The Cynics's Guide to Writing Killer Long Tail Content


Long tail search terms - uncommon phrases that people type into Google.  Example: it's hard to get your website to the top of Google for the term 'death threats'. It's easier to be at the top of Google for the long tail phrase 'death threats from a 9-year old girl'. The downside is that far fewer people search for the latter.

CAE and IELTS - two exams for foreigners learning English. One of my niche sites is all about the CAE exam.


This morning I added an article to one of my niche sites. If you're new to making money from websites or you're writing a book about how digital entrepreneurs see and exploit opportunities, my thought process is sure to impress and amaze you.

The article I posted today was a comparison of the CAE exam with a similar exam (called IELTS). Comparison posts are great long tail material.

I pretty much stole the content of the article from my main rivals.

Is it worth doing these long tail articles?

Definitely. I doubled the traffic on one of my sites by adding some long tail articles (and doubled the income). My strike rate is about 50% - half of these articles do very well, half die a death.

When you write a good long tail article, people will come to your site. Once there they might have a poke around to see what else you've done.

How to find long tail searches you can write about

Long Tail Pro

With this software you put in a keyword (in my case 'CAE') and it gives you back a fairly comprehensive list of related terms and searches. Its key selling point is that it analyses the current top 10 results for that search and estimates how easy it will be to break into that top 10. More on this later.


You know when you type something into Google and it suggests endings for you? Ubersuggest (free) collects them all into one place. Example - I could go there and type 'CAE vs ' and it would come back with obvious (to me) ones like 'CAE vs IELTS', 'CAE vs FCE' - but also some weird ones that I would never have thought about. Great for quickly generating some ideas.

Steal from rival sites

While doing some spying on my competitors I noticed that some sites' only mention of CAE was when they compared it with IELTS. Hey! That's my traffic! Get off my traffic. I made note of this 'CAE vs IELTS' thing many months ago.

Listen to your audience

I get emails and Facebook messages from students, and when I'm asked the same question twice I think 'huh - this could be good for a blog post.'

I've actually got a backlog of articles I think would be useful for the site that came from such questions.

Why I chose this particular article to write about

There were 4 main reasons.

1. There's a good video I can embed

Remember the 'stealing for fun and profit' concept? This is part of it. There are pros and cons to putting someone else's video in your article. The video in question is called 'IELTS vs CAE vs FCE' which shows great understanding of niche marketing. It's from a Youtube channel that has lots of videos for teaching English. I sometimes think about greatly expanding my own Youtube presence in the future, so aren't I just helping them build their brand by advertising them for free on my site?

Yes, but on the other hand, their video exists and my one on this topic doesn't. Plus if someone watches the whole 15 minute video from my site that's great for my 'time spent on site' metrics - Google will think people love my page and I will go up the rankings.

I've done this before - taken someone's Youtube video, built a blog post around it, and found that a few weeks later my post was above that video in the searches.

And anyway, there's more to life than making money and being cut-throat - some of those videos on that Youtube channel are great and perfect for my site's visitors - if they go and find that channel on Youtube and learn some English, good for them.

2. It's directly relevant to my niche

Some of the article ideas I have are quite broad. Example: for a long time I had a draft of an article called 'discreet vs discrete'. But who types that into google? A lot of native speakers and a few foreigners with a pretty good level of English.

The native speakers might appreciate the article, but they would leave right away after getting their answer. Of the foreigners looking to improve their English, some might poke around the site a bit more, but would see that it's targeted at one particular exam. So 'discreet vs discrete' is not going to bring me the kind of traffic I want - which is people doing this exam.

So I deleted that draft and probably won't do too many broad topics like that. I could include 'discreet vs discrete' in a post called something like '12 CAE Mistakes that Even Native Speakers Get Wrong'.

3. The article has strategic value

Having the most authoritative answer to this question (the question of which exam to take) would give me a very linkable asset. I could set up a google alert for IELTS and every time someone writes about that topic I'd get an email. I could then go to those articles, add a comment saying 'nice article but the real answer is here [link]' or whatever. Or write directly to the author and try to scam a link. I won't do any of that because I'm lazy but I could.

Second, I realised this is the kind of article that someone would read a year before taking the exam. If someone reads my article and decides to take the CAE exam, they'd definitely come back to visit the site, 5, 10, 20 times in the future.

I suspect most of my current visitors are guys who have their exam next week and are in a panic. But the ones who start to prepare well in advance are the ones most likely to click an affiliate link and buy a coursebook. I'd like more of that type of person and this article is a way to get some.

4. The competition is weak and I will crush it

Here's the Long Tail Pro data from 'cae vs ielts'. Click to enlarge.

There's a lot of data there so let's just focus on the key points. First, you can see there are 170 searches a month. That's worldwide. The number 22 is a summary of all the data that follows - it suggests that the competition is weak (under 30 is weak, over 40 is tough). The only problem I might face is the 'site age' - all those sites are much older than mine.

If you look at the top 3 results you can see the first one has a keyword competitiveness of 8. That is VERY low for a #1 result. The website itself looks very nice, but the text is only 3 paragraphs long and most of the space on the page is taken up by two large photos. The page was updated in January 2016, which is the only reason I can think why it's number 1.

Number 2 is from a teacher I had occasion to email - really nice guy. But it was written in 2014 and doesn't reflect the current CAE exam. His page is more about IELTS.

Then the next links are official ones from Cambridge - the people who set the exams. Powerful websites but those articles don't answer the question 'which exam should I take?' In 5th place is the video I embedded into my article.

In summary, I think the articles in the list are lacking in terms of content, are not up to date, or just don't really help students come to a decision. I'm going to get to the top of that list and I'm going to get the lion's share of those 170 hits a month.

Writing the article

This is the tiresome boring bit. This kind of article is not fun to write.

Basically the plan is to take the existing content (i.e. the articles currently at the top of the searches) - extract all the key information and repurpose it in my own article. By taking the content from article 1 and 2 I already probably had enough to get me to the top of google. But I also watched the video and made sure I included everything mentioned there in the body text.

Then, because I'd already put an hour into this thing, I decided to go the extra mile and do even more research. I don't know all that much about IELTS so I watched more videos and read more articles about it. This helped me add several more bullet points to my list of 'differences between the exams' and led me to include another video on the page.

I also said that the second video contained lots of useful phrases and that students could learn a lot from it. That's true, but my main goal was to get people to watch the video to boost my 'time spent on page'.

Having stolen and improved on what my competitors did, checked the information was up-to-date, and added more points to the article than was really necessary, I think I can safely say I've got the best resource for that search term on the internet.


Now - we wait.


Update 1

2 days after posting, with no promotion on Facebook or anywhere - and I'm on page 2 of Google already.

But that's a pretty insipid meta description. Needs improvement.

Update 2

I improved the meta description a bit and 2 months later I'm ranking #9 for this article. That's a-okay with me.