Revenue by keyword length. Is the money in the long tail?

We have always heard that big part of the money is in the long tail keywords. Is that true? If this is the case, how much the long tail is adding to the total revenue?

I'm getting pretty addicted to real numbers, charts and anything we can distill from them so I pulled figures from a bunch of e-commerce and booking sites, case scenario where we can truly talk about money, and cooked the numbers to see what was coming out of them.

Details of the analysis:

  • Exactly 20 sites
  • Time frame: 9 months
  • Several languages, not only English
  • Only organic non-branded traffic, of course
  • Numbers in charts are average ones from the sites analyzed

Long tail definition and how to filter by words count

How many words should a key phrase include in a query to be considered long tail? A quick review of related articles and some answers from twitter mates (thanks guys) seems to establish the break point on 4. If a key phrase has four or more words it is commonly considered long tail and this is the criteria followed here.

The regular expressions used to filter traffic and revenue in GA were:

  • ^\s*[^\s]+\s*$ one keyword
  • ^\s*[^\s]+(\s+[^\s]+){1}\s*$ two keywords
  • ^\s*[^\s]+(\s+[^\s]+){2}\s*$ three keywords
  • ^\s*[^\s]+(\s+[^\s]+){3}\s*$ four keywords
  • ^\s*[^\s]+(\s+[^\s]+){5}\s*$ six keywords
  • ^\s*[^\s]+(\s+[^\s]+){6,}\s*$ seven or more keywords

You can use them in your sites to analyze them, otherwise who knows what you are going to find there if you don't do dig it?

Visits by number of words in search query

As expected key phrases with four or more words, when combined, represent the highest percentage of traffic, 35.6%, compared to total visits from organic non-branded.

If we break down this 4+, just 4 words has higher percentage than one word queries but 2 and 3 are queen and king respectively.

Visits by keywords lenght

Revenue by query length

Landscape changes when we look at revenue instead of visits. Money from one keyword queries tops close to 40% of the revenue of an e-commerce. In second position the 4+ bucket.

Broken down we see none of the 4+ stands out significantly and it decreases with query length. There is a nice 21.7% of the money in the long tail bag but not as much as I was expecting.

SEO, revenue by keyword length

Revenue per visit by key phrase length

Three interesting facts here:

  • The difference gets bigger between one keyword and the rest if the chart shows revenue per visit
  • Difference reduces to minimum comparing the rest of key phrases lengths although 2 words pops up a bit from the 2+ gang
  • No remarkable differences but 5 and 6 words in search query are almost as profitable per visit as 3 words while 4 words gets closer to 7+ ones

Revenue per visit by words in search query

Comparing Visits and Revenue. Keywords performance

In order to have better perspective of how this works, next chart combines visits and revenue percentage compared to total.

  • 3 words is the one bringing more visits but in terms of revenue it is the third
  • 2 words queries have a nice balance on both metrics
  • 1 keyword although fourth in visits it is the king of revenue

visits and revenue per keywords in search query

Trying to come up with a number that could represent performance of key phases by length the simpler formula I can think off is

performance = visits to total x revenue to total x revenue per visit

That's what comes out of it:

performance by words in key phrase

One keyword queries perform more than 3 times better than any other.

Not all key phrases are made equal

While collecting data from this post I didn't spend too much time observing the differences in types of keywords, this requires a complete different study but some similar characteristics were observed.

Single word queries

Some e-commerce sites sell technical products and more frequently their audience search by SKU number instead by product's name. This specific situation makes SKUs a highly converting keyword if you want to consider a bunch of letters and numbers with no meaning a real keyword.

This is what creates a big difference from one single word and the rest in terms of revenue per visit as we saw before.

If you are one of those e-commerce sites make sure, for money's shake, SKUs play an important role in the content optimization.

A second group of single word converting pretty well is the one with very generic terms like sunglasses, smartphones and such. A single word does not infer the intention of user is to buy anything but if this is what user has in mind and your site is there right at the top of SERPs, bingo!

