The Key to The Longtail Keywords Approach

If you're using the longtail keyword strategy, you need to keep this in mind

Someone – I’ll call him Mr. M – emailed me last week asking for help with his sites. His questions inspired me to write this post.

I think this can be helpful for many people who are starting with web publishing.

Warning: I’m about to make some generalizations. There are many exceptions to what I’m about to describe. In my experience, it’s usually true, though.

The Longtail Keywords Approach

The longtail keywords approach is very popular with new publishers and veterans alike. It’s the most common strategy you’ll find in courses for beginners.

The approach in a nutshell:

Build a new site by focusing on detailed/specific queries that have very low competition.

The reasoning behind the approach is this –

When Google can’t find any other site that targets this very specific query, it will rank your query-specific page. Even if your site lacks the authority that other sites in the niche have.

Why the longtail approach is so appealing

There’s a reason why the longtail approach is so popular.

You can start from scratch.

You don’t have to have an established site to go after queries with zero (or close to zero) competition.

It’s the perfect solution for someone who’s just starting out and doesn’t have the budget for link building.

Months into building and still no traffic

As I mentioned, a specific email inspired this post.

Mr. M, a blog follower, emailed me to share his frustration. He’s been building two sites for a while now but making very little revenue. What could be the problem?

He mentioned he was getting $8 RPM and wondered if the niches could be the problem. Or was it his keyword selection techniques?

A note about asking me for advice

I should say at this point that I don’t offer consultations, paid or otherwise (Mr. M. had offered to pay for one).

If anyone else reading this wants my advice, the best (and fastest) way to get it would be by leaving a comment on the blog.

If you email me or otherwise contact me privately, it could take a long while for me to reply. Chances are I won’t be able to help you in too much detail – if at all. But sometimes, like in this case, I can turn the answer into a more detailed blog post.

Back to Mr. M’s problem –

Mr. M shared his niches with me.

I think they’re fine. I didn’t even have to give that one too much thought. That the traffic is out there, was a given.

The RPM should also be fine, once the sites get enough traffic.

Right now, both of the sites are small so they’re monetized by Ezoic, hence the low RPM.

This isn’t to say that Ezoic can’t generate high RPM, but that it’s not likely to happen with a very small site.

To figure out what the problem was, I suggested that Mr. M follow the method I provided in this post: Dozens of posts and no traffic – what’s wrong?

Mr. M. replied saying he had analyzed the content as I suggested.

The posts were ranking.

The problem was that those low competition queries were not generating enough traffic.

That’s when I realized this could be a good topic for a blog post here. I think I may have an idea as to what the problem may be.

Let’s go back to the longtail approach for a minute.

The long-term gameplay

Those low-competition queries that you should be targeting initially typically have low search volumes. For real.

Even after you take into account different versions of the query.

Even after you take into account related questions the post may rank for.

In 2022, more than ever before, if no one is targeting the exact topic, there’s a very good chance that traffic numbers for this query are very low. So – almost by definition – non-competitive queries tend to have very low traffic numbers.

That’s fine.

The system can still work because there’s a long-term gameplay plan here.

Phase 1 – Create a batch of pages targeting very low competition queries

Phase 2 – Rank for those pages to start gaining authority

Phase 3 – With your newly gained authority, now go after queries that are slightly more competitive

Repeat this cycle:

As your site grows in authority – you can go after increasingly more competitive keywords.

The Key: A larger number of posts

In the process above, the second phase is important.

As your pages begin to rank for low competition queries, your site begins to gain authority.

I suspect that there are multiple ways in which site size contributes to authority. I have discussed this in more length here: How to improve your traffic by building a large site.

The post I just linked to probably needs a little updating but the principle is still valid.

A small site just won’t cut it.

If you want to get your site going, you have to get at least 100 posts on one site.

That’s the bare minimum number that I would start out with in a regular (non YMYL) niche. If the niche is very competitive, it may not be enough.

These days, most of our new sites are launched with 120-250 posts. Right off the bat.

Does the age of the domain or site matter?

In my experience, you can’t rely on site/domain age as a shortcut.

In other words, you can’t start a site with 30 posts, let it “stew” and expect it to automatically have more authority a year later.

It can happen.

  • Maybe someone picked up your posts and linked to them.
  • Maybe posts were shared on social media and that helped build links.
  • Maybe you’re very good – or very lucky – with keyword research, to the point where you hit 30 golden nuggets of high-volume longtail queries with low competition.

Anything could happen.

But I wouldn’t rely on any of the above.

In my experience, the more reliable strategy is to create more decent content and put it out there. Get to hundreds of posts as soon as you can.

