Ranking for common or broad keywords is a particularly challenging task for most small businesses. These words and phrases are often highly competitive and require significant resources to rank for.

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A better option for most entrepreneurial endeavors to increase online traffic and rank well in the SERPs is to leverage long-tail keywords. While it does require a fair bit of effort to select the most prosperous and relevant phrases, these keywords are becoming an increasing necessity in the world of SEO because they are often more closely aligned with user intent; something that Google’s Hummingbird algorithm is largely focused on.

Not only are long-tail keywords more effective at targeting intent, they are also much more cost-effective and better at generating results for SMBs. Business owners could spend years trying to rank for “T-shirts.” Alternatively, those same business could potentially rank for “soft red cotton T-shirts for men” in mere weeks.

Long-tail keywords are often less popular than broader terms and tend to drive less traffic volume. Since these phrases are more specific, however, they are more likely to convert and prove to be highly beneficial for SEO strategies.

To learn to effectively leverage long-tail keywords, here is a four-step process for uncovering phrases that will help to drive traffic and conversions, thereby boosting your rankings.

1. Research the Competition

To leverage the most beneficial long-tail keywords, you must first establish who your competitors are, what keywords they are targeting and how much traffic they are driving using those phrases.

Figuring out who your competitors are shouldn’t prove too challenging. Additionally, uncovering the keywords they are optimizing for can be easily determined with the use of paid SEO tools such as SEMRush, Buzzsumo, or Ahrefs.

Through these kinds of services, you should be able to easily uncover a treasure trove of keywords that your competitors are using to drive traffic.

With this information in hand, you can begin the next step in the process.

2. Establish Your Prime Keywords

Prior to beginning your long-tail research, you should have a firm understanding of what your top 10 most important keywords are. This knowledge is necessary because your long-tail keywords will essentially be more illustrative versions of these terms. Before you can generate any long-tail phrases, you need to know their roots.

The main keywords your business targets should be of medium to high competition, obtain upward of 200 monthly searches (according to the Google Keyword Planner), include three or fewer words, and be targeted by at least one of your competitors.

There are a variety of tools you can utilize to help establish your company’s main keywords. These engines include the Google Keyword Planner, Keyword Tool, Google Trends and Accuranker.

Keep in mind that you should be constantly monitoring the rankings fluctuations of your main keywords. This will serve as a measuring stick to determine if your long-tail efforts will be fruitful.

Once you have established your brand’s prime keywords, you can move on to determining the long-tail terms you should be targeting.

3. Choose Your Long-Tail Keywords

Now that you know your prime keywords and have conducted your competitive research, the data you have compiled should prove useful in determining the most relevant long-tail phrases for your business.

Using the “red T-shirt” example again, if this is your business’ main keyword, you should be using it to establish the type of long-tail words to select. Any phrases that are immediately or obliquely relevant to this term should be added to your list.

You can use the same tools you leveraged for competitive research to complete this task.

Your objective is to determine as many long-tail keywords as you can that possess a low to medium search volume and are relevant to what you are targeting. These will be the phrases that will easily bolster your traffic and rankings.

Your long-tail keywords should contain three or more words, generate less than 100 monthly searches (according to the Google Keyword Planner), and be targeted by at least one competitor.

Once you have compiled a list of suitable terms, begin to integrate these phrases into your website’s content and landing pages. Additionally, ensure your site is user-friendly as it relates to design, navigation layout, and load times — these can all have a detrimental impact on your rankings and traffic.

4. Monitor Your Keyword Activity

If you have been involved in SEO for even a small amount of time, you already know that not all the keywords you aim to rank for will produce the results you had hoped for; this is just how it goes.

But this is also why it is critical to constantly monitor the changes and fluctuations that take place for your long-tail keywords.

It is vital to supervise each keyword’s ranking, profitability, conversion rate, and lifetime value to establish which keywords should be optimized and which should be abandoned; this is partially how you continually refine your site’s SEO strategy and reach the top of the SERPs.

You can use SEMRush’s Position Tracking tool to determine search engine positions for any of your keywords. You can also use this tool to verify competitor rankings in relation to your own, as well.

I would recommend checking this weekly, at the bare minimum, to obtain the most useful data possible.

Long-tail keywords are a necessity for ranking well in today’s SERPs. These phrases are more likely to address user intent and drive searchers to find the solution they are out to obtain; something that Google places a high priority on.

Utilize this methodology to uncover your site’s most relevant and prosperous long-tail phrases and maximize your SEO efforts.

What other tactics are there to maximize an SEO strategy? What have you found to be the ideal long-tail keyword length for your business?

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