Short-tail, Long-tail, or One-word Keywords: What should you use?


14 minutes reading

Having a gorgeous website might have been enough to get witnessed back in the ’90s, but nowadays, every serious business has a user-friendly, beautifully built, and well-maintained website. In fact, not having a website is a considerable downside, while having one is believed to be the bare minimum. The good news for you is that most businesses have their websites precisely because otherwise, they will be left behind. They rarely count on their internet portal for leads, and even when they do, they actually take the easier but much more expensive way – paid advertising.

That’s fantastic, as you have less competition for organic traffic. Around 53.3% of all website traffic comes from organic searches. At the same time, approximately 60% of marketers are adamant that organic traffic generators like SEO and blog content account for the majority of their high-quality leads. So it’s somewhat surprising to find out that more than 90.6% of websites actually get absolutely no organic traffic through search engines, and only 0.2% get over 1000 visits. With 68% of all online experiences beginning with a search engine query, one can easily see that making your website credible in the search engine’s eyes is astonishingly profitable. So let’s talk a bit more about how you can do that.

How do search engines work

Before we start, however, you need to understand how search engines work. We will talk predominantly about Google, which is the search engine responsible for 92.96% of all global traffic. So it stands to reason you’d want them to rank your website before anyone else. Still, most search engines follow the same basic algorithm, so except for some small deviations, you won’t need too much extra work to get your website ranked in Bing, Yahoo, or anywhere else that matters.

How search engines work?

Search engines are robots that scrape websites, categorize them based on their content, collect their metadata and release it to the public when it’s relevant to a search. Each search engine ranks the scraped content based on its relevance, reliability, website quality, user experience, and others. The main point is for the search engine to be helpful and reliable. This means that it follows an intricate algorithm, which determines what would be acceptable for the reader and what wouldn’t. The worst part is that this algorithm is an AI (Artificial Intelligence) that learns from the collected data, and no one knows all its parameters. Moreover, it changes often due to the change in user behavior.

But how does Google know that your website will satisfy its users? Well, keywords are the backbone of this highly-complicated operation.

What are keywords

The definition of keywords usually doesn’t do justice to their importance. The textbook definition states that keywords are words, phrases, or sentences used to find a particular product, topic, or theme. On the other hand, however, when it comes to search engine optimization of a website, keywords are specific words or phrases that you infuse in your content, headlines, and metadata, so crawlers and users will understand that you have the answer to their query at first glance. So, regardless of whether it’s a home page, a sales landing page, an about us section, or a simple blog post, if you want it to be visible, it must be filled with relevant keywords.

What are keywords

For example, if a user wants to learn more about oscilloscopes, their first step would be to write this particular word in Google to find out what it does. These keywords are called one-word keywords. However, if the user needs a new car, they already know what a car is, so they would add some additional words to specify their search. For example, “new car,” “brand new car,” or “electric new car.” These types of keywords are known as short-tail keywords.

However, most often, people would be very specific about what they are looking for. So, if they want a new car, they might ask a direct question, “Which is the best electric family car for 2022?” This is better known as a long-tail keyword. Most search engine queries are actually long-tail keywords, as about 70% of all Google searches are made with them.

Naturally, we will discuss these three types of keywords in much more detail, but before we get there, let’s talk about where you can find the correct keywords for your website.

How to find keywords

Guessing what keywords might be right for you is the worst idea. Big brands wouldn’t pay millions of dollars for collecting data if it didn’t matter. Thankfully you needn’t spend any money on your website’s SEO, as there are enough free tools to help you start collecting data and find the keywords that will bring you high-quality leads.

The internet is filled with opportunities to learn the right keywords if you only invest a little time. For example, Google alone offers a ton of options to brainstorm ideas for relevant keywords.

Google Search

You can use Google Search’s user-friendly interface to your advantage. For instance, you can benefit from the autosuggest. You’ve probably noticed that if you write a couple of words, a bar opens and suggests ten queries. These are based on what people in your location most often look for. You can use these as long-tail keywords.

Moreover, you can use the related searches at the bottom of the first page, and the “people also ask” box. So, for example, if we write “Ski shoes” in the search bar, we will instantly get at least 25 relevant short-tail and long-tail keywords.

