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Short Tail Keywords for Higher Search Volume

If you’ve done any reading on SEO best practices, you’ve likely come across advice on optimizing for long tail keywords. These ultra specific, lengthy search queries have high conversion potential for the effort required to rank for them. However, long tails make up just a portion of overall search volume. Broad short tail keywords actually see significantly higher total monthly searches – they just come with their own challenges.

Defining Short Tail Keywords

In simple terms, short tail keywords are search queries containing only one to three words. They refer to very wide, generic topics that could have multiple different user intents behind them.

Some other common names for short tail key terms include:

  • Seed keywords
  • Focus keywords
  • Broad match keywords
  • Head terms

For example, a query like “men’s shoes” would be considered a short tail keyword. The search is broad – people could be looking to buy shoes, research shoe trends and styles, compare brands, and much more.

A longer version such as “affordable leather oxford shoes for men” would be a long tail keyword. The specifics indicate the searcher likely intends to actually make a purchase.


Another Example, “Link Building Service”  would be considered a short tail keyword. A longer version such as “SAAS Link Building Service” would be a long tail keyword. 

Why Short Tails Present Big Opportunities

Why Short Tails Present Big Opportunities

Short tail keywords might seem intimidating to target due to their broad, competitive nature. However, there are some major advantages that make them well worth the effort:

Massive Search Volume Potential

The wider applicability of short tail topics means tons of searches every month. One study found that the 10,000 most used keywords account for nearly 20% of all searches – but they are almost all short tail. Simply put, ranking well for just a few short tails can drastically increase overall organic traffic.

Draw More Overall Traffic to Your Site

A single short tail term can pull in thousands of visitors per month if you can rank well. Even if just a small percentage converts, that is significant new business. The numbers game of broad terms can work heavily in your favor.

Chance to Rank for Related Long Tails

Get a short tail ranking, and Google will start serving your content for relevant longer tail searches too. Optimize just for ultra-specific keywords, and you lose out on all those extra impressions. Leveraging short tails helps maximize search real estate.

There are certainly challenges around optimizing for such a wide range of potential intents. But the proof is in the pudding – short tails drive search volume, so businesses need to target them.

Challenges with Short Tail Searches

With great volume comes great competition. The broad appeal of short tail topics means lots of sites aggressively competing for rankings. Generally, the shorter the keyword, the more difficult it becomes to rank, which brings additional obstacles:

Multiple User Intents

Someone searching “yoga mat” could be an instructor buying in bulk, or a parent looking for their kid’s first mat. That variety in intent makes it difficult to create content that satisfies all searchers.

Much Higher Competition

Not only do more sites target short tails, but authority sites and paid search ads soak up a lot of the top positions. It’s common for short tails to be among the most expensive PPC keywords as well.

Lower Conversion Rates

Even if you do rank, your page may only suit one subset of search intents. That leaves fewer searchers finding exactly what they wanted, hurting click-through rate.

The competition drawback is precisely why long tail keywords have become popular for their efficiency. But putting in the hard work on short tails pays dividends across related terms.

Examples of Short Tail Keywords by Industry

Examples of Short Tail Keywords by Industry

To better illustrate how short tail keywords work compared to long tail variations, let’s look at a few examples across different industries.

Local SEO and Real Estate

If a Seattle real estate agency wanted to improve website visibility, “real estate” would be a prime short tail keyword to target. Tons of volume, but how can they compete at a national level?

That’s where leveraging location modifiers creates more specific, targeted long tail versions with lower competition:

  • Real estate
  • Seattle real estate
  • Queen Anne Seattle real estate

See how the base seed keyword gets narrowed down with geographic details? The agency can now compete locally rather than on a nationwide level for the same root topic.

Ecommerce and Product Keywords

Narrowing short tails works similarly for ecommerce sites marketing products within competitive spaces. Take selling t-shirts for example:

  • T-shirts
  • Blue t-shirts
  • Women’s blue v-neck t-shirts

Additional descriptive filters like color, gender, and neckline style create viable long tail alternatives to hyper-competitive roots. More conversions come from better matching searcher intent.

