One of the hardest acts in the world is to step into the shoes of your audience and potential customers.
Imagine a newsstand festooned with hundreds of millions of magazines, advertising flyers, and used fish wrappers.
That’s the Blogosphere, the enormous virtual newsstand / rubbish tip your potential readers search through every day.
To attract your site’s readers, you need to engineer an “opening line” that they aren’t hearing from a thousand other guys.
To do that well, you need to step into their shoes.
I’m going to show you in excruciating detail how to do that, and why.
(Warning: this is a long post and I can’t promise it will be fun and easy.)
First, the Why.
As a blog writer your primary job is to write content.
That means you need to think of a good idea, research it, and make it funny if possible and interesting in any case.
Oh, one more thing. You have to get somebody to read it.
Nobody is going to read (or buy) if they can’t find your content. That’s why you have to concern yourself with search engines.
Now for the How
If you are like me, you have heard of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and read dozens if not hundreds of articles on how to enlist the help of search engines to drive traffic to your site.
The point of this post is to explain an effective method for SEO. That method is the use of “long tail” search terms.
At the dawn of the Internet, one assumes, you could write a post called “Pocket Knives” and the world would beat a path to your door.
The search engines would see the keyword “pocket knives” in your blog title and send every search right to your blog.
Those days are gone.
These days, the simple keyword phrase “pocket knives” is not enough to get the world to beat a path to your door looking to read about and possibly buy a pocket knife.
Google shows the searcher who types in “pocket knives” a whole bunch of established sites, sites with SEO experts, sites with a lot more savvy than you have.
I just checked. Google says there are 60,500 global monthly searches for the term “pocket knives.” And I got 6,980,000 Google results.
Knife Depot, Overstock.com and Amazon have the top 14 Google search results sewn up. Other sites specializing in pocket knives dominate pages of results.
Depressing, right? Well, yes, if you are considering arm wrestling the big boys over the simple phrase “pocket knives.”
But I’m going to show you how to fly in under the radar and get to YOUR customer.
Not their customer. Yours.
When I first started blogging, I read about something called “long tail” search terms.
The short-tailed keywords like “pocket knives” are taken. That means if you want to get your blog to the top, or near the top, of Google search results pages (SERPs), you need to come up with a longer tailed version of what you are promoting.
A simple analogy for a long-tail combination of terms is a combination lock.
The combination of “pocket” and “knives” opens many locks. These have been used by many others to guide the searchers to open their content.
If you use that simple combination for your post title, the searcher will indeed “find” it! (Yippee)
But only if they go to page 50 of the search engine results. (Wah wah wah waaaaaah).
You want to pick a combination that uses more words. That’s a long-tail phrase.
Examples of long-tailed — or slightly longer-tailed — keyword combinations to get people to find your site on pocket knives might be “good pocket knives,” excellent pocket knives,” “cheap pocket knives,” or “best pocket knives.”
If your post uses the title “Cheap Pocket Knives” it just might get searchers with a slightly more focused search. Again, I just checked. People around the world type in “cheap pocket knives” about 1,300 times a month. And 897,000 results in Google search.
Still depressed? I don’t blame you.
But we are moving in the right direction.
We went from competing for 60,500 global monthly searches to competing for 1,300 global monthly searches. But we also went from competing with 6,980,000 sites to competing with (only!) 897,000.
Are you beginning to get the idea? We just whittled down our competition by 87%
That’s the basic idea of a long-tail keyword. The longer the keyword string, the lower the competition.
Because it contains the short tail phrase “pocket knives,” the phrase “cheap pocket knives” is also going to appear on Google’s list of sites that have been targeting “pocket knives.”
But your site will be promoted to the much shorter (and still daunting) top 897,000 sites that contain the longer-tailed phrase, “cheap pocket knives.”
“Swell,” you say, “that phrase gets me listed along with the other 897,000 sites offering cheap pocket knives and even those posing as cheap pocketknife aficionados.”
I assume that if you’ve read with me this far, you use words like ” aficionados.”
You’re right. Our tail is longer, but it’s still not long enough.
