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The Short & The Long Tail – A Tale of Two Keyword Strategies

Marketing managers, in general, often fret about the position of keywords on search engines like Google and Bing. Their intentions are in the right place. It’s true that getting web pages to rank for the right keywords can bring brokers and their agents a huge flow of organic traffic.

And who doesn’t love organic traffic?

Unfortunately, this effort has gotten increasingly difficult, with tech giants like Redfin, Zillow, and Trulia spending enormous budgets to hold on to the top results of the search engine results page (SERP).

In fact, for these companies, SERP dominance is often an essential part of their sales strategy. Losing that edge could be tantamount to closing shop. Unlike you, these tech giants can’t draw on the strength of local and community relationships to grow their business.

But even if you could somehow beat them at the rankings game — there’s no guarantee that you’ll maintain your advantage. Sooner or later the house always wins.

So what’s a real estate brokerage firm to do? Give up the fight for organic traffic? No. But your strategy around capturing organic traffic must evolve. And one of the most important things to understand is the distinction between short and long tail keywords.

The Story Begins

Source: http://static.searchengineguide.com/images/long-tail.png

Source: http://static.searchengineguide.com/images/long-tail.png

On the one hand, we have “short tail” keywords. They’re 1 to 2 words long and typically yield high search results volume. They also tend to be very competitive; i.e. many people try to rank for them.

They’re called “short tail” because they appear at the beginning of a graph that looks at the correlation between the number of search results a keyword gets with how generic or specific it is.

On the other hand we have “long tail” keywords. They are less competitive, longer search phrases between 3 to 5 words. But what they may lack in search volume, they make up by 1) generating more qualified traffic and 2) being easier to rank for. Examples include:


  • “Martha’s Vineyard off-season rentals”
  • “Seattle family-friendly neighborhoods”
  • “Places to stay during 2015 America’s Cup”

Those keywords are very specific. They don’t just reference an area but other factors like demographics, seasonality, and events. If you have a clear and detailed understanding of your audience, then you can use these contextual keywords to capture pockets of traffic that are super relevant to your business and underserved by your competitors.

The other major reason to focus on long-tail keywords is that the sum of them put together can yield more traffic than a smaller group of short-tail keywords. So when you try to promote pages, don’t focus solely on the performance of a few short tail keywords — those many long tail ones will make up the bulk of your organic search traffic.

Entrepreneur Neil Patel is a great example of the brilliance of a long tail keyword strategy. When Patel used a long tail keyword strategy for his company, Quick Sprout, he was able to grow his traffic from 88,833 visitors to 173,336 visitors a month. That’s a 91% growth rate!

Follow me so far? Let’s dig into an example that ties into real estate.

The Short Tail Approach

Imagine you’re a Chicago real estate brokerage firm. With an average monthly search of 6,600, it stands to reason that “chicago real estate” would be a great keyword for your website to rank for.

But here’s the rub — this keyword is also very broad. It encapsulates hundreds, even thousands of “intent queries” — or the “why” behind a search.

Someone who types that into a search engine may be looking to rent an apartment in the Chicago suburbs. Or maybe she wants to buy a house in a specific neighborhood. Or perhaps she’s just researching the major real estate agencies in the Chicago area. The list goes on…

Assuming you could rank competitively, your business still wouldn’t be the right fit for the majority of that search traffic — meaning that a large percentage of visitors would just bounce from your website.

And with Zillow, Realtor.com, Trulia, Redfin and the rest dominating the first page, your odds of success are very low indeed.

The Long Tail Approach

Going back to the drawing board you realize that what you really want to fill are your luxury apartments.

What about the keyword “chicago luxury apartments”? It might only receive 720 monthly searches — or just 6% compared to that previous keyword — but it’s also much more relevant to your intended audience.

However, it’s still a very competitive keyword. Can we get even more specific?

Taking the research one step further you realize that some of the luxury apartments you want to rent are located in the Gold Coast neighborhood of the Windy City.

“gold coast chicago apartments” is even more specific — meaning lower bounce rates, higher lead conversions, and less competition.


We have a winner! Now what? Well, put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s searching for that keyword. What would your prospect like to see?

If I were looking for an apartment in a Chicago neighborhood, I’d want to know everything about its history, restaurants, shops, schools, famous residents etc.

So one idea would be to create a fully optimized and beautifully designed page with A+ content. Then of course you’d want to share this page with prospects via email. Promote it on social media. Maybe ask some local businesses to include a link to it on their website.

The marketing is just beginning!

Avoid “Keyword Tunnel Vision”

Finally, a word of caution.

Please don’t take this article as suggesting that a real estate website shouldn’t be optimized for short tail keywords. It should. What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t gauge the success or failure of your digital marketing efforts solely (or mostly) based on the performance of a couple of short tail keywords.

Remember — ranking on the first page isn’t a marketing goal!

As Google likes to remind us, the real objective of your website is to create the best experience possible for your users. So take a holistic approach to how you market online. Many paths will help you generate quality leads — keyword rankings are only the tip of the SEO iceberg.


Formed in 2004, Boston Logic is an online marketing and software firm focused on the real estate industry, providing software, online marketing, and design services to real estate companies. Boston Logic helps works with real estate developers, brokers, and agents to help them grow and succeed by leveraging technology, marketing services and the web.