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When you have a page optimized for a long tail keyword, naturally, Google will also rank the page for the shorter version for it. For example, a page optimized for “iPhone 5 accessories”, it will also rank for “iPhone 5”. Now here’s where it gets a little confusing sometimes, because you will need to exercise some judgment. 🙂
The general rule of thumb is that you never want to optimize 2 separate pages for the same keyword and/or a long tail version of it when they really talk about the same thing.
Let’s use 2 examples below to illustrate this:
Case 1: “iPhone 5 accessories” and “iPhone 5” (former is long tail of latter keyword)
Case 2: “how to train a dog” and “train a dog” (former is long tail of latter keyword)
If you look at Case 1 closely, the former keyword relates closely to the topic about accessories and the latter about phone.
So essentially, you can write 2 very different articles for both keywords. In the former, you describe about the accessories. The latter, you talk about the mobile phone. In this case, I would go ahead and write another article about “iPhone 5” and try to rank for it. Both keywords have very different search intent for someone typing in those search terms.
Don’t be surprised though that Google ranks both pages for the keyword “iPhone 5” when you check your Google Webmaster Tools. That’s normal.
This is the part we need to help Google, to some extent, figure out which webpage is best for which search term. On the iPhone 5 accessories article, have a hyperlink to the iPhone 5 webpage using the exact anchor text “iPhone 5” or something like “iPhone 5 features”.
Vice versa, on the iPhone 5 page, you want to have your article somewhere that briefly mentions iPhone 5 accessories, and then have that as anchor text and hyperlink it to your iPhone 5 accessories article.
For case 2, both keywords mean quite the same thing. In these cases, you would want to make sure you optimize both keywords in the SAME article. It’s easy in this example here because when you include “how to train a dog” in the url, meta, sub-headings, image alt tags and article, you are naturally optimizing for “train a dog”. Of course, I’ll also use “train a dog” and omit “how to” in some sentences so it reads well. Google will rank this page for both keywords.
In case 2, if we were to write 2 articles for each keyword in the example, which essentially talks about the same stuff but worded differently entirely, it confuses Google. Google now has to decide which article has to rank better for the search term “train a dog”. Users who found both versions on your website also have to decide which one is the most updated copy.
From an SEO standpoint, you are also halving your link juice since someone would link to only either one of the articles. if you find yourself in this situation, it’s best to combine both articles, optimize the combined article for both keywords (the article must still read natural and makes sense). Do a 301 redirection from the old article to the newly combined article.
But what about if you write an article optimized for the keyword “iPhone accessories”? Would you be also ranked for “iPhone 5 accessories”?
If your article is optimized for iPhone accessories and nowhere in the article, meta or URL contains the keyword “iPhone 5 accessories”, it is quite unlikely that the page will also rank for “iPhone 5 accessories”.
There are exceptions though in cases when Google considers 2 words synonymous. (i.e. internet marketing and online marketing). In this case, “internet” and “online” are synonymous. Of course, there are other ranking factors that will also play a part in ranking a page optimized for “online marketing” to rank well for the search term “Internet Marketing”.
Ultimately, when optimizing for long tail keywords, you want to first think about whether you already have an existing shorter keyword article that has already covered what you are going to write about. While fresh content on website is great, generating multiple pages discussing the same subject over and over again can lower user experience on your site.