The Long Tail is often discussed in SEO (and PPC), but is still largely misunderstood or unactioned. It is not a term unique to Search Engine Marketing, but is also used in many other industries to describe the situation where a small number of customers/products individually create large amounts of profit, but the larger pool of small profit customers/products bring in the vast majority of overall profit.
Lets have a quick look at the long tail, noting that you should easily be able to see this phenomenon reflected in your own traffic statistics.
One of my sites, has over 10,000 visits from search per month. This (natural) search traffic comes from over 6,500 different search terms!
Around 10% of this traffic (being generous), comes from a few key search terms. The remaining 90% comes from a vast array of search terms, which each bring less than 0.1% of traffic.
This is the long tail. The huge array of search terms which alone aren’t bringing significant traffic, but without them, your overall search traffic would be decimated. Within this gigantic list of terms are opportunities you can capitalise on.
How do you do this?
Step 1 – Understanding Your Long Tail
You can make a graph of your own site’s ‘long tail’, like the one above, by exporting your search term traffic data from your analytics package, and making a graph of it in Excel – Traffic on the Y axis, Terms on the X axis.
There are different long tail graphs you should make:
a) The overall long tail graph – all your search traffic – shows you which terms are driving traffic overall. Branded terms should figure high in the ‘head’ section.
b) The branded and non-branded long tail graphs – branded and non-branded terms behave very differently, so you need to analyse them both separately AND together
c) SEO and PPC long tail graphs – you need to know where the traffic is coming from to be able to optimise for it, so you better separate your organic and paid traffic.
Once you have made these different graphs and tables, it is time for
Step 2 – Analysing Your Long Tail
Look for patterns in your long tail. Some questions you might want to ask include:
a) Are your main terms often part of the smaller terms? This shows an effective SEO strategy whereby your main SEO is benefitting long tail terms. Can this be replicated to produce other ‘free’ longtail campaigns? ( SEO can help in the long tail and the head. The purpose of a good SEO strategy is to increase ranking for specific (usually competitive) terms, which if done correctly should also mean that similar but less popular terms also gain visibility.)
b) Are