A Guide to Long Tail SEO for MSPs
Long tail SEO is one of the simplest concepts in SEO, but can also be one of the most confusing in practice. A long tail search is one where you have a non-trivial search to get more specific results. For instance, if you want to search for a backup solution like Unitrends, you might search for “Hyper-V cloud backup solution”. You (or your prospective client) can always use some other non-trivial set of descriptors which spells out a similar combination of factors the solution offers (for instance “VMWare” or “SaaS” in the mix), and this is what makes long tail SEO so valuable and so difficult.
Long tail SEO relies on you optimizing your content for long tail searches which would actually bring in the right audience. This form of SEO combines many techniques which help with all forms of SEO. You’re doing keyword optimization many times over while incorporating live data and reacting to changes. Let’s break long tail SEO down further, see how to target for long tail searches, then we’ll dive into when and where to do it, and how to make it work for you.
Long Tail SEO
If you’re a business, someone is searching for something that describes your business or what it does the longer the tail gets. Done right, this means that you get more prospects naturally. On the flip side, if it’s done wrong, you just get raw traffic with no real value looking for something else entirely. It works because the search engine becomes an artificial filter for your incoming demographic.
Some searches are worth more than others. Singular search terms (or short search phrases) are saturated or generic and there really isn’t a way to get ahead because the search itself is generic. The goal of long tail SEO is to focus on winning more niche topics that are less contested. Each term added to a search adds a filter which reduces the number of viable results. The more they zoom in, the bigger you get, but only if you’re in the continuously shrinking window.
We’ve touched on the basics of long tail SEO, but there’s a lot that goes into the process. Long tail SEO needs to be calculated based on how your clients search. Who are you targeting and what are they searching for? What keywords do you see from Google Search Console or similar and how can you put them together? Keywords are important, and knowing what keywords your prospects actually use for plain searches is the first step in making long tail SEO work.
You also need a way to track the results. If you haven’t used Google Search Console (or similar), you need to start now. An analytics system (Google Analytics, Bing Analytics, or even something like Koko Analytics) will provide insight into the metrics which will help you measure what people are searching for and where they’re going.
Measuring CTR and Other Metrics
These tools enable you to begin tracking the CTR (Click Through Rate) for a given search as well as the landing page. If 3 of your pages mention backups and associated terms, is one faring better than the others? If so, why? To optimize SEO, you need to understand what is actually working, then figure out why it’s working. Or, if nothing works, you need to figure out how to make the right changes.
Google Search Console gives you the query, clicks, impressions, and the search position for any term which involved your site. For our purposes, we can treat the ratio of clicks to impressions as the CTR for the site. Some organic searches will have a great ratio (some can be as high as the double digits for a percentage), others not so much (<0.01%). Position is important as well, with the higher the better, but improving your ratio will improve your position most of the time too.
Google can also give you a similar break down for any given page, and the clicks, impressions, and position it has which can get you a similar search CTR per page. Putting these two calculated metrics together won’t give you exactly what ratio you’re getting searches for specific pages, but you can combine analytic solutions to approximate this.
No set of numbers when working with search and analytic data will ever be absolutely right. If I compare the numbers from Google Analytics with the numbers from Google Search Console, the numbers between them aren’t usually going to add up exactly. The data is collected, culled, and combined in different ways so you get different results. Work off the trends and ratios rather than getting maddened by the fudge factor.
These calculations give you how people search for you (keywords), where you show up (searches), and how individual pages show up. To improve your SEO, you ideally want to reconcile the first and the second sets of terms to be closer. The closer, the better your search does and the higher your natural position goes (usually).
What keywords define your MSP and your business? What keywords define what your current and ideal clients expect from your MSP? This is the specific part which gets a bit fuzzier for MSPs. You also need to consider what value each page adds and what people would search on it.
When targeting keywords, most businesses are playing with a level field. MSPs usually have a mix of B2C (Business to Consumer) and B2B (Business to Business) considerations which can be further exaggerated by the fact that peers and vendors exist across a spectrum of technical knowledge. Content has to be accessible and usable to both sets as a whole though. This isn’t to say you can’t target more jargon-laden terms, but you need to explain them.
Most clients won’t know what RAID is (or think it comes in a can), but a vendor is going to be confused if you never reference it directly in more technical pages. A page obviously for consumers won’t matter, but both sets of content need to exist and be targeted. Create your own information and writeup on topics which come up continuously with technical and lay versions.
How to Improve Long Tail SEO
Target the keywords which work for your business first. Build them into phrases which clients, vendors, or whoever you want to bring in would search for. Once you have an idea for the keywords which work well (this involves either looking at your metrics or keyword research), you can begin embedding them in content.
Apply these techniques like you would keywords to any content as we mentioned in The Top 13 Easiest Ways to Improve SEO for MSPs. You want content to include these words abundantly, but naturally. For instance, in this article, we have used the term “Long Tail SEO” over and over, but in a way where it flows.
