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Long tail keywords: why they’re worth getting right

Posted by Meg Bernazzani on August 12, 2019

At the head of the search results, a very small number of keywords— the top 100 or 500—have monthly search volumes in the tens or hundreds of thousands. Those are searches like “Honda Civic” or “Ford truck.” They’re very high volume, they’re easy to identify, and they’re fairly short: 1 or 2 words, generally.

In contrast, long tail keywords are searched much less frequently: single digits per month, in many cases. And, instead of a few hundred terms, you’re looking at millions of different keywords, mostly longer, more complex searches. So why should you care about them at all?

The long tail isn’t just about volume: it’s about value. What you find in the long tail are buyers who know what they want and are closer to taking action. This concept dominates search, both organic and paid, with long tail keywords making up over 70% of search traffic.

The challenge of keyword volume

Targeting very specific keywords is a path to success, but the challenge is that you need to target a huge number of keywords—probably far beyond what you’re currently doing.

Based on our own informal research, dealers running their own programs typically target around 150 keywords, and those using paid search vendors target around 500 keywords. At CarGurus, where we use the infrastructure we’ve developed for ourselves and applied it to running campaigns for individual dealers, we run an average of 1,000,000 keywords per dealer, just to cover the cars they have in inventory, in their sales region.

Scale impacts everything

Of course, having that many keywords also creates a large number of associated pieces to manage.

It’s a proven aspect of paid search that ads work best when keywords are precisely aligned with the ad copy and the copy on the landing page. If the consumer searches for an orange Honda Fit, your ads will perform better if they say “orange Honda Fit” in them.

Same for landing pages. So even for very similar keywords, there’s a time investment required to get things created. Then you need to manage the bids for each variation.

It’s an ongoing challenge, too: these keywords are only worth anything while you have a matching car on the lot. As soon as you sell your last Honda Fit, you better pause those keywords or you’re wasting money.

The value of the long tail in action

A search for the head term “Ford F-150” might come from a user interested in buying a truck—but it’s so general, it could also come from someone looking to sell that truck, or for service, or all kinds of other intents.

As the user adds more information to the query, transforming it into a long tail keyword, the value increases. A keyword like “Blue For F-150 Lariat near Pittsburgh,” for example, is a much better indication that this user is in the market for this truck right now.

There’s also value in knowing what very specific searches are not worthwhile, like “Blue Ford F-150 toy.” Having keywords set up to find and deprioritize those kinds of searches can help with the overall efficiency of the campaign.

Get long tail keywords right and sales will follow

Now that you understand the value of long tail keywords, pay attention to what customers are actively shopping for and make sure you’re serving relevant ads that push the shopper toward a purchase. While you’re going to draw less traffic with a long tail keyword than you would with a more common one, the traffic you do draw will be more focused and closer to a sale.

With the right strategy in place, long tail keywords can drive more high-converting traffic to your website, increasing revenue for your dealership.

Topics: paid search, search engine marketing, SEM, SEM Plus