Digital Products Like WordPress Themes

The concept applies to digital goods as well. “WordPress themes” is searched over a million times per month, but by dozens of intents:

  • WordPress themes
  • Free wedding WordPress themes
  • Free wedding photography WordPress themes

AS with other verticals, added modifiers filtering cost, site type, use cases, etc creates tighter relevancy while still incorporating the high-volume seed keyword.

Balancing Short and Long Tail Optimization

Balancing Short and Long Tail Optimization

With all this talk emphasizing short tail keywords, it might seem long tails should be ignored or are obsolete. However, the truth is leveraging both simultaneously is key for overall visibility.

Here are a few considerations when deciding on emphasis between short and long tail SEO targeting:

Should You Focus Just on Short Tails?

Prioritizing only the highest volume short tail keywords can certainly drive more site visits quickly. However, it leaves potential conversions on the table from searchers finding you for more precise queries.

Should You Focus Just on Long Tails?

Long tail keywords have higher conversion rates since they indicate more specific intent. But with smaller individual volumes, you miss out on tapping into the search demand of short tails.

Balance is Best

Ideally, identify a handful of core short tails that attract your buyer personas, while also recognizing common long tail variations those searchers may use. Covering all bases maximizes visibility.

It’s also worth noting that by targeting precise long tails, you can more easily rank for the corresponding short tail root keywords as well over time. The correlation flows upward from specific to broad.

Tips for Researching Profitable Short Tails

Tips for Researching Profitable Short Tails

Hopefully the advantages of short tail keywords are clear, but how should you go about selecting the best short tail targets for your business? Follow these steps:

Find Your Base Keyword Seed

Identify 2-3 core topics that attract your ideal customers. These will form your foundation short tail keywords.

Expand with Related Long Tail Keywords

Use keyword research tools to find longer variations of your seeds. Analyze the suggested keywords to identify common filters like location, product attributes, job titles, etc.

Evaluate Competition and Search Volume

Guess how difficult it will be to rank for both short and long variations. Also compare search volume to focus on terms driving the most potential traffic.

Organize Keywords by Intent and Topic

Group related short and long tail keywords to create optimization clusters around elements like informational, commercial, product-focused, etc intent.

The goal of this research process is compiling a master list of short tail foundations and derivative long tails your content can target simultaneously.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Optimizing solely for long tail keywords leaves easy search volume on the table. Short tail keywords might be more competitive, but they also unlock awareness and traffic at scale critical for growth.

By leveraging location modifiers, descriptive attributes, and other filters, short tails can be expanded into more targeted long tail variations as well. Pursuing both simultaneously diversifies relevance while tapping into base search demand.

Now that you understand the distinct benefits and appropriate balancing of short and long tail SEO…

– Audit your existing content against core topic clusters and identify potential keyword gaps.

– Conduct further keyword research around your products, services and content pillars.

– Prioritize clustering top short tail seeds with profitable long tail variants to target.

– Expand outlines and optimize pages targeting multiple lengths of keywords per topic.

Frequently Asked Questions About Short Tail Keywords

How many short tail targets should I choose?

There’s no ideal number, but 5-10 core short tail pillars that attract your best buyer personas is a good goal. Identify the keywords driving the most business opportunity.

Is it faster and easier to rank for short or long tails?

Generally long tails are faster to rank for since they have lower competition. Short tails may take longer due to more sites vying for top positions and content gaps needing filled.

How much content is needed to target a short tail?

Ideally create pillar content surrounded by supporting articles sub-focused on questions from various searcher intents behind a core topic.

Should I ever stop optimizing new content for short tails?

Likely not – as the foundation search terms in your space, short tails should be part of an ongoing optimization strategy peppered through deep content.

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