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Fat-head vs Long-tail Keywords – What’s the Difference?

What's the difference between fat-head and long-tail keywords?

Keywords are arguably the most important aspect of search engine optimization. Fat-head and long-tail keyword strategies can help you target relevant and profitable search traffic. But what’s the difference between fat-head and long-tail, and which should your business focus on?

Search engines like Google have become a key pillar in how we use the Internet. Unsurprisingly, this has led to many businesses spotting an opportunity within search engines. By getting more traffic to their website, businesses increase the probability of converting those visitors into paying customers.

Search engine marketing has come a long way since the birth of the search engine. Algorithms are becoming increasingly complex, aiming to penalize those websites that undertake ‘shady’ tactics. And, by consequence, reward those that execute on best practices.

But what are those best practices? And how can we ensure we are consistently using them to increase relevant, profitable traffic to our websites? Of course, this topic is wide and complex. However, with a thorough understanding of the basics, businesses can often beat the competition when it comes to ranking highly on search engines.

What Is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

We should first define exactly what we mean by search engine optimization (more commonly referred to by its abbreviation – SEO).

To describe it very simply:

“SEO […] is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.” – MOZ

The term SEO is often misconceived as the practice of getting a website to the top of search engine rankings. In other words, in position one when searching a particular term. Although increasing your rankings is certainly an important part of search engine optimization, many other factors come into play.

Take for example a shoe business that ranks as number one when people search ‘nice shoes’. Although they rank highly, the quantity and quality of the traffic may not be as high as if they had ranked highly for ‘buy Nike trainers’.  

This is why keywords are such an important aspect of a strong SEO strategy. We will discuss keywords in more detail later in this article.

Why Is SEO so Important?

Often when it comes to content marketing, businesses relentlessly pursue a tool simply because that is what they think they should be doing or what their competitors are doing. This is a risky tactic at best and usually sees businesses endlessly chasing their competitors rather than beating them. 

Smart businesses will always start with the end in mind. That is to say, they will decide what success looks like to them, set measurable objectives and then build a marketing strategy to help them meet those objectives.

SEO is almost always a key and powerful element in that marketing strategy. Where other tools such as paid search engine ads, social media advertising and PR all play a key role, many of these provide immediate but not long-lasting benefits. 

Search engine optimisation, on the other hand, can increase long-term website traffic and build consumer trust, all with a reasonably low investment. 

Are Keywords Key?

The value of search engine traffic to your website relies heavily on the quality of the keywords you target. This is down to what is commonly known as ‘search intent’. Ultimately this is what the search engine user is intending to achieve from their search. 

Here is an example of how keywords can vary in value based on search intent:

Keyword: Shoes
Examples of search intent: To research shoes, to browse pictures of shoes, to understand how shoes are made, to learn about the history of shoes, to buy shoes.

Keyword: Buy shoes
Example of search intent: To buy shoes

This example makes it clear how two search terms ‘shoes’ and ‘buy shoes’ can be very similar, but result in a very different quality of traffic to your websites. 

Not only do keywords help you increase the quality of traffic via intent, but they also help you improve quantity and quality of traffic through focus. Although it is possible to rank for endless keywords, understanding which keywords are most valuable to you will allow you focus efforts on ranking for those terms. This is better than taking a scattergun approach and not ranking highly for any.

What’s the Difference Between Fat-head Vs Long-tail Keywords?

So, we know keywords are important, but which types of keywords should we be picking? When it comes down to it there are two types of keywords which are commonly targeted by businesses: fat-head and long-tail. 

In the early days of SEO, marketers focused almost solely on fat-head keywords. These keywords are short, usually 1 or 2 words and tend to be all-encompassing. To use an example we have already touched on ‘shoes’ and even ‘buy shoes’ would be considered as fat-head keywords. Ranking highly for fat-head keywords is good because they tend to get a vast amount of search traffic. 

As the Internet grew and search became more competitive, SEO techniques have tended to focus more on long-tail keywords. This type of keyword tends to be much longer and more specific. One example of a long-tail keyword may be ‘buy Nike Air Force 1 trainers white UK10 men’.

Marketers focus on these keywords for two main reasons. Firstly, competition for many fat-head keywords is vast. Just think how many shoe shops, shoe manufactures and even shoe bloggers are all battling to rank highly for ‘shoes’. Long-tail keywords also allow you to get super specific and further refine search intent to drive high-quality traffic. 

Both fat-head and long-tail keywords can be good for your business. This is especially true if your business is niche and fat-head keywords aren’t as highly competitive. Long-tail keywords should always be included in your SEO strategy as a way to capture traffic which is most likely to be turned into profit.

How to Research and Find Fat-head or Long-tail Keywords

Successful keyword research follows a simple three-step process:

  1. Think
    The most obvious place to start your keyword research is by using your own knowledge and understanding of your market. Start by noting down all the keywords you think or know your customers are searching for to find your site.

    Using tools like Google Analytics or Google Search Console are a great way to see what your website is always ranking for. If you have a search function on your website, it is also worth noting what terms customers are currently using to find your products and services.
  2. Research
    Once you have an initial list you can use Google Keyword Planner to test their value and find other relevant keywords. Typing your initial list into this tool will show you the search volume and competition for those keywords. The best and easiest keywords to rank for are those which have a high number of searches but lower competition. 

    Keyword Planner will also provide you with suggestions, which you may not have considered in your initial list. 
  3. Test
    Before you put substantial work into ranking for your chosen keywords you should test just how valuable they really are to your business. A good way to do this is to run Google Ads for your chosen keywords. Monitor how much traffic these keywords bring in and how many of those keywords turn into actual customers.

Clearly, search engine optimization is a good way to increase traffic to your website. By picking your keywords carefully, you will be able to ensure that this traffic is of a high quality and actually benefiting your business.