Since coined in 1994, a common term within the internet marketing world is “long tail.” Many search marketers now abide by the theory of the long tail keyword in order to display higher in the search results or improve the return on investment from pay per click marketing. As this phrase has been widely adopted, there is not universal agreement amongst pay per click experts as to what constitutes a long tail keyword or its associated metrics such as price, volume, competitiveness, etc.
Definitions of a long tail keyword vary greatly from individual to individual. There is a vague description of two or more words, three or more words, combination of 3-6 words or at least three words but as many as five words, depending on who you ask. For a more definitive definition, there are five characteristics of the long-tail keyword that have an impact on what it is including,
- Number of words
- Search volume
- Purchase intention
Number of Words
It is clear that long-tail keywords contain more words than a short-tail keyword. Many definitions place an upper and lower limit on the number of words. In actuality, does the number of words in the keyword phrase actually matter? Probably not as it may be more important to define it under search volume and competitiveness within a pay per click campaign.
Those with low search volume are typically long tail keywords but what constitutes low volume? While the exact number is irrelevant, a conservative statement is that long tail keywords are searched for in a lower volume than more generic keywords.
How much competition is required before the phrase is no longer long tail. The Google Keyword Tool offers a scale of competition between 0 and 1 but do not have a great deal of use in distinguishing between generic and long tail keywords. Therefore, a blanket statement is that long tail keywords have less competition than generic keywords.
Long tail keywords are typically phrases that are extremely cheap. Since price is usually linked to competitiveness, long tail keywords should be cheaper than shorter Adwords keywords. Therefore, long tail keywords are generally less expensive than its shorter counterparts.
Finally, the purchase intention characteristic is interest. The theory behind the concept is that users who input longer and more specific queries have already conducted pre-purchase research and are more likely to convert. Therefore, longer keywords have a much higher conversion rate and many pay per click campaigns are developed around a large number of long tail keywords. Unfortunately this does not help with the definition.
Although it seems as if each of these factors plays an important role in defining long tail keywords, there are too many exceptions to be defining features. Perhaps long tail keywords should not be defined with regards to absolute metrics but instead used as a relative metric when compared to other keywords.