SEO all works off of content, but there are little tricks which can help give you an edge. Use them to your advantage and target the keywords you need. For certain phrases, feel free to include them as is or with grammatical or filler words in between. If “MSP high uptime backups” is how people are finding you, feel free to work that in. “Our MSP prioritizes high uptime and safe backups,” or similar on an About Me page can help solidify that search.
What Not to Do
You can’t work every term, keyword, or phrase in everywhere. There are people who try, but it ends with the content either taking enough of a hit searches drop off, or else it becomes buzzword bingo. You can cheat the algorithm but not the reader usually. Target the keywords and phrases which actually matter and actually occur per metrics and research.
Prioritize the things which are the easiest to implement and provide the most value. Just because a keyword can get you to the number one position of an extremely cryptic search doesn’t mean it’s good. You need the right mix of a niche with accessibility.
Don’t omit cross-referencing terms and researching similar terms when prioritizing your keyword targeting either. Basically, how can you save time and effort by batching search terms? If “email parser” is a common term with many okay searches, it can be viewed as worth the same as one term which has a single usage and much more success. Keep in mind that there is a bigger picture when creating a strategy.
Don’t try to capitalize on searches which will conflict with your brand. There’s no such thing as bad press is a marketing cliché, but whether it’s true or not is different question than how SEO works. If you sacrifice parts of your content for the sake of targeting something else, you’re typically robbing Peter to pay Paul for your SEO. It can work, but it’s way beyond the scope of this article.
Making Simple Content Adjustments
I won’t touch on all the standard SEO techniques in here. SEO is SEO, the only difference is the focus and the purpose of each strategy. Good content gets you good SEO, but like anything, there are things you can do to get the most bang for your buck and “good” is often subjective.
If you see a phrase in the search console which is bringing in traffic, try to work it in, or work in the keywords. If a synonym beats out what you’re using, work it in. If your clients find you under “support desk vmware comptia certified”, but you use “help desk”, consider at least adding in “support desk” on any page the help desk is mentioned. I would also increase references to the rest of the terms (if relevant).
If a singular term is showing up with many variations, for instance: “vmware installation msp”, “vmware certified msp”, “vmware virtualization msp”, etc., and is bringing in a good amount of traffic, use it where possible. You can continue to expand on this as the tail for the search query gets longer and longer and work these things in as you go forward as long as the content stays relevant to the searches.
Deeper Content Strategy
As you move forward with your strategy, you’ll reach a point where there aren’t small things to change anymore. You need substantial rewrites, content is deprecated, etc. If things still kind of work, it can be worth a little cleanup first to improve results while you get the time to go deeper.
Long tail content tends to be more long lived for relevance, but less relevant overall. That being said, some things do have a lifespan. There aren’t many searches for CAT3 anymore, but there are plenty of references to its installation or usage left. While this example is neutral, old content can eventually hurt you if left unchanged and unchecked.
What content do you have which is completely obsolete? What just needs a change to something more modern to be relevant? This gets more complex with tech articles. A guide to fix a DOS-era POS system may still be relevant to why some clients hire you. Context makes the difference between your guide being a relic and it being proof of skill. Update your content with context as to why it’s still relevant. Search engines tend to favor content which is updated, so by adding context, you show the content is being maintained, and make it stay useful for readers.
Content that no longer serves a purpose needs to be culled. There’s probably going to be some useful pieces caught in the crossfire which need to be heavily reworked or redone. The weaker your search rankings, the more likely you have a lot of work to do. Sometimes, this may even coincide with an entire redesign of the site. You have to run the numbers and weigh the cost of redoing content to the reward it can bring.
Going Forward With Long Tail SEO
Understanding what long tail SEO can do for your business is the first step in using it. Research and analyze what people search for, what they search to find you, and the intersection between these. Calculate what each keyword means to your site and searches for you.
As you learn and apply these principles, you’ll possibly reach a point where minor changes just don’t work anymore. Sometimes you need to make some massive changes or effectively start over to get the results you need. Start with what gets you quick results and move on as possible.
Gradual steps will be more efficient for most working professionals than a huge changeover all at once. This gives you a chance to see results without a large investment. SEO is only as good as the content and strategy behind it, so figuring out what actually works first can make the next steps easier. Researching and testing works better in an iterative process.
Long tail SEO isn’t the only thing to focus on, but it can easily be combined with other techniques. You won’t hurt your SEO shoring it up to make longer queries lead to your content. The process of shoring up long tail SEO is going to incidentally affect “standard” SEO. As you work through long tail SEO, you get the data and metrics to fix everything else.
SEO is SEO as I mentioned before, the difference is in the strategy and implementation. Focusing on long tail SEO doesn’t come at the expense of other strategies, it enriches them. Done right, you aren’t trading one strategy for another, you’re batching the work and doing a little extra analysis. Even if you can’t apply everything, just starting the process can be enough to make huge strides with SEO.