Imagine you want to grab a bite at a restaurant. But the rumblings in your stomach aren’t giving you information any more specific than “need food.” So, you just type “restaurants near me” into Google or take a stroll down the street to see what speaks to you. You’ll find something eventually, but you’ll be sifting through a lot of possibilities that don’t quite fit your cravings. Then it suddenly hits you: what you really want right now is a nice bowl of pho. Now, you can change your search query to something like “Vietnamese restaurants near me” or “best pho in Portland,” making it easier to quickly zero in on a restaurant that will hit the spot.

That’s roughly how long-tail keywords versus short-tail keywords work. A short-tail keyword (also known as a container keyword) is, as the name implies, a shorter variation of a keyword (no more than three words) that will be broader. Since it’s a more general term, it will have higher search volume and competition. A long-tail keyword is a longer query that will have a narrower focus and lower search volume and competition. Both are needed for a successful content marketing strategy.

When to Use Long-Tail Keywords

When determining what variety of keywords to use, consider two things:

  • Content Type
    Search Intent

Since short-tail keywords are broader, these will be best suited to primary landing pages. It’s a good idea to identify some core container keywords related to your business at the start of your SEO campaign that you can build off of as your work progresses. These containers can make excellent keywords for your homepage or gateway pages, as these broad keywords pull in a lot of search volume and readers on these pages will be looking for more comprehensive information about your business and products/services.

That being said, the competition is too high to make most short-tail keywords the ideal choice for blog articles. Besides, you don’t want to write all your blog articles on super general topics; that won’t satisfy what people are hoping to get out of your articles. Instead, opt for long-tail keywords when writing blog articles. This allows you to select keywords with a competition level your blog can tackle while creating niche, targeted articles that provide excellent answers to all your readers’ questions. Long-tail keywords also help you target different facets of your audience. For example, if your business develops apps, you could do a series of articles targeting different industries your company targets, i.e. “app development for healthcare” or “financial services app development.” This way, you can generate content that speaks to everyone who might be interested in your product or service.

Here’s a graphic from our blog on SaaS keyword strategies that outlines the relationship between gateways and long-tail pages:


How to Create a Keyword Strategy

The good news is that long-tail and short-tail keywords work together beautifully. Remember when I mentioned identifying a list of core container keywords for your business? This list is the perfect jumping off point for finding long-tail keywords. Say one of your container keywords is “vintage clothing.” You can plug that into a keyword tool like SEMRush to find variations on that query or type it into Google and see what autocorrect suggests to add on. A quick autocorrect test reveals lots of longer variations on “vintage clothing,” including “vintage clothing trends 2021,” “vintage clothing tag identification,” and “vintage clothing under $10.”

It can work the other way, too. If you identify a good long-tail keyword, such as “how to style retro sneakers,” you might realize you can pull a good short-tail keyword out of it. Maybe your site could really use a “retro sneakers” landing page. Keep both types of keywords in mind as you work to make your research time more efficient.

SEO PRO TIP: You should be using more long-tail keywords than container keywords since they are more specific and can be used for content that may be going out weekly or even more frequently. You will need a smaller pool of container keywords, but be sure to vet them carefully, as these keywords will be supporting some of your most important pages.

The Power of Content Marketing

A content marketing strategy that incorporates the right balance of long-tail keywords and container keywords can effectively boost conversions, engagement, and traffic. At the same time, consistently producing quality content positions your business as a thought leader in the industry.

Sometimes you know exactly what you want to eat. Sometimes you just know that you need to eat. Wherever a potential customer is on that scale, you want the keywords you select to capture their attention and demonstrate value.