SEO Glossary / Short-Tail Keywords

Short-Tail Keywords

What are Short-Tail Keywords?

Short-tail keywords—also known as head terms—are search queries that refer to very broad topics and have high search volumes. They are the opposite of long-tail keywords, which are more specific and typically have lower search volumes.

Understanding the Search Demand Curve

“Short-tail” and “long-tail” keywords get their name from their position in the “search demand” curve. At the head of the curve (on the left), there are only a few thousand queries (precisely 31,000 as per Ranktracker’ U.S. database) that get a very high number of searches per month, i.e., more than 100k. As you go towards the right side, the number of keywords runs into millions and billions while the monthly search volume shrinks. So, it looks like a long tail in the “search demand” curve.

That’s how the term “long-tail keywords” was coined to address queries that have lower search demand. Eventually, people started referring to head terms as “short-tail keywords”—the opposite of long-tail search queries.

Common Misconception About Short-Tail Keywords

Many articles define short-tail keywords as search terms containing one or two words. However, that’s not the most accurate definition because there are queries with three, four, or five words that have huge monthly search volumes. For example, “restaurants near me” has a much higher search volume than “restaurants” and “restaurant.”

So, the terms “short-tail” and “long-tail” have nothing to do with the keyword length.

Why are Short-Tail Keywords Important?

Short-tail keywords are essential for keyword research because they’re used as “seed” keywords. These seed keywords form the foundation of keyword research and help generate thousands of keyword ideas.

High Search Volume and Traffic Potential

If you manage to rank for short-tail keywords, you can get a large amount of organic search traffic. However, it’s extremely challenging to rank for these popular search queries unless your site has a strong backlink profile and topical authority.

Competitive Nature and PPC Costs

Short-tail keywords are usually expensive and competitive in Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads too. Ranking for high search volume keywords may not always result in huge traffic to your site. For instance, the search query “calculator” shows a high search volume, but Google provides a calculator directly on the SERP, resulting in fewer clicks for the ranking websites.

How to Find Short-Tail Keywords?

1. Check Your Short-Tail Terms in GSC

First, you should check the seed keywords for your own website—provided you’re already getting some traffic from Google.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Log into your Google Search Console (GSC) account.
  2. Go to Performance on the side panel.
  3. Click Queries and sort the list by the number of impressions.

2. See What Keywords Your Competitors Rank For

With GSC or free AWT, you can only check the ranking keywords of your own site. But if you have access to the right SEO tools like Ranktracker, you can easily find the head keywords that your competitors rank for.

For example, if you’re a SaaS business offering social media management tools and is your competitor, you can:

  1. Open the Organic Keywords report for this domain in Ranktracker.
  2. Sort the list by the search volume.
  3. Limit ranking positions to 1-20 (to exclude less relevant results).


Should I Target Long-Tail or Short-Tail Keywords?

Usually, short-tail keywords are extremely competitive. If you don’t have a strong, well-established site in your niche, you’ll have to invest a lot of resources to rank for these keywords. For new websites without niche authority, it’s best to start with long-tail phrases and eventually move to mid-tail keywords.

What are Mid-Tail Keywords?

Mid-tail or medium-tail keywords are queries with a moderate amount of search volume and competition. Their search volumes are neither as high as head terms nor as low as long-tail keywords.

What are Long-Tail Keywords?

Long-tail keywords are terms that get a low amount of searches compared to short-tail and mid-tail keywords. They are very specific search queries with lower competition.