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Long Tail Search

What is Long Tail Search?

Long Tail wasn’t coined to deal specifically with search. Anderson was originally trying to explain the difference between the success of e-commerce stores compared to that of brick-and-mortar stores. His theory was that because of space constraints, brick-and-mortar stores have to justify every item that’s put on their shelves. This means the items have to ‘‘earn their keep,’’ so to speak, which in turn means that an item found in a store needs to generate
consistently high revenue.
E-commerce stores aren’t beholden to the same rules. Theoretically, an e-commerce store doesn’t have to pay for the actual shelf space to stock a store, which should reduce the cost of carrying items. In many cases, nor do e-commerce stores have to physically stock an item in a warehouse somewhere. They can (and very often do) use a method called drop shipping, whereby products are shipped directly from manufacturer to consumer. The e-commerce site is nothing more than an order-taking system. That reduces the cost of providing a wide selection of items to consumers, which in turn means that e-commerce stores can afford to stock less popular, but still wanted, items. A commonly quoted example of this concept is a brick-and-mortar bookstore such as Barnes and Noble versus a pure e-commerce store such as Amazon.com. By most estimates, Barnes and Noble stocks an average of 300,000 books, and not all of those books appear in all stores. What all those books do have in common is that they sell a certain number of copies each month.
They are items that have proven to be in demand, and therefore they earn the half inch or so that they occupy on the shelf.
Amazon.com stocks millions of books — many of them books that don’t sell more than a copy or two each month. Nonetheless, Amazon is still a successful retail business because it costs much less to make those books available to customers. There’s no shelf to pay for and not everything you find on the Amazon.com web site is stored in Amazon warehouses, which means Amazon can offer customers books that are less popular or are popular with only a niche
segment of the population.

What really makes this concept interesting from both a retailing and a searching aspect is that studies show that around 20 percent of the revenue generated by a retailer is generated by the most popular items — those items that are most searched for and most in demand. The remaining 80 percent of revenue is generated by the less popular niche items that users are searching for.
The Long Tail in action
The Long Tail, then, is roughly the reverse of Pareto’s Principle, which would hold that 20 percent of a company’s products generate 80 percent of its sales. (Keep in mind that this is an estimate.
The exact ratio of products to sales varies by company. You’ll see estimates of everything from 20/80 to 50/50.) The important point of this Long Tail theory is that a large number of niche products can, and do, generate a huge volume of sales. Companies such as eBay prove it.
eBay is a niche product company. Search for products on eBay and you’ll find all kinds of very obscure and yet in-demand products. The adage, ‘‘One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,’’ applies, just as it applies to Long Tail search theories, too.
The Long Tail can be represented by a graph, where the vertical axis details the number of a particular product sold, and the horizontal axis illustrates the number of products that sell something each month.
The theory holds that the top-selling item for any given retailer sells nearly twice what the next-ranked item sells, and that each item after that progressively decreases. For example, a sample Long Tail graph for any given retail store might look something like the one shown in Figure 2-1. (How this model relates to search terms is indicated in parentheses on the figure.)

Notice the narrow spike at the beginning of the graph ( illustrating the number of highly popular items) and the long tail of less popular items from the middle to the end of the graph. For example, consider an electronics store. The items that make up that spike are products such as the Nintendo Wii, the iPod Touch, and other wildly popular products that everyone thinks they must have. (The spike is called the Broad Head, a term that is discussed later in the chapter.)
The Long Tail theory that Anderson posited for e-commerce works for search behavior too, because what is the Internet but a giant conglomeration of both popular and obscure information and products? An illustration of the Long Tail will help you get the full picture.
For example, a computerized version of Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick was broken down by word, and each word was ranked according to the number of times it was used in the book.
What researchers found was that the word ‘‘the’’ was the most frequently used word, at about 15,000 times.
Of course, the word ‘‘the’’ doesn’t tell you anything at all about the content of the book. Conversely, the word ‘‘whale,’’ which would seem to be more indicative of the novel’s subject, was used only 2,000 times. It ranked twenty-first on the list of words included in the book by frequency.
Translating this example to search, you have to think in terms of keywords. Someone searching for the word ‘‘the’’ in the book would find many instances but not necessarily helpful ones in terms of a search for the book’s topic. Switching to the term ‘‘whale’’ would show fewer search results, but better-targeted ones. A user would be able to gather more information from the results returned.
When you’re considering keywords for your web site, therefore, you have to look at all the words that are indicative of your chosen topic. When you do, you’ll find that only a small percentage of those words appear frequently, and these are usually very broad terms. They’ll generate a lot of clicks, but if you concentrate only on them, you could miss out on a sizable number of clicks that are more narrowly focused.
Here’s a real-world illustration from a web site for which I create content. Table 2-1 contains a list of search terms that were used to find articles on this site in a given day. The table indicates that the top three terms generated 285 clicks for the site. Those are pretty broad terms. Dig deeper into the search terms, however, and you’ll see that the remaining 29 terms generated almost half as many clicks, totaling 139. Notice, too, that the majority of the terms that have low click rates are very specific — those visitors were looking for something in particular. Google is widely known for understanding the intricacies of search better than any other search engine company on the planet. And after studying search patterns, the gurus at Google estimate that about half of all searches through the Google search engine are one of a kind. That equals more than 100 million unique searches each day on Google alone. Add in all the other search engines out there, and the number of unique searches in a day’s time is absolutely astronomical.

