Although in previous posts I’ve advocated for leveraging longer tail keywords earlier on in SEO to get some fairly quick wins, it can lead to some snags in the overall SEO campaign.

I’ll elaborate.

With all the “helpful content” updates Google has done in the last year especially (2023), being able to demonstrate a wide and thorough knowledge is the main way to rank for the big stuff.

That part isn’t a big change from before where that was the same general strategy.

But here’s an example of where approaches I’ve taken too focused on tangential queries impaired results.

Websites in very competitive industries, such as personal injury law, require nimble strategy and patience.

In some of those projects I began with the rationale that trying to rank for something super competitive like “personal injury attorney in NYC” was a long term goal and we likely wouldn’t feel any traction for 6-12 months.

As far as trying to create something to show a client in 30-60 days whenever possible, I opted for less competitive alternatives like “crane accident attorney” and “construction injury attorney” along with supporting keywords for each. (I figured once we had some early success I could shift focus to the harder keywords once the client was on board for a longer term campaign.)

For the first two months that was a hit. We gained a lot of traction and got a couple rank 1-4 rankings for buying-intent keywords. The client was happy.

But because I was focusing exclusively on long tail, lower difficulty queries the site hadn’t garnered enough overall authority.

This made every goal we set after that point slow to produce. In some cases we were throwing a lot at the targets and gaining no traction.

About 5 months in something had become clear to me: Google must figure that any top personal injury law firm has an abundance of strong content about the most searched keywords their customers were using. Among the great many signals of any firm’s worthiness of ranking, having all that content was a big one.

My client’s site had some service pages that we’d optimized that were in line with those top keywords, sure.

But we hadn’t been building new blog material and other content around those queries. In Google’s eyes, the site was missing some crucial content that all the top competitors had.

SEO pro going over plans and data to revise the strategy

What that showed me about strategy and expectations there.

This project was definitely a case where the client may have stuck with me, especially after the early wins they saw, if I’d set the right expectations.

If I’d said, “Ok, we’ve gotten some great rankings on some valuable second-tier keywords and you’re positioned well to get some leads from them. As we shift focus to the main keywords everyone in your profession wants most, this is going to be a long climb and we’ll need 6+ months before we really start to see a shift there,” they might have nodded and trusted me. It’d be worth the wait because ranking for those keywords even moderately would transform the firm.

But I got cocky because of those early wins.

Maybe this industry isn’t as difficult to rank in as I’d thought, I said to myself.

I told them the goals, but hadn’t stressed that this phase would be a long term one.

When the needle wasn’t moving a whole lot by month 4 for those keywords, the client decided to call it quits.

SEO pro getting some bad news from a client

There wasn’t enough of a cumulative effect, enough carryover between ranked concepts to get where we were aiming fast enough.

Plus, I’m sure we needed a whole bunch more backlinks than we’d managed to snag as well.

Key takeaways:

  • It still makes sense to go after less competitive terms initially to build momentum, but make sure to always be optimizing for the “pie in the sky” keywords alongside those efforts. Even a 75/25 split favoring the easier keywords would make a difference.
  • It can be helpful to make a much longer content plan early on so you have a list of “stuff our blog will ultimately have to have to win” and select from that list each month so you don’t leave must-have topics till too much later.
  • Think more moves ahead. Have your goals for this month, but always know exactly where you hope to end up in 12 months and ensure everything you’re doing today is building toward that.
  • Don’t let some early success, especially if it was quicker than you expected, fool you into thinking the next phase will be easy. Or that the entire campaign will follow a straightforward trajectory based on those wins.
  • Whatever time frame you figure could work for your ranking goals, extend it at least 25%. Things happen and not every idea sticks, and you need time to pivot.
  • Thinking of planned blogs in terms of clusters can help organize the publishing strategy. Publish a few that are closely related alongside each other, make sure they all link to each other with useful context, and make sure you’re writing with enough breadth that certain would-be clusters aren’t being neglected.