Long tail short tail SEO

Combining long and short tail for your SEO keyword strategy

By: Nick Harrison
Last Updated: August 20, 2019

There has been a debate since the beginning of search engines and SEO on whether you should adopt a long tail or short tail keyword strategy. Both have their positives and negatives.

What I like to do is combine the keyword strategies so that multiple keywords/phrases are being targeted within the same article.

I’ll explain at the end how I do this, but first let’s take a look at what both long and short tail keywords are and the pros and cons of each. 

What are short tail keywords?  

“Short tail” refers to a one or two keyword phrase. An example of this is the keyword “branding” which is averaging 50K searches per month in the U.S. It would still be considered a short tail if we added another word to it and made it more specific like “personal branding” which averages 10K searches per month. By adding the extra word “personal” you will notice that there are 40K less searches when we get more specific. What we are really doing though is adding 10K and making it 60K traffic opportunities as we are still using the keyword “branding” in “personal branding”.


  • The shorter and more broad the phrase will most often lead to more people searching the phrase. 


  • Greater competition. Since the phrase only contains one or two words, it will be included in a lot more websites than using a longer more specific phrase. 
  • Since more people search for the shorter phrase, there will often be a lot more websites trying to target the shorter phrase, websites that have more Google street cred or SEO mojo than you.
  • The more broad the phrase (i.e branding), the more your traffic will be broad which in-turn will lead to lower conversions. Branding could mean a lot of different things. If we are selling something for people looking for “personal branding” our conversions would increase. It’s not just about the website traffic, it’s about how many sales you are converting. 

What are long tail keywords?

“Long tail” is essentially three are more keywords in a specific phrase. An example of this using “branding” would be “what is personal branding” which is searched around 550 times per month. As I talked about before, the more words, the more the number of searches drop because we are getting more specific.


  • It is more often targeted and filtered than a short tail phrase, which will likely lead to greater conversion rates.
  • Less competition. Less sites will have that search phrase, less sites will be purposely competing for that same phrase, which makes the probability of being near the front of Google more likely than a short tail keyword.  


  • Less people will be searching for the longer phrase. 

Summary: Short tail vs. Long Tail Keyword Phrases

In short (slight pun), short phrases will normally lead to more people searching that phrase, but with the more competition, the plausibility of getting near the front of the search listing goes down. Also, you will most likely need more traffic as your conversions will likely be less.

Long phrases will lead to less people searching the phrase, but will have less competition and the plausibility of getting near the front of the search listing goes up as does your conversions.

Which to use? Let’s try to use both!

Using both at the same time……

If we write an article titled “what is personal branding” we can target and use the long tail of “what is personal branding,” the short tail “personal branding,” as well as “branding” at the same time. All three of these phrases are combined into a long tail phrase. For this example I am using these three as our primary keyword phrases, which is why I have it as the title (also URL) as they are incredibly important for on-page SEO.

That doesn’t mean that is all we are targeting, oh no. Within the article headers and body, we can also target secondary keywords like “personal brand” that has 2.3K searches per month and so on. 


Instead of deciding whether to use a long tail or short tail SEO strategy, try to use a long tail phrase that incorporates one or more short tail phrases as your primary phrases. This way you are covering the bases and create an article that could be ranked for several things.