Should you start only with very low competition keywords?

Let’s say you’re about to create a site with 200 posts. Should all of your queries be low-competition ones?

Some people create a mixed content plan right off the bat. A solid base of low-competition queries, with some more challenging topics thrown into the mix.

The logic behind this is simple:

By the time the site gains some authority and Google trusts it enough, you have some good content ready to rank for more competitive topics with more traffic.

Personally, I like to stick to low-competition keywords at first. I raise the bar as the site grows.

Back to Mr. M’s Sites

It’s impossible to say for sure – and keep in mind that I have not looked at the sites – but I suspect that the sites are too small.

Each site has fewer than 50 posts. I don’t think that’s enough.

It could be – depending on the competition level in the niche.

If it is – then it’s time to leverage the fact that the articles are ranking and now create content for slightly more competitive queries.

Had these been my sites, here’s what I’d consider doing –

  1. Focus on the better of the two sites.
  2. Add at least 50 more articles
  3. For these, I’d look for queries that I think might have more traffic volume.

And no, I can’t say how much traffic each post would bring. I can only guess and the best tool I have these days is common sense.

But I can use these guesses to the best of my ability, avoiding queries that are too limited.

How can you find queries where the competition is low and the traffic volume is decent?

You look very hard.

The exact method doesn’t matter all that much. Keyword research for a new site is always more challenging, for this reason. It’s just part of the game.

Contrary to what some people think, it takes time and a effort to create a successful niche site. Also, a little bit of luck doesn’t hurt.

What do you think?

The above is just my own opinion, of course. As always, based solely on my own experience.

There are other ways to approach this problem. Link building is one that comes to mind.

I’m curious to see what other publishers think could be the problem, and what possible solutions can there be.

As always, leave me a comment and let me know.

21 Comments

  1. Well, this is the boost I needed, to get my website moving. It’s all about quantity and good enough quality. There’s no need to be the best just good enough to rank well and keep publishing.

  2. I have to agree this is some really great information.

    If you don’t mind me asking, lets say the long-tail keyword is something as

    Napa Valley Attractions Family. It is searched less than 25 times monthly. If you want to include this keyword in your article, how would you?

    It seems it would be difficult and sound weird using it within the content as ( napa valley attractions family ) In this case would it work, and give you SEO credit if it was used as

    napa valley attractions,
    attractions for all the family,
    napa valley family attractions,
    family attractions in napa valley,
    napa valley family fun.
    attractions in napa valley

    It is my understanding you would want to use the keyword without breaking it up. Most importantly, you want to provide content that is reader friendly for the visitor.

    I very much appreciate any additional information you can provide.
    Jason

    • Hi Jason,
      I’m not an expert on technical SEO, so this is just based on my own experience. A couple of insights –
      1. Google seems to be very good at understanding short phrases. All of your version there would work very well – Google can match them up with a search query even if the wording is a bit different.
      2. Putting them as a heading may or may not work – depending on the competition. If someone else has an entire page titled “Napa Valley Family Attractions” they’ll get the SERP – not you.

    • RPM=Revenue Per Mille (mille means “thousand” in Latin)

      In plain English, it is the ad revenue you will get per 1000 page views.

    • Hi Marcos,
      Sorry for using jargon – maybe I need to write a post about basic terms. RPM stands for “Revenue for M” where M is 1000, as in 1,000 pageviews. So RPM means how much money you’re getting for 1,000 pageviews or sessions.

  3. Thanks for the detailed post. Can you please recommend anything to rank again a website that has been hit by google on 4th of August and still down.
    Should I update content as I assumed my content was short or write new one?

    • Hi Awan,
      Honestly, with the latest Google updates, I don’t think anyone knows what to do. I would just take a good look at each page and try to make sure it’s helpful to the readers. Assuming it is helpful and original, the next thing to do is look at the competition. If you’re not seeing anything that makes their page much better than yours, I wouldn’t change anything and just wait patiently for future updates and hope for the best.

  4. I used to target very low competition and very low volume (..!!). Thus, our average monthly pageviews per post are around 100 – not anywhere near what we want.
    Two months ago, I shifted the strategy a bit to target a keyword with more volume but still rankable. My way now is if the keyword has a lot of variations that serve the same intent in the related searches section of the SERP, it should be a good keyword to target.
    I also tried Ahref with higher volume keywords but also found that my ranking chance is very slim. Ahref in my experience is not a good place to find longtail keywords. Or at least, I haven’t tried hard enough with Ahref.

    • Hi Vance,

      I agree. And IMO, targeting keywords with more volume after you’re already ranking for low-volume keywords, is a good idea. That’s what I was trying to convey in this post.

      Ahrefs can work for a lot of things, but I have a feeling too many people are using it while applying very similar filters. So what Ahrefs puts out as being mid-high volume and having low KD is likely to have a lot of competition.

  5. I noticed that topical authority is becoming more and more important these days with SEO. In short words, cover everything from a topic and you’ll rank (you’ll even outrank big brands this way) no matter what. This also means that you have to write content about topics where there is little to know volume at all, but that is related to the main topic/niche.

    I obviously don’t know Mr. M’s niche but what he can do is gather every possible topic of his niche and answer everything there is about that in a logical way. He can even divide his topic into smaller subtopics and go from there working his way up.

    Another thing that came in my mind is the SEO Avalanche Technique, you can find more info about that on the Builder Society forum. It’s basically about discovering the level your site is in and pick topics/keywords to write about according that level. Once you have written enough you’ll advance to the next level (bigger kws) etc. I never tried this method myself though, but it might be interesting for him.

    • That’s an interesting observation, Joachim. I’m familiar with the Avalanche technique and I think it’s in line with what I described in this post. The challenge with this approach is this: you need to create hundreds (sometimes thousands) of posts relatively fast. And they all need to be of decent quality. Many of them will never be profitable because they are targeting low-volume words. So, it’s a risky game with a large investment. I believe Jon Dykstra experimented with creating a site with thousands of posts off the bat (all outsourced). He reported on the forums that it didn’t work out as he had hoped.

      As for covering all aspects of a topic. I actually have a couple of micro-niche sites where we did something similar. The sites are doing ok but unfortunately, there’s no shortage of competition in the small niches. And we still can’t rank for the high volume keywords where I still see more general sites ranking above us too.

      Here’s a quick example. There are multiple sites specializing in cacti. It’s a niche within gardening with a lot of traffic. If you Google “cactus guides” you’ll find them.
      Then search for “how to water a cactus” and you’ll see big sites outranking the small specialized sites.

      • Yes, it’s not easy to create content in this way. It’s all about covering everything from a topic and it’s subtopics in a semantic way, but also the order of the content and the way of interlinking matters.

        But at your cactus example, a topic/kw like “how to water a cactus” is most likely one of the few articles those big sites cover about cacti, they often tend to go after those “how to” questions. They purely rank for them based on their authority. Authority and backlinks still play a role of course.

        What the specialized site needs to do is write about the different types of cacti, I just looked and there are quite a few of them. Write about how to water those, what type of plant feeding they need, etc. Search for “how to water a san pedro cactus” and you’ll see what I mean.

        I didn’t dig deep in this niche, but it’s just an example.

        What’s funny is that the #1 that showed up for me for “cactus guides” isn’t even optimized for mobile devices, and it still gets 10k visitors per month from Google according Semrush.

        If you really want to learn more about this, you should search on Google for “Koray Tuğberk GÜBÜR” and check out some of his case studies. He’s a true master in this stuff (Semantic & Holistic SEO).

        • You bring up some great points, Joachim. I agree that this could be a viable strategy in some niches. Would require very thorough planning, creating the right content plan, but it’ll probably work well.
          Thanks for the recommendation – I’ll check out the holistic SEO site!

  6. Thanks for sharing. I’ve read almost every post on the site. =)

    Love the interview on niche pursuits as well…

    What do you use for the email signup on the footer? Been looking for a simple solution but everyone is behind a free trial/paywall with insane overbuilt features.

    • Hi Thomas,
      I think that’s just a Mailchimp pop-up code. Looking into switching from Mailchimp to a different platform and expanding the newsletter in the future, so it’ll probably look different in the future.

  7. Great post Anne! I have recently discovered your site (via your excellent interview with Niche Pursuits: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VS64Qs4As6A) and have been reading everything.

    I am wondering how you define low competition queries. I’m using Ahrefs to research my niche idea and am finding a few tiers for volume NA, 0, 0-10, 10, 20, 30 etc. I read some folks who say these tools are far from perfect and a 0 volume term may have hundreds of searches a month. How much stock do you put in the 0 volume estimates from Ahrefs or other tools?

    And while I’m asking the master, here’s another for you. I’ve been reading about the Response Post technique and I think you referenced it in the Niche Pursuits video. But when I put the “People Also Ask” questions into Ahrefs the volume is almost always 0. What’s better to target? Example (not my niche btw!):

    start coffee shop
    (Ahrefs volume 10.)

    Or the People Also Ask questions that appear:

    Is it hard to open a coffee shop?
    How can I start my coffee shop?
    (Ahrefs volume 0 for both.)

    Thanks in advance for your perspective!

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