Find keywords in Google Search

Google free tools

Another great way to get suitable keywords is via Google’s free tools. Google keywords Planner is probably the best place to start, as it gives you some valuable keyword information. The tool will show the keyword trends, their competition, and the cost per click for PPC campaigns. The higher the CPC, the better the keyword, with some asterisks, of course, but we won’t get too much into them right now.

The other invaluable Google tool is Google Search Console. To use it, however, you will first need some data. It will show you how your content ranks for different keywords, how people find it, and which keywords are relevant to your website. This will help you optimize your keyword use and SEO strategy.

Use other tools

There are hundreds of excellent keyword-finder tools like SEMrush, Ubersuggest, Keywords Tool, Keywords Everywhere, and Keywords Finder. They have different limitations, and most are paid, yet they offer invaluable insights into the keyword’s search volume, quality, competitive score, and CPC. Within a minute, you can choose from more than 1400 keywords.

Use Q&A websites

If you feel stuck with long-tail keyword generation, go to a Q&A website like Quora, Yahoo! Answer, Askville, Answer the public, and any other that comes to mind. People there ask genuine questions which answers they can’t find anywhere else in Google, so answering those related to your niche will guarantee you some quality leads.

Keyword suggestions

Spy on your competitors

This may sound a bit unethical, but don’t think they won’t do the same. Duplicating and bettering what works for your competitors has been the basis of marketing since it exists. So, don’t be afraid to look at what your competitors post and just give your unique perspective on a topic they raise. That certainly doesn’t mean just copying their content, as this is legally and morally troublesome and will get you penalized, if not by the state, by the search engines for sure.


So, now that we know where to search for keywords, let’s look at the three core types of keywords, their positives and negatives, and when you should use them.

One-word keywords

One-word keywords, as their name suggests, consist of only one word. While one-word keywords have a truly magnificent search volume, they are usually pretty much impossible to compete for. The apparent exceptions are brand names containing one word or some brandable products. In some cases, you may manage to rank for some rarely used terms or very specific words, but in general, the number one spot is almost always taken by internet giants like Wikipedia.

One word keyword examples


The pros with one-word keywords are very few, and they apply only if you land on the first Google page. However, a one-word keyword works wonders for cold audiences if your niche requires knowledge of specific terminology. For example, it may be great for pharmaceuticals, medicine, chemistry, and technology, as one-word keywords pretty much specify the product that the customer is looking for.

The only other positive aspect of one-word keywords is that they give the search engine direct information on your industry, niche, and work.


The downsides with one-word keywords are many. Firstly, they can be used successfully only in some particular cases. Secondly, though they have a huge search volume, the competition is unbeatable. The CPCs are incredibly high, although only huge brands compete for them. Most importantly, you can’t expect quality leads from one-word keywords because they are targeting an extremely cold audience who’s just starting to learn about the product and its specification.

Where to use them

Most digital marketing experts would suggest skipping one-word keywords altogether. However, you need to consider competing for at least some of them. For example, if your brand name is just one word, you need to be on top of the search engine results, as most people will write your name in the search engine and click on the first link without thinking too much. Competing for a competitor’s brand name is frowned upon in the digital marketing world, but that doesn’t mean it’s not common. Especially if your brand is popular and the competition has a cheaper alternative.

Finally, one-word keywords can be used for specific products or industries with less public knowledge. Such highly distinctive fields include research, medicine, pharma, legal, and others.

Short-tail keywords

Short-tail keywords, also known as head terms, usually have high traffic potential, yet they are less competitive and have lower CPC than one-word keywords. They consist of 2-5 words and are considered general terms that give a bit more specifications than one-word keywords but are not precisely queries on their own. Those are broad terms typically used by cold and lukewarm audiences who are starting to familiarize themselves with specifications and norms in a specific industry, so they can later make an informed decision on what to purchase. The specific need of the user typically creates these words. For example, no one wants just any trainers. They have some preferences like color, gender, and size. So when searching, they will write, for example, “men’s white trainers.”

Short-tail keyword example


Short-tail keywords have some pretty nifty advantages. Even though they have far less reach than one-word keywords, they still get a vast search volume, which is excellent if you want to boost your website traffic. Moreover, they are pretty easy to determine, as they don’t need much data. Furthermore, as they target a broader audience, they are not limited to a specific target group, drastically reducing keyword research time. The best part, however, is that they are pretty much effortless to integrate into your content. They don’t need a lot of SEO writing experience to place in your blog, home page, or landing page.