This got me to thinking. How could I come up with a very long-tailed phrase that would rank well (that is among a smaller number of competitors) and also be the sort of wording that an actual person would type into Google?
This is where you need to put yourself in your reader’s shoes.
Now I’m pretty sure I could rank well for the phrase, “Martian pocket knives.” Google would see very few sites offering that particular concatenation of keywords.
If I called my site Martian Pocket Knives, wrote posts beginning with the phrase “Martian pocket knives” and put the phrase in the meta description of my site, Google’s crawler robots would take notice.
The search engine crawlbots would say to themselves (and please read aloud in a monotone robot voice), “This is the site where we should send people searching for Martian pocket knives.”
I just searched Google with “Martian pocket knives” in quotes and got zero search results. This marketing niche is available to us with no competition!
But, as you may have guessed, there’s a problem with “Martian pocket knives.” No sane person is going to search on that long-tailed search phrase. If there is a customer wearing that particular pair of shoes, they are clown-sized.
The answer: Devise a super long-tailed search phrase that no other site uses, but is a plausible search that might be typed by an actual person.
This is the technique for which you have been patiently waiting.
For example, the super-long-tail “cheap wooden handled pocketkives for Civil War reenactors” is probably going to have very few blog competitors, but just might get a few customers to my site. I checked. Google found zero sites with that exact phrase. That string of words without quotation marks identified 37,100 competing sites, which is much less daunting than the 897,000 competitors for “cheap pocket knives.”
Keep in mind that our very long phrase is also going to appear somewhere on Google’s Top 7 Million hit parade served up for “pocket knives” and the still huge SERPs result for “cheap pocket knives.”
And here’s a bonus.
Our super long-tailed phrase is also going to rank somewhere for a search for “wooden handled” and “Civil War reenactors” and “cheap Civil War reenactors” (no offense but there must be some sites for cheap Civil War reenactors. I was right — two results).
The long-tailed phrase “cheap wooden handled pocket knives for Civil War reenactors” is also going to rank for weird search combinations such as “wooden handled Civil Wars” and “wooden reenactors.” Again, no offense but there must be some wooden reenactors, although who would go searching for them? Surprise, I found two results for “wooden reenactors.” There really are such things.
I have been compiling a list of whacky search phrases that have arrived at my site. I wrote a post called, “How To Be A Superhero: Tips If You Have a Superpower” and learned that there are people out there who really believe they have superpowers. They actually search by typing phrases like “what do I do if I have a superpower.”
This scares me a little, but also encourages me. Why?
People out there are willing to type very long strings of very specific words to find an answer, shop for a product, or hook up with other superheroes.
Since those people exist, if you can imagine yourself in their shoes, you can guess a phrase they might type. Super-long-tailed keyword phrases are going to compete very well for your imagined searcher.
The search phrase also will compete (but not very well) for the single word searches. And they also will compete potentially very well for various combinations of the individual words, both whacky and serious.
What this all means for the blogger.
You need to put yourself in your searcher’s shoes.
Imagine yourself as a potential customer sitting in front of a computer and looking for the product, service or content that your blog offers.
You are not going to get the one-word searchers. Well, you will, but you will rank on page 112 of results. With even the serious two-word searches you are not going to get ranked that well.
But if you can put yourself in your potential customer’s shoes, you can dream up a long phrase he or she might type into Google.
As you consider a post title, I encourage you to imagine as hard as you can a specific long-tailed search phrase that would bring a customer to your site and no other.
But don’t type that title yet. Here is the beauty part.
If you can come up with a super-duper-long-tailed phrase that include words of several possible long-tailed searches, you are going to rank better for all those combos.
Now you are really putting yourself in your customers’ shoes, not just on pair of shoes, but four, eight, or 20 customers’ shoes.
Here’s how to do it. Google will help you find the single words that people are searching on, and even the combinations.
Go to Google Adwords Keyword Tool (Google it to find the tool) and type in possible single words to use in your imagined customer’s mind.
Please do this while you are checking Google Adwords Keyword Tool. Use an actual piece of paper and write down the words that get a lot of searches. You want a list of candidate words and how they rank.
