Are Long Tailed Keywords The Answer to Keyword Optimization?

By Kristina McLane | @Hanapin | Account Manager at Hanapin Marketing

Which is more important, the ad or the keyword? This is one of those “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” type questions. Both are unavoidable requirements of PPC creation. I can write the most compelling ad that the world has ever seen, but without the keyword, it will just sit in AdWords with a warning.




Even though the answer to the question is both, I find myself in love with the keyword. The keyword is what links us as advertisers to the outside world. Keyword optimization is the process of adding, researching and analyzing the terms that you believe will perform best. One commonly toted keyword optimization process is the long tailed keyword.


The Competing Rivals: Long Tailed Keywords vs. General Keywords


A long tailed keyword is a lengthier, more specific keyword phrase. Here is my dumb downed example of long tailed keywords:


General Keyword: dinosaur

Long Tailed Keyword: red t. rex dinosaur

Super Long Tailed Keyword: where to find a red t. rex dinosaur


Two or even three words do not necessarily make a long tailed keyword. It’s the intention and how specific the keyword is to the product that is offered. The theory behind the long tailed keyword is that the more words that match between keyword and search query, the closer the intent should be to converting.


A Look at Performance: Volume & Efficiency


I define a general keyword as a nonspecific keyword. In most cases, it will be the simplified version of the long tailed keyword. The argument for long tailed keywords has always been that they are good for small budgets or difficult cost-per-acquisition goals. These keywords find the searcher in the right stage of the buying cycle or search funnel. Looking at one of my accounts, there were what I defined to be 15 general keywords and 494 long tailed keywords.




15 keywords are essentially receiving similar results as 494 keywords combined! Yes, there are 80 fewer conversions, but the long tailed keywords average less than one conversion per keyword, while the general keywords are receiving roughly 15 conversions each.


Because the argument behind long tailed keywords is increased efficiency, let’s take a look at performance metrics instead of volume. The long tailed keywords only have a 20% higher click-thru-rate and 0.75% better conversion rate. Not all accounts demonstrate better efficiency through long tailed keywords. Is there value to include long tailed keywords in this type of account that doesn’t see significant performance improvement between the two types?


Yes, long tailed keywords are useful. They result in over half of my conversion volume within this account. Even without a valid claim to improved efficiency, these keywords help me reach my conversion volume goals.


A Look at Performance: Lead Quality


I would like to take a moment to explain how this account is structured. Each campaign is a more specific version of the general product. If it was a lead generation account for individuals interested in dinosaurs, I have two general campaigns: Dinosaur and T. rex. Each campaign will get more specific by different colors of dinosaurs: Green Dinosaur and Green T. rex Dinosaur. The keywords vary between campaigns solely by the addition of the green or t. rex qualifiers.


One last time, I will do an example:


Campaign: Dinosaur

Keyword: find a dinosaur


Campaign: Green Dinosaur

Keyword: find a green dinosaur


Campaign: Green T. rex Dinosaur

Keyword: find a green t. rex dinosaur


The data in the table below is from a real account, but will continue to use the naming convention demonstrated above. Below is an example of long tailed keywords performing as they are rumored to do:




CPA and conversion rates continue to improve as the keyword becomes longer and more specific. The sacrifice is that conversion volume decreases with the additional qualifiers from 193 to 12 to only one. The Dinosaur campaign with the general keywords resulted in over three times the revenue as the Red Dinosaur campaign. However the $15,162 that the Red Dinosaur gets is over four times the return (ROAS). The long tailed keywords resulted in higher quality leads.


The chart below shows the purple dinosaur’s performance for the same time period. Purple dinosaurs are much more popular than red dinosaurs. Purple dinosaurs have 172 conversions compared with the red’s 12. Purple T. rex dinosaurs even have more conversions than the red dinosaur. Unfortunately, the lead quality is lacking.




Super long tailed keywords when the lead actually converts typically have a higher ROAS as a result of better lead quality. The challenge is to find a balance between volume needed and efficiency required.


And Your Takeaways…


Long tailed keywords do not always perform as they are expected, but they are a necessary part of the keyword optimization process. Being cognizant of your long tailed keywords is to know and understand your audience. Volume, lead quality and efficiency can be achieved from the long tailed keyword. Part of the keyword optimization process is to determine how the long tailed keywords perform in each individual account.