How to Use Long-Tail & Semantic Keywords in 2024

How to use long tail keywords

Long-tail keywords have long been an important part of SEO, pretty much as long as keywords have existed in the first place.

The idea is simple: single-word and concept keywords are too short. They have too much competition, and no one searches for them anyway.

When was the last time someone searched for ‘turnips’ on Google?

A long-tail keyword adds data and turns a keyword into more of a contextual search. You have your primary keyword, like ‘turnips,’ and you have the long tail. A long-tail search might be ‘turnip growing tips.’

The term ‘long tail’ is taken from the way search volume tapers off when graphed. That said, the idea of the long tail is slowly changing, and in 2024, it’s becoming more important than ever before.

Local SEO and Semantic Search

The new wave, the next evolution of the long-tail keyword, is the semantic search.

Take that long-tail keyword about growing turnips.

A semantic keyword is more of a real question: ‘What makes turnips grow faster?’

Search that on Google, and you’ll get a real answer.

This didn’t use to be possible. For a long time, Google – and other search engines – relied on individual keywords to figure out what content was about and to piece it together. Now, though, Google is finding ways to parse semantic questions.

Yes, this means that your grandma’s way of asking Google a full question will no longer be something to mock; it will be the way things work.

Part of the reason why semantic search is becoming increasingly important is because of ChatGPT. Not to mention the recently announced integration of Siri and ChatGPT (eat your shorts, Elon Musk). It looks like we will finally use Siri as we were supposed to back in 2014.

You don’t spout keywords at the voice assistant asking you what you want; you ask it a question. The companies behind these programs have put an exceptional amount of time into learning how to parse questions, getting meaning out of them despite attempts to confuse them. They’ve done a very good job. The end result is a robust engine that takes a sentence and parses out meaning. The other end result is using that meaning – in the form of long-tail keywords – to find valuable content.

Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI)

Turnip growing tips should be, well, exactly what it says on the tin. Then, Google digs into the content and categorizes other words and phrases. It looks for other keywords that would reasonably be expected to be in such a piece, like plant types, soil conditions, composting methods, and so forth. Through a highly refined and ever-adapting process, Google determines how well your content fits that topic.

This is why keyword density is not really useful in the modern world of search. In the past, in simpler times, Google would determine the topic of a piece of content by what keywords were used most often. This turned out to be really easy to reverse-engineer and exploit, so it had to be changed. Ever since, it’s been a battle between webmasters trying to exploit knowledge of keywords, and Google trying to make it difficult to do.

Thankfully, Google has been winning.

Creating Quality Content

I’ve been saying this for a couple of years now, but it’s becoming more true than ever before: the key to ranking good content is just to make good content. You don’t need to care about specific keyword phrases or keyword density. To Google, ‘how to grow perfect turnips,’ ‘how to plant turnip seeds,’ and ‘turnip growing guide’ all have more or less the same meaning. Instead, just write good content about your topic. If you’re writing about how to grow turnips in your garden, chances are you’re going to cover all the keyword bases just writing the piece.

The only reasons you wouldn’t are because you’re intentionally avoiding a certain keyword, or you’re not writing about the topic you thought you were.

So, successful use of long-tail keywords in 2024 mostly revolves around writing good content, conversationally. If you want to cover a specific keyword, write something about that topic.

Don’t try to write something general and shoehorn the keyword in; that’s just going to look like keyword stuffing.

Remember LSI (latent semantic indexing)? If you write a piece with the keyword ‘how to grow flavoursome turnips’ but the rest of the piece has nothing to do with turnip growing, the LSI is going to be low. Google can then say, ‘oh, well, this content doesn’t do a very good job of covering the topic, so it shouldn’t rank very high.’

Keywords as a whole are never going to die. It’s literally impossible for that to happen; search engines are searching and indexing text, and text is made up of words. Any article is by necessity going to have keywords. You can even write nonsense, like Lorem Ipsum, but even that phrase ‘lorem ipsum’ is a keyword. Anyone searching for lorem ipsum related content wants that keyword to be part of the content.

Until such time as humanity moves to a form of communication beyond verbalization or the written word, keywords will exist and will be used to index the meaning of content.

The only thing that’s going to change over the next few years is the increasing sophistication of the ways Google and other search engines parse content and extract meaning.

Branislav Nikolic

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