Be on the lookout for words that Google keyword tool says get a lot of searches but have low “competition” (from other sites). These words should definitely go on your candidate list.
Also be on the lookout for words that mean about the same thing (synonyms) but get more searches. I once compared “humorous” with “funny.” A lot more people search for “funny.”
Now when I write a merely amusing humorous post, I boldly label it “funny.”
For our pocketknives example, I typed “cheap pocket knives” into Google Adwords Keyword Tool and discovered that while “pocket knives” gets 165,000 monthly searches (as we know) “pocket knife” gets 201,000 monthly searches.
Duh, of course! We may be selling pocket knives, plural. But our customer is not looking for knives. He or she is looking for a single pocket knife.
Competition for both “pocket knife” and “pocket knives” is medium. So if we have to pick just one, since “pocket knife” gets 36,000 more searches that phrase would be better than “pocket knives.”
Google will suggest similar keywords that people actually use. At the top of the list, click on “global monthly searches” to rank order those keywords that get used most often. Do this for each of the words you are considering for your post title.
Write down how individual words score on searches. Yes, it’s a pain.
Do you remember me telling you that this would be fun and easy? I didn’t think so.
Now try Google Adwords Keyword Tool on a few of the words in two-word or three-word phrases. Look for combos that get a lot of searches. If you remember, in our example above, the combination “cheap pocket knives” gets 1,300 global searches. Yes, it also has high competition. “Inexpensive pocket knife” gets few searches and “low price pocket knife” does no better. “Cheap” is better.
Look for phrases with low competition (this is the goal of long-tail post titles) but relatively high searches.
For example, I just learned that the phrase “blades and knives” gets 1,830,000 monthly searches and has low competition. But I have to ask myself whether my customer would search on that phrase. Nah. Sometimes I trust my gut.
I want a phrase that will bring in MY customers. Say I’m selling cheap pocket knives and they are well suited for camping.
I therefore look at how many people search on “camping.” I discover the word by itself gets 37,200,000 and with low competition.
Think I’ll add “camping” to my word list. While I’m checking, I notice “camping site” gets 13,600,000 and competition is low. People searching for “camping site” may be in the market for a cheap pocket knife. It might be worth adding “camping site” to “cheap pocket knife.”
So after doing this awhile, I put together my candidate words into a candidate post title “Cheap Pocket Knife for Camping.” With quotation marks around it, as an exact phrase, in Google it gets zero results. That’s good. No competition. Without the quotation marks, it gets 29,100,000.
Alternatively, “Cheap Pocket Knife for a Camp Site” in quotes gets zero results. Without quotes, it gets 9,100,000. But Google asks if I mean, “Cheap Pocket Knife for a Campsite.” Hmm, maybe I do. Without quotes it gets 27,900,000 sites with those words in some combination. With quotes it gets zero. That’s good.
So using long-tailing, I have two good candidate post titles that customers might type word-for-word.
But now I’m going to let you in on a secret that has worked for me:
Combine several long-tailed titles into one super-duper-mega-long-tail title that reads like a sentence and uses all or most of the keywords you have screened.
Then I do this. The super long title would look spammy and goofy. So I make a shortened version for the post title. And use the super-duper long-tail title as the “permalink” title.
I use the Headspace 2 plug-in to make this easier, but you don’t need it to edit your permalink title.
To edit your permalink title In WordPress click on “Edit” at the very top of the WordPress editor screen. Put your super-long-tailed title into the permalink title.
Put the shorter title in the title box. This short title will appear on your page or post and won’t look spammy and goofy.
The permalink title will be read by robot crawlers. They will understand and appreciate.
Robots won’t judge you with hurtful terms like “spammy” or “goofy.”
Speaking of humans, you still need to write a decent post and offer the potential customer reasons to read, derive value, and click links.
Thanks to long-tailing and your imagination, some of your customers will be wearing the exact shoes you imagined.
These customers, your customers, will find your post relevant and helpful.
They may not buy anything, but some will. I know because I use this technique.
Here is an example of a post about Swiss Army knives that has a long-tail title that does well.