TABLE 2-1
Long Tail Keywords Add Up
Keyword        Number of Clicks

Identity theft                      145
Identity theft articles      98
Identity theft statistics    42
Election scams                     15
Steps to recover from identity theft                       15
Identity theft methods              10
Reporting identity theft            8
Internet identity theft statistics   7
How to report identity theft          7
Ident            5
What is monitoring your credit         5
Top identity theft method      4
Idetit         4
Identity theft.com     4
Id theft 4
Tips for reporting identity theft 3
Lightyear wireless + scam 3
2006 identity theft statistics 3
Do my own credit check 3
How to use stolen identities 3
Email spoofing 3
Computer spyware 3
Definition of identity theft 3
Identity theft where to begin 3
Where is identity theft the most prevalent 3
How to know identity thief on credit card 3

Identity theft information 3
How identity theft happens 3
Identi 3
Credit card protection 3
Signing president bush identity theft enforcement and restitution act of 2008 3
Dumpster diving identity theft 3

Characteristics of Long Tail keywords
Long Tail keywords are not actually keywords. They’re more key phrases that are very specific; and all Long Tail search queries have a few things in common:
■ Average 3–5 words in length
■ Usually not competitive phrases
■ Usually directly related to a product or specific bit of information
■ Each phrase generates only a few clicks each month.
How do you know which Long Tail phrases are appropriate for your web site? To know that, you have to understand a little about how people search. People rarely search for random information — they are usually looking for something specific. If you have an idea of what visitors might be searching for, then you know how to target each of those searches, using both broad terms and narrower Long Tail phrases. Here are some bits of information that people use search engines to find:
■ Product names
■ Product functionality
■ Product appeal
■ Product quality
■ Product usefulness
■ Uses of products
■ Solutions to problems
■ General industry terms
■ Specific industry terms

■ General terms and geographical locations
■ Specific terms and geographical locations
These are pretty general, but if you begin to apply key terms from your web site topic to these bits of information, then you can see the different ways that you might apply both broad terms and Long Tail key phrases to your SEO efforts.
Clearly, Long Tail keywords can be a very important part of your SEO strategy. They can account for a sizable chunk of the clicks that are generated on your site each day. And that’s to say nothing of the value of clicks that result from Long Tail keywords. There’s more on that a little later in this chapter.

Long Tail vs. Broad Head
Going back to applying Long Tail to products rather than search, the items that make up the Long Tail of less popular products are things such as food, cleaning supplies, and some clothing items. These are the products that you actually must have on a weekly basis to survive.
For example, consider your own spending. Think of all the purchases that you make in a given month (we’re taking bills out of the equation; it’s too painful to think about those every month and they’re only loosely classified as products, so worthless to us at the moment). Chances are good that you spend a certain amount of money every month on the essentials that it takes to survive and maintain a household. Those are the items that appear in the Long Tail theory that
Anderson posited.
You may also spend a certain amount of your income each month on nonessential items. These are things (like the new iPod Touch) that you don’t need but would really like to have. The products that fall into this ‘‘want’’ category are often referred to as being in the Broad Head. Now compare the two. Two things should stand out in this comparison. First, it’s likely that your spending on the essentials is larger than your spending on the one or two want items that you’ve been eyeing. Second, you’ll re-spend on essentials every month.
Is the picture becoming clearer? Translating this to search, it works about the same way. Searchers are going to search for those big, Broad Head search terms (the ones that are wildly popular) when they’re at the beginning of a buying process. But as they narrow their buying process, they’ll search for narrower terms — Long Tail search terms. These narrower terms are like the essential items that you pick up at Wal-Mart each week. They’re not as popular as the
more exciting terms, but people will keep searching for them.

Here’s the best part in all of this: Those searchers who are looking for the less common terms are also looking for more-targeted words and are in a more purchasing state of mind — they’ve worked through the buying process and are closer to making a purchase, which also means they’re closer to reaching whatever goal conversion you’ve set up for them.