Naturally, there are some downsides. Without a doubt, the biggest one of them is the high competition. The broader the audience, the more people would like to attract them as leads. So while acquiring the correct short-tail keywords is effortless, betting on those that are actually worth your time needs some extra work.

Another downside of the head terms is related to the quality of the traffic you get. Sure, you will truly enjoy significantly higher numbers of visitors, but not all of them will be looking for your products or services. For example, if the keyword is “yellow jacket,” the customer might be looking for your gorgeous yellow jacket fashion line. On the other hand, it can be someone looking for information on that particular type of wasp, a song, or even someone looking for the brand Yellow Jacket, which has nothing to do with clothing.

When to use them

Using short-tail keywords, unlike one-word keywords, is practically mandatory for home pages and landing pages. There you don’t have enough text for long-tail keywords, to begin with. Moreover, you’d want to reach a much broader audience with your home page, so the shorter the keyword, the better. Still, make sure you specify what you are offering. Otherwise, you may end up with a confused lead, who will only up your bounce rate.

In general, short-tail keywords are great to use in H1 and H2 tags, metadata, and even picture Alt-tags. They work wonders in communicating with search engine bots.

Long-tail keywords

Long-tail keywords are practically whole sentences that users write to find specific products or get a solution for a particular need. For example, this article answers the query of whether you should use short-tail or long-tail keywords. You probably found it by searching for a variation of this question. And since we found out that most other websites don’t differentiate between one-word and short-tail keywords, we added an extra value to our work so you’d have a more full and satisfying answer. Needless to say, long-tail keywords have far less volume reach than short-tail or one-word keywords, so you should expect far less traffic from them. However, less search volume means far less competition and a much narrower audience. All of this will result in high-quality leads with high intent. So naturally, these keywords target warm and even hot audiences ready to purchase your product or service.

Long Tail keywords


Long-tail keywords bring a lot of advantages. First, as already mentioned, they lead to far better conversion rates as the quality of the leads is much higher. Moreover, there is practically no competition for more specific topics, and even for broader queries, the competition is only within your niche.

Long-tail keywords do wonders for new websites with no authority and can help them quickly make a name in the Google rankings. Moreover, it will complement your short-tail keyword efforts, so it’s a double win.

Most importantly, it gives you insights into industry trends and what your immediate customers expect and miss. You may even use this information in your product development strategies.


The biggest long-tail keywords downside is the complexity of integrating them into your content. True, you may seamlessly put them in headlines (H1 tags) and subheaders (H2 and H3 tags), but for better ranking, you need more than that. So, to properly place your long-tail keywords, you’d most probably have to hire a professional SEO writer.

Furthermore, long-tail keywords are hard to find, especially relevant ones with little competition.

Finally, their low search volume may be a blessing but is also a curse. While you will have high-quality leads, your reach will be much lower, your scalability potential will be hindered, and using exclusively long-tail keywords will need significant resources.

When to use it

The most obvious place you should use long-tail keywords is in blog posts. These are most commonly the entry points for organic traffic and usually are the easiest places to add long-tail keywords. It’s an excellent idea to start with long-tail keywords if you have a new website with little to no authority and seek to climb Google rankings rapidly.

Finally, use long-tail keywords as a conversation starter with your leads. Users often write coherent sentences in the search engine search bar as if they are communicating with someone. So, be that someone and start a conversation.

So, one-word, short-tail, or long-tail keywords? Which one is for you?

Well, all of them, actually. A good SEO strategy uses all types of keywords, as they have different places on your website and tend to different audience groups. However, which one you will start with depends on your business model, industry, niche, and, most importantly, your resources.

Regardless of your choice, the right keywords are just one aspect of getting to the top of the search engine results. But that won’t matter if your page takes ages to load. In internet terms, “ages” is approximately 4 seconds or longer. This will not only hinder your SEO efforts and render all keywords useless but also damage your customers’ relations and reliability. Luckily HostArmada is here to save the day. We have precisely what you need – secure, fast, and reliable cloud-based hosting that can increase your website speed and ensure zero downtime. All you need to do is check our offers and contact one of our teammates, so they can help you choose the plan that will best fit your needs.