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The Truth About Long-tail Keywords

by Robert Coats on January 22, 2014

Long-tail keywords are great…. as long as they have search volume. Which admittedly most do not, especially when it comes to what might be relevant to a nonprofit account. Another problem with long-tail keywords is that most account managers add them into the AdWords account without any thought to the actual landing page. I mean, sure, the landing page might be about donuts but is it really about “pink icing donuts with rainbow sprinkles”? In most cases, no, far from it.  

About 10 years ago, I was interviewing with a major agency here in the Seattle area and one of the questions the interviewer asked me was, “what is one of the first things you do when you take over an existing account?”

My answer was “delete keywords that are generating wasted spend”.

To which the interviewer replied, “but as an agency we want to expand our clients keywords to increase ad spend.”

“If you are increasing the keyword list just to increase ad spend, then you are doing your clients a disservice, ” I said.

Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. And while a lot has changed in our industry over the past 10 years, one agency mantra still remains the same, “expand the keyword list and add long-tail keywords.” And the myth of chasing the “long-tail” to AdWords success still remains. Why? One reason is because agencies get rich off of long-tail keywords and expanded keyword lists. This is because more ad spend often translates into more revenue for the agency since many agencies charge a percentage of ad spend. So they espouse the benefits of long-tail keywords to their clients and publish blog articles about them. It is a regurgitated “best practice” that has went on since the days of (I know, I was there.)

But another reason why the myth persists is because there is a glimmer of truth to long-tail keywords. You see, fewer advertisers advertise on long tail terms so the bids are often less – an important consideration for those with Google Grant account. Although lower bids do not necessarily mean fewer advertisers in the auction mix because you are also bidding against all of those short-tail variations of phrase and broad match.

Another sparkle of glimmer is that when the content is in place, lang-tail keywords can have very high quality scores. Again, this is another important consideration to all AdWords advertisers but most especially to Google Grantees.

So you see, there is some truth to the greatness of long-tail keywords and I do not have anything against them but long-tail keywords are NOT a means to success with AdWords, at least not by themselves. You MUST have relevant content to support your keywords, regardless of how many words are in your keyword phrase. That is because adding long-tail keywords, without the content on the landing page is like putting the cart before the horse… it just doesn’t work, regardless of how many horses you add.

A one-word broad match keyword with a landing page with good relevant content will (in many cases) out perform an exact match 4 word long tail keyword with a landing page with poor content. And while this is true with any AdWords account, it is doubly true with Google Grant accounts.

So, my suggestion, is to focus less on adding long-tail keywords and focus more on adding the right keywords, regardless of how many words are in the keyword phrase. And remember, adding the key phrase of “pink icing donuts with rainbow sprinkles” is only appropriate if you have a page offering “pink icing donuts with rainbow sprinkles”.

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