be long-tail to one industry but generic to another, so it’s better to think of long-tail keywords more in terms of their nature and qualities rather than the number of words they contain.

    You might find my blog post What Exactly Is A Long Tail Keyword useful to help you better understand how to differentiate long-tail keywords from more generic keywords.

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  • Manuel


    I tried putting long tail keywords into my account, using word in I found in the search query report.

    However, Google says that these keywords are not being shown because the search volume in too low.

    1) Is these best practice to find good keywords in long tail form in my account?

    2) How many impressions is the minimum limit for long tail keywords to be shown on Google?

  • Alan Mitchell

    @ Manuel,

    I use 3 different strategies to mine search query reports for new long-tail keyword themes. Here is an overview of these 3 strategies:

    Regarding keywords with low search volume, you may find this article useful:

  • Gawlin

    Despite the passage of time the article is still current. A very interesting article. Also, I noticed that in some industries such as bikes sell much better products with a long tail.

  • Alan Mitchell

    @ Gawlin

    Yes, long-tail is still extremely relevant, and will become even more so as people expect more specific results from search engines.

    The problem is, most PPC advertisers are still missing the point:


  • Phoenix

    Long tail keywords have high benefits in SEO and the points that you have described in your blog contains very good information. Thanks for

  • Gaurav Verma

    Long tail keywords are really useful for SEO. Thank for sharing long tail keyword feature in detail