Working from the Bottom Up
Even though it now seems as if those Long Tail keywords are the most important ones, you shouldn’t discount the value of Broad Head words either. When you’re considering the keywords and phrases that you want to use to market your web site and to rank in search engines, you should be looking at both Broad Head and Long Tail terms.
The key is how you do it. You have broad, usually very popular terms that everyone is fighting for, and then you have narrow terms that are used by people who are more likely to reach a conversion goal on your site, whether it’s to purchase a product or service, to fill out a form that generates a sales lead, or to sign up for a newsletter or other marketing-related service. Knowing this, your instinct is to go to the heart of the matter and shoot for the audience most likely to convert.
In doing so, however, you leave a large part of the audience out completely. The broad-term searchers may not be as likely to reach a conversion goal right now, but they might reach that goal in the future, so you also want to bring those searchers to your site. Finding the right balance of broad-term keywords and Long Tail keywords can be a little tricky, though. So how do you handle it? I say start at the bottom and work your way up. Obviously, you want to generate a lot of traffic as quickly as possible, but you also need to prove that your efforts are working, so you need to reach people who are going to convert quickly. Each Long Tail keyword isn’t going to generate a lot of traffic, but it will generate very specific traffic — people who have a goal in mind. Your job is to help them reach that goal. Understand that you’re not
going to optimize for one type of keyword over another. It’s not Long Tail first and then Broad Head — the two really go hand-in-hand. You should focus on optimizing both. Many web site owners begin with the broad keywords that reach the largest audience and come back later to build pages that are more highly targeted.
That method works, albeit slowly. Instead, optimize for the broad terms, but also for the Long Tail terms. That means putting together pages as quickly as possible that target both broad terms and more specific terms. You can use multiple keywords per page, so a progression from broad to narrow on a single page works fine.
For example, if you own a web site that sells electronic gadgets, you’ll need pages that target broad keywords such as electronics, cell phones, MP3 players, and whatever other categories of electronics you might offer; but you also need to include much more specific terms, such as iPhone, HTC G1, iPod, Zune, and Sandisk on those same pages. The solution is to create content that is relevant to the narrower Long Tail keywords. In the process, however, it will be nearly impossible for you to create that content without including references to the Broad Head terms.

For example, the front page of your web site will likely introduce your company, show special offers and featured products, and perhaps have small articles or text-based snippets of information that are targeted to specific products. Each of those broader categories is going to lead to a page that’s progressively more specific with each level of the site into which the user goes.
Therefore, the next page might be slightly more detailed and narrow, and the next page more focused still. On each of these pages, you’re targeting a couple of sets of keywords. The first will be the broad terms that apply to your site. On your electronics site, a second page might be related to MP3 players. On that page, you could create an article or even a chart that explains to the site visitor what features to look for in an MP3 player.
Each of those features will lead one page deeper to an explanation of the feature that you’re highlighting, and from that page you could go even deeper (and narrower) to explain to the visitor what specific uses that feature has. Along the way, though, you’ll probably refer to the term ‘‘MP3 player’’ several times on each page, so you’re not only creating content that targets the Long Tail keywords and phrases; the same content also targets the broader terms.
It’s in this melding of both broad terms and Long Tail terms that you’ll find your most powerful keyword mixture.

Tying It All Together
Here’s why using both Long Tail and Broad Head keywords works: The Long Tail keywords will likely generate the most traffic for you in the beginning — hence my advice to work from the bottom up. If you optimize your site for those Long Tail words, you should very quickly begin to see results from those efforts.
You’re not going to debut your site and generate tons of traffic, no matter how well you optimize it; and Long Tail keywords aren’t a magic solution ensuring that you automatically have a ton of converting traffic either. However, competition for Long Tail keywords isn’t as tough as it is for the broader ones, so you should begin to see traffic more quickly than if you just target the broader words.
Cost is another consideration. Broad keywords tend to be far more expensive when you’re using keyword-targeted ads than the keywords and phrases associated with Long Tail search terms. In fact, it’s possible that you’ll rank on the first page for some Long Tail words and phrases within a few days (and sometimes even just a few hours) of going live. Because these terms are narrow and more targeted, there’s not as much competition. As soon as a search crawler examines your site and adds it to the results database, you should begin to see some kind of ranking.
If the Long Tail terms you’ve selected are well targeted, then the site will likely be fairly high in the rankings. I’ve seen some web sites create pages that appeared in the top 10 on Google search results for their chosen term within four hours. It’s rare, but it does happen.
In addition to your site showing up in rankings for Long Tail terms faster than for broad terms, you should see traffic that’s converting at a reasonably steady rate as well. Remember that Long Tail keywords tend to target visitors who are further along in the buying process, which means they’re ready to make a commitment. Whether that’s to sign up for your site newsletter or actually make a purchase from your site, if you’re showing up high enough in search rankings to
garner clicks, then it’s likely that you’re also going to reach goal conversions with those visitors who find you.
Of course, the Broad Head keywords will also generate some traffic. In the beginning, it will be slow; but over time (and that’s the key with Broad Head words) the traction that you gain with your Long Tail keywords will contribute to traction for the broader words. Where broad terms with a lot of competition are concerned, numerous factors go into determining search ranking. One of those considerations is how long your web site has been around. Another is how much traffic is generated from other, more targeted searches. And if you’ve optimized your site well, for both Long Tail and broad terms, then you should begin to see your ranking for those broader words climb too. Long Tail search terms are not an SEO panacea. Long Tail targeting is a strategy. It works well when done properly, but alone it won’t guarantee you top ranking or high conversion rates. Moreover, Long Tail should be just one facet of a well-considered, well-planned, and well-executed SEO plan.

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