Obviously fight for good rankings for very generic single keyword queries can be really expensive but seems ROI should be more than decent.

Long tail keywords

This is the kingdom of definitions, questions and advice

  • Detailed explanations but roughly written: "spider bite on dog"
  • How to [verb]: "how to clean your paintball gear"
  • What is [noun]: "what is algaecide"
  • -ing: "cleaning your paintball gear"
  • a vs b (comparison): "iphnone vs android"
  • How much…
  • Best time to…

Harder to fit in corporate content or product copy optimization so, definitely, to have to take them into account in a more general content strategy involving blogs, FAQ and such.

Probably they don't represent as much as anybody could think before getting deep into data but they are more than 1/5 of the income. You have to be insane to disdain them.

BTW: I wish you all a happy new year crammed with SEO success.

Dec 24, 2011
Written by:
Filed under: Content

Dec 24, 2011
Posted by:
Jas Sahota #1

Brilliant and informative bit of research, thanks.

Would love to know what kinds of ecommerce sites are covered here (e.g. Consumer electronics/industrial parts/training or services etc.), though I realise some of that might be sensitive.

Analysis of the keyword types would be very interesting, perhaps the topic of a follow up post?

Dec 24, 2011
Posted by:
Ani Lopez #2

Hi Jas
Yes, probably more than a follow up post I could be adding some extra notes here but, as you mentioned, it is pretty sensitive data.

Thanks for your kind words.

Dec 27, 2011
Posted by:
Steve #3

I found this to be quite informative and really dig the data that you've sifted through to come to these conclusions. This adds a new layer to the current research my partner and I are doing with our keyword research. Thanks for the detailed information and I might have to be mad at you for adding another data point to our research process! Best of luck and thanks again!


Dec 27, 2011
Posted by:
Ani Lopez #4

Thanks Steve for your come and comment. Makes me happy if that makes some sense to the ones taking the time to read my posts.

Dec 27, 2011
Posted by:
Kees #5

Really like the concept of your research. One burning question:
We usually see high conversion rates for long tail keywords. Is there a possibility that your pages were ranking for a broader variety of keywords (much more than what you aimed for). And therefore bring in a lot of "irrelevant" traffic?

Dec 27, 2011
Posted by:
Ani Lopez #6

Hi Kees
You can have few conversions with high revenue (expensive products/services) or the other way round, more conversions with lower revenue (inexpensive products) so Conversion Rate would provably add a different perspective here.

If I have numbers from e-commerce sites I like use metrics related to revenue more than conversions or number of transactions per visit.

"irrelevant traffic" you mean not-converting non-branded organic one? I could have indicated what percentage of the non-branded organic one converts but I have to keep the amount of details I make public limited, you know.

Not sure if this is what you are asking for.

In any case I'll give data sets a second look and double check if I can add some more info here to make it a bit more complete.

Thanks all.

Dec 28, 2011
Posted by:
Kees #7


Thanks for your response. You're right I mean the not-converting visitors. Normally when I create a landing page that targets a specific long tail keyword that I believe is very relevant, I do get high conversion rates.

But now, lets say you have a website that sells Proffesional poker tables. You create a page that targets this long tail keyword ".
If you get visitors that search for this exact match then we would expect high conversions right? But if you start ranking for variations like "proffesional poker" or "proffesional tables" or stuff like that, this traffic is less likely to be interested in your product.. Maybe this is the case for your e-commerce clients?

I understand you have to be discrete about your data though.

Dec 28, 2011
Posted by:
Ani Lopez #8

Hi Kees
Your approach is correct, the closer the keywords in your pages match search queries more likely convert but in this study I was not comparing 'quality' of keywords, just length, so I have no answer for you unfortunately.

Jan 01, 2012
Posted by:
Jackson Lo #9

Great study here Ani, one that I was going to do myself with just a single site. My conclusion is different from yours in that long tail keywords received lower visits... but also yielded greater return (higher revenue). But drawing a conclusion from a single site is not significant vs your study here with 20 sites. It goes to show too that if you are targeting longer tail keywords, you should expect greater traffic from longer phrases vs generic phrases.

