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why-you-should-focus-on-long-tail-keywords-first-and-short-tails-laterA great SEO campaign is shaped like a tree: thousands of small roots stem into a few big branches. The most effective websites generally don’t target thousands of highly valuable short-tail keywords and a few smaller keywords, but thousands of long-tail keywords and a few carefully selected short-tail, high-traffic keywords.

Using the tree metaphor, let’s look at the approach that many SEOs take to building and executing their SEO campaigns:

Step One: Target 10+ lucrative, high-value, high-traffic keywords.

Step Two: Focus link building on these keywords and no others.

Step Three: Develop content solely for these high-value keywords.

The end result is predictable: their website moves up the ranks for its top keywords, but not at a particularly impressive speed. Instead of achieving a first-page ranking – and thus, receiving traffic – it sits on the second or third page, failing to attract more than a few monthly visitors from its ‘lucrative’ target keywords.

The unfortunate reality of SEO is that listings on the first page of Google receive a far higher share of traffic than those on the second page. The ration isn’t 70:30, as many expect, but something far closer to 98:2. Being at the bottom of the first page is a big boost over being at the top of the next, despite the closeness in numerical ranking.

Because of this, the best SEO campaigns are often planned with the lowest-hanging fruits targeted first, and the biggest fruits last. Long-tail keywords – keywords that receive as little as 100 searches per month – are the ideal initial target for your SEO projects due to their lack of competition and relative ranking simplicity.

Instead of the three-step model for failure we’ve discussed above, a successful SEO campaign should use the following three-step system:

Step One: Target 100+ lucrative yet low-traffic keywords.

Step Two: Focus link building solely on these low-traffic keywords.

Step Three: Develop content that targets all of your search keywords.

It takes very little effort to rank prominently for long-tail keywords, making them an ideal target for the early days of an SEO campaign. Better yet, every piece of content you build to target a long-tail keyword during your website’s early days becomes an exceptionally valuable SEO asset when it’s time to target higher-value keywords.

Think about it: it’s far easier for a prominent, well established website to rank for a high-value term than it is for a brand new website. As such, it’s worth building your website to become established and respected before you target the search keywords that are so frequently out of reach for a newcomer.

Great SEO is far more about planning and strategy as it is about the sheer volume of links and content you can generate. A website that’s built up gradually, with modest targets in its early days and ambitious targets later in its lifespan, will experience a long-term advantage that no race-to-the-top SEO effort can ever hope to match.

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chiefbarkingturd/2696789593/