Short Tail Keywords vs Long Tail Keywords, Which gets a Better Conversion Rate?

Recently in a call with a client, one of our senior technical SEO Associates, Annie Cushing, started describing the AIDA Sales Cycle and how it related to SEO.  She mentioned that when people start their searches, it’s more for research.  As they start to figure out what they want to do, buy, or order their queries get more specific to what they are looking for.  Here is a summary of the AIDA Cycle including search query examples.

There are times when customers can skip all the beginning steps and go directly to Desire and Action if they know exactly what they are looking for.  For example, I unfortunately had to find a company to replace a car window.  I knew what I needed to find so I typed in the term “auto glass replacement Philadelphia” and scheduled an appointment with one of the top results.  This long tail keyword was an instant conversion for the client, even though the phrase doesn't get as much traffic as some of the broader keywords.

I usually get excited when I see the terms with the most traffic and look past the long tail keywords from Ubersuggest.  This scenario made me realize that I may need to pay a little more attention to long tail keywords when I do Keyword Research for clients.

I decided to test out this theory with some of SEER’s top clients and figure out which drove better conversion rates, short tail terms with more traffic versus long tail keywords with less traffic?

Test Subjects

  • Researched 12 clients in industries including Education, Financial, Healthcare, Insurance, Technology, and Travel.
  • Conversions consisted of anything from signing up for email lists, purchasing a product, registering for new information, etc.

How to get data:

  • In Google Analytics, set the date for an allotted amount of time.
    • (For this test, I used August 21, 2011 – August 20, 2012)
  • Go to Traffic Sources: Overview to get a list of the top 10 Keywords that brought in traffic for the site.
  • View Full Report and include the Goal which holds the conversion you want to research.
  • Show top 100 results and Export data to CSV
  • Once your information is in a CSV, you can sort and filter the keywords

  • Highlight all the long tail keywords that are still in the list.
    • The specific client name was a determining factor when deciding the long tail keywords for this test.  (More words in the client name = more words needed in the long tail keyword) 
    • Typically it would be 3 or 4 + words to make up the long tail keyword.
  • Get results by separating the Long Tail keywords against the Short Tail keywords.


  • Short tail keywords (including not provided) got 11 times more traffic than the long tail keywords.
    • Short Tail Keywords = 1,547,905
    • Long Tail Keywords = 137,94

  • The average conversion rates for long tail keywords were 4.15% higher than the conversion rates for short tail keywords.
  • The average bounce rate was 6.22% higher for long tail keywords.

Overall, while short tail keywords are incredibly important to drive traffic and get visitors to your site; we still can’t lose focus of how important long tail keywords are as well.  Take a look into your client’s Google Analytics and see if you get the same kind of results!

Follow Allie O'Brien on Twitter @Allie_OBrien to be up to date with SEO posts and everything SEER Interactive!


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