Keyword Strategies – The Long Tail

An important marketing concept known as “The Long Tail” is used to describe the hundreds to thousands of keywords and key phrases that a website is found for, yet rarely noticed or exploited by owners of the website.

The principle of the Long Tail is the opposite of focusing on the top 10-20 keywords for marketing your website. The “top keyword” concept is reinforced by agencies that contract to gain rankings for 10-20 terms, maybe 30. However, when studying the referrals from the search engines and the traffic they generate, those that focus on the top 10-20 terms may be missing the majority of their market.

People tend to focus on the thousands of visitors that come to the site for the most popular terms. Most site managers are very happy to see the numbers increase for those specific terms, and even happier to see those terms consistently ranking well. Conventional thinking applies the 80-20 rule that the top terms provide 80% of the business, but in evaluating multiple sites, this has proved to be the opposite.

In most cases, the top 10 terms provide a lot of traffic, but not nearly as much as the total terms after the top 10 or 20 most popular. Add up the terms that refer 1-3 visits during the month, and chances are, they will add up to more total visitors than the top terms. On closer examination, most sites will have the majority of their business (sales and leads) generated from these terms that are rarely tracked. This is the heart of the long tail — the length, or total number of low-number referred terms outnumbers the height, or the total of top 10 terms.

Image from Chasing the Long Tail at the LeftClick Blog

This image from the article, “Chasing the Long Tail” at the LeftClick Blog perfectly illustrates the concept.

In other words, the terms that are most popular, most managed by site owners, are rarely those that provide the most business. In most studies, the success of the site was from the hundreds or thousands of referrals outside of the most popular terms. This was investigated and reported by Chris Anderson in Wired. As an example, Amazon.com makes 57% of sales from keywords outside of the “popular” terms.

In the world of the web, where minute details are tracked, business is not won in the dozens of mega-popular terms, business is made in the “thousands of dozens.” The groups of terms that may only result in a single visit, but number in the thousands. These are the dozens of market segments that search for specific needs, specific requirements and detailed terms.

Of course, we tried this with some of our clients, and ALL of them fit the “Long Tail” principle. The most significant was a client whose main requirement was to rank for two terms. He believed that all of his customers focused on those two terms as well. An initial report showed that his top 10 terms brought in over half of the site’s overall search referrals. However, when looking at sales generated by search terms,18.6% of conversions were from top 10 keywords. Conversely, 81.2% of the conversions were from hundreds of other search terms outside of the top 10. The 80/20 rule works in reverse, providing a sweet spot of opportunity.

Search your keyword referrals, but leave out the top terms. What types of terms are bringing your site visitors? Where are your sales being generated? If you are not tracking sales generated by keywords, then it’s time to break out the heavy artillery of a good stats program and find out if the Long Tail is working for you.

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