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Putting the Short Tail to Work


Uncategorized / January 14, 2008

When optimizing an existing campaign, I commonly encounter a setup consisting of primarily short tail keywords to get potential customers to a client’s site. Less frequently, but often enough I come across campaigns that employ a strategy of relying solely on longer tail keywords while completely ignoring the short tail.

I recommend testing a combined strategy that covers a comprehensive range of long and short tail keywords. This often works well to acquire incremental traffic and business. In addition, shorter tail keywords can have the effect of improving long tail performance and can get potential customers to your site before they even hear of a competitor who isn’t employing this strategy.

What are Short Tail Keywords?

Short tail keywords are keywords that are broader or more generic in nature, the opposite being their long tail cousins which are more targeted and specific. For example, a chain of luxury hotels operating in various locations across the globe, might employ the use of such long tail keywords as “luxury hotel in Sydney Australia” for their Sydney location but might also want to use such short tail keywords as “Sydney hotels” or even just “Sydney” to cast a wider net. This strategy sounds dangerous and risky but it doesn’t have to be.

How to Implement and Test

A short tail strategy does have its risks and should be implemented in a controlled environment. I recommend placing these keywords in their own campaign with a separate budget so that they don’t negatively interfere with your main campaign. Starting with a lower bid price and position to minimize the cost of and exposure to less targeted traffic would be advisable. At the same time you want to make sure to have a good list of negative keywords added to the campaign if you plan on using broad and phrase matched keywords.

Once you’ve done this, you’ll want to keep a close eye on the campaign especially at the beginning so you can weed out any inefficiency quickly. Such inefficiencies include keywords that are driving a disproportionate amount of traffic and eating up most of the budget which doesn’t allow for proper testing on all keywords in the campaign. At the same time you’ll want to measure the direct effect on your long tail keywords. Often you’ll find that the presence of short tail keywords increases the performance of the long tail ones directly. You’ll be able to see this depending on the traffic volume your campaigns capture. You should conduct further testing by isolating higher traffic keywords to see what impact they directly have on your long tail keywords.

Why This Strategy Is Worth Testing

There is a bit of psychology and common sense involved in the reason why a combined short tail strategy works. Most people begin their search using broader terms and then refine their search queries when the results generated are too untargeted. So there is a good chance that they will click on your ad if you are offering them what they are looking for before they have to refine their query and search again. Even if they don’t click on your ad after searching on a broader query, you may benefit from the additional impressions and exposure at this stage of their research, causing a stronger association with your brand on subsequent searches and an increased likelihood of getting a potential client to click through to your site.


As with any pay-per-click strategy, testing and experimentation is a key factor to success. So be sure to simultaneously test not only a variety of short tail keywords but different match types as well as highly targeted ads that work to filter out untargeted traffic. From experience I’ve seen that the type of industry that you’re in and the type of product or service that you offer can largely influence the success or failure of such a strategy so results will definitely vary.
Tried this strategy and it worked/failed for you? We’d love to hear about your experience!

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