It is surprising that there is a very low volume of visits for head keywords (1 term phrase), yet it brings in a relatively high % of revenue. I would have thought the other way around. Maybe it is the nature of the sites you analyzed here... would English sites skew differently than foreign language e-commerce sites?

Jan 02, 2012
Posted by:
Ani Lopez #10

Hi Jackson
Right, that kind of studies are not conclusive at all, I mean, although all are e-commerce sites are different between each other so it is not strange if you get some other conclusions.

There were not big differences by language of site but those non-English ones were few of them otherwise I could dig deeper.

Jan 21, 2012
Posted by:
Clif #11

This is a great post and thanks for those handy regular expressions!
I ran those on our company GA data and found the same results - the overall conversion of single word keywords was far higher than long tail. I think the reason for this - when looking at all sets of keywords in bulk - is that long tail keywords are so easy to rank for that we end up ranking for thousands of them that land on pages that aren't optimized for conversion.

I think if we looked at things on a keyword by keyword bases...let's say a single word keyword vs a long tail - both of which we are actively trying to rank for and convert - that the long tail will produce better results. It will cost far less to rank for and have a higher conversion rate. And, I am talking about conversion only.

Obviously a well ranking single term will bring it far more revenue dollars than one long tail keyword. It would be an interesting thing to many long tail keywords does it take to mach the revenue effectiveness of a high traffic single term keyword?

Jan 21, 2012
Posted by:
Ani Lopez #12

Hi Clif, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm glad you found it interesting.
Things are getting harder to analyze and some questions almost impossible to answer with so many 'not provided' keywords but this is what we have. I was not considering Rankings a real KPI, more a simple metric but in the scenario we have guessing what happens before the click is getting more relevant.

Apr 08, 2012
Posted by:
Julian #13

Great info! I came looking for some text mining techniques and found this wonderful approach for long term. Congratulations. I'd love to read more tips like this about how to use GA info with RapidMiner to do some good text mining on keywords.

Jul 11, 2012
Posted by:
nobody #14

I'm looking at an 8-10 keyword phrase. The 8 receives 10,000 visits a month and the 10 is about 200. I work in a service business and one sale is worth $5000 .

Is an 8-10 keyword phrase too long? The 1 keyword that is in both of these phrases is very very competitive with millions of searches.

If I focus on the phrase, is it much easier to rank given the low competition? Any thoughts?

Aug 07, 2012
Posted by:
Suryadeep #15

Hi Ani,

Great analysis but some of the findings look counter intuitive to me. Conventional wisdom tells us that more generic single word keywords lead to more traffic but less conversion. If I look at the last chart here 14% traffic and 38.9% revenue from 1 word keywords indicate high conversion (Another explanation could be that the SKUs related to 1 word keyword sell at high price points which is a bit unlikely).

I would generally believe that longer keywords would bring more revenue compared to the visits on account of keywords being more targeted and qualified.

Aug 08, 2012
Posted by:
Ani Lopez #16

Hi Suryadeep,
More than 'conventional wisdom' y try to base my opinions on numbers.

I agree that the SKUs are helping to increase conversions from one single word. All those sites were transactional, it makes sense.

Jun 29, 2017
Posted by:
Emily #17

I'm taking a gander at a 8-10 watchword state. The 8 gets 10,000 visits per month and the 10 is around 200. I work in an administration business and one deal is worth $5000 .

Is a 8-10 watchword state too long? The 1 catchphrase that is in both of these expressions is extremely focused with a great many quests.

May 03, 2018
Posted by:
Trump #18

Hi Ani,
Great info! I came looking for some text mining techniques and found this wonderful approach for long term. Congratulations. I'd love to read more tips like this about how to use GA info with RapidMiner to do some good text mining on keywords.

I agree that the SKUs are helping to increase conversions from one single word. All those sites were transactional, it makes sense.

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