If I wanted to create an article would it be best to start with just the main keyword or go straight to the long tail?
Short answer: Yes. Always use the longtail as it brings more relevant content. If there isn’t enough content, then add in some more broader keywords.
In SCM you can actually combine both techniques in the article creator.
Add you “base keyword” at the top and add 1-2 additional long tail keywords for the keywords you are targeting.
Remember also that the article creator will cache any content it finds, so if you want to “refresh it” tick “clear content cache on run”.
If you use the content wizard it tries to suggest you long tail keywords by making you select some suggestions.
You can even take it all the way and just mine a large list of long tail keywords and use each keyword for just one page.
It isn’t so hard to generate a 300 keyword list of long tail using the long tail scraper that is part of SCM.