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My first big break in the SEO industry came not as a result of a massive link building campaign, article marketing or viral reach. It didn’t come in floods of 1,000s of visitors to a single, killer landing page. It trickled in slowly and steadily from a totally unsexy experiment with those elusive little suckers we in the industry refer to as “longtail keywords”.

Small business blogging = big opportunity

The industry I was working with was, of all things, local auto repair. My first big client wanted a robust social media and organic SEO campaign, so I gathered everything I knew about SEO (which wasn’t a whole lot, back in 2009) and assembled a strategy that targeted two main areas:

  1. on-page optimization for core keywords – i.e. “auto repair”, “car repair” + city, etc.
  2. blog posts targeting consumer FAQs about specific automotive issues – i.e. “winter car maintenance tips michigan”, “why are my tires squealing when i brake”, “car AC not blowing cold air”, etc.

For both of these, I obviously started with in-depth keyword research. I knew that the client, whose website was relatively new with few decent backlinks, would have a hard time ranking highly for “auto repair” and “car repair” for at least the first few months, and I wanted to bring him traffic and visibility in the meantime. PPC, of course, was out of scope.

So that left me with one obvious strategy: blog to target the most valuable longtail keywords.

That’s exactly what I did, averaging about 1 blog post per week. Within the first month, my client’s website traffic had doubled. Within two months, it had tripled. The culprit? Longtail keyword optimized blog posts. While the site’s traffic for core key terms – “auto repair + city” – had definitely picked up, the niche topic blog posts were cumulatively bringing in double the combined traffic of core and brand terms.

When I sat down with my client for our first analytic review, I showed him a side-by-side comparison of the traffic volume for core key terms and longtail phrases. I also showed him the on-page engagement metrics from longtail traffic, which weren’t too shabby. His jaw dropped, and he increased the campaign’s budget.

Hunting down the perfect longtail keywords

Finding search volume on truly niche longtail keywords can be tricky, and more often than not, they require trial, error, and Google Instant sleuthing. The key is to make sure the phrases you’re targeting do have SOME search volume, but not enough to run up against much competition. In other words, they’re phrases that consumers are searching, but they’re niche enough to fly under competitors’ radars. Or, they’re phrases competitors simply haven’t thought to target yet.

 

Using local and regional terms can be a great way to narrow down more competitive longtail phrases.

In some cases, it’s enough for the longtail key phrase to have an exact match in Google Instant (the suggestions that pop up in Google when you type). For really niche keyphrases, Googling is sometimes the only way to find the exact queries consumers are using to ask the questions you want to answer.

Of course, when hunting for niche long tails that target consumer interest, the best place to start is with the consumers themselves. With this client, I often put down my laptop, picked up my phone and called the shop managers to ask them what questions customers were asking the most. They always had plenty of feedback, and with the seed ideas from them, it usually took no time at all for me to hunt down the most searched queries which corresponded with the questions the shop technicians were fielding IRL.

Longtail blogging, then and now

Now, I ran this particular campaign back in 2009, back when Google’s keyword tool was still external, so the keyword research was much simpler than it would be today, and there was less content to compete with. But the campaign strategy is evergreen.

Consumers still use longtail keywords to search for answers to their questions. And, even with content mills filling up the SERPs with FAQ content, there are still plenty of valuable questions that aren’t being answered. For local SEO, local search filters do wonders to weed out content mills in favor of fresh content authored by local brands.

Local brand content trumps content mills, when the content is good and the site is authoritative.

Using this strategy in more recent years, I’ve continued to see particularly well targeted longtail blog posts draw a steady stream of traffic, months and even years after they were first published. Some of my blog posts from this first auto repair campaign STILL come up on page 1 – on a blogspot domain, no less (which is still a mystery to me).

Of course, the benefits of longtail keyword blogging go way beyond SEO. Answering the questions that are burning in your audience’s minds is a wonderful way to establish thought leadership, industry authority and dedication to customer service.

If you’re struggling to find the perfect content strategy, or to increase your traffic, try going back to the basics, with slant. The longtail never fails.