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The status on long tail keywords and keyphrases

Why you cant rank on your keyphrases when using them on your pages.

Edited: 2012-12-28 00:02

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What is the status on keyphrases in SEO? This is a hard question to answer, because what used to be a well used tactic to get a given page to rank in the results, has now become less important. We do not think that moving away from using exact keyphrases in your content is necessary – it has just become less important – Google is just getting better at ranking pages, without us having to focus on specific ways to do things.

This is both good and bad for website owners. The good thing is that we do not have to focus much on SEO for quality content, as it will quite simply archive decent rankings on its own – the bad is that it may have become much harder to outrank competing authority sites in our niches.

So lets take a moment to discuss what is going on with these long tail keywords, also known as keyphrases.

Long tail keywords and keyphrases

Google used to pay much attention to exact match keyphrases found on a page – typically you would optimize your page by including your targeted keyphrase in the title, url, and repeat it a couple of times in the paragraphs on the page. We would do this by including the keyphrase in a second or third subheading, as well as somewhere in paragraphs of the first and last sections of the article.

See also: Keywords and Keyphrases

So what is happening now? Well if you take a keyphrase and search for it in Google, open the first few results in a new tab, search for the exact keyphrase on the page – often it has not even been used on the page!

This is not always the case, and figuring out why is near impossible – considering how many unknown ranking signals search engines use today – but a websites authority rank likely has something to do with it. An authority site will most likely rank easier, and also get away with this variation of keyword stuffing their pages. Why is that then? Well maybe Google just generally thinks that authority sites got better content, and therefor should rank higher than lower authority sites. Of course we don't actually know the authority of a site, we can merely make an educated guess, based on known attributes of the given site. I.e. Alexa rank, backlinks, pagerank; and so on.

What is going on with rankings now?

Instead of just putting weight on sites mentioning the exact search phrase, Google now looks on the overall combination of keywords and keyphrases used on the page – maybe they still apply weight on keyphrases for authority sites – but for the majority, it has become harder to get good rankings without original content.

You need to re-think the way you are optimizing your pages. Simply using keywords on your pages to outrank competing pages has become much harder – you can of course analyze keywords on competing pages to get an idea about what you need to do to outrank them, but will it be worth the effort? Most of the time it likely wont, and your efforts are therefor best put on improving your content for your users – often better rankings will be achieved over time.

When you choose to write new content, you should first be doing a few Google searches, to get a feel about what the competition for your subject is like – its about keyword discovery – there are still lots of subjects, just waiting for someone to start writing about them. Choosing something that no-one else is writing about, or something with low competition, will be easier than choosing something everyone in your industry is writing about.

Monthly searches and impressions

If you are targeting a single high volume keyphrase – in other words – if you are targeting a keyphrase that a lot of people are searching for, keep in mind that even low volume keyphrase can bring in a lot of visitors. One of the most visited articles on Brugbart was originally targeting a low-volume keyword, but ended up getting hundreds of indirect monthly visitors using from other search phrases – phrases that the article wasn't even optimized for!

There's nothing wrong with targeting specific keyphrases, but indirect search traffic is often going to be higher than what you will get from users using the exact keyphrase.