It may sound counterintuitive, but longer search terms are often more effective than generic ones when it comes to converting visitors into buyers. They can also have a significant effect on your SEO efforts.

Regardless of your industry, the path to purchase can be a winding one. Once customers realize a need they must still winnow their many choices before they take action. That can take some time.

This cycle is mirrored in search activity. Users often begin with a broad term and refine their searches as they learn more about the many options and determine their relevancy. The owner of a new puppy may begin a web search with a generic term like “pet food” before employing more specific terms such as “puppy food,” “healthiest puppy food” or “gluten-free puppy food made in the USA” before settling on an item to purchase.

This search path is referred to as the “long tail.” As you can see, there are significantly more searches for broad terms than for longer, more specific ones. While the volume for a generic term is much greater, it’s also much less likely that a visitor to your site will take action after arriving for the broad term than they will for the more specific, or long-tail term. This path to purchase needs to be reflected in your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts and should complement your marketing strategy.

So, It’s All About the Tail Then, Right?

Should you abandon generic and category terms on your site? Absolutely not. Generic terms yield greater search numbers and can be quite effective in terms of brand awareness. While long-tail terms will not reach as many searchers, they reach those who are much more likely to take action because they have a better idea of what they’re looking for and are more apt to purchase. The key is to have the right mix of the two on your site.

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is another matter. Long-tail terms are often much more affordable than generic categories, primarily because they don’t generate as many searches. Again, those who are using long-tail terms are much more likely to convert.

A Properly Tagged Image Is Worth a Thousand Clicks

If you’re in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry there’s a high probability that your customers are shopping (and searching) with their eyes as well, so It’s important to optimize your images for long-tail terms. Each image should have a unique, descriptive alt tag. Why? Because your product is much more likely to appear in an image search when someone enters a long-tail description of your product and your image is tagged accordingly. This also shows search engines that you’re offering a broad array of distinct products.

Where Can You Find Long-Tail Terms?

Take a look at your web analytics software and you’ll find information on both search terms and phrases that are sending people to your site. If you’re running a PPC campaign, your agency or vendor will have tools that will allow you to discover and estimate costs for short- and long-tail terms.


  • Include a mix of generic and specific terms in your SEO efforts.
  • Use web analytics to discover the most popular search terms and phrases.
  • Incorporate long-tail terms into SEO optimization for images.
  • Incorporate long-tail terms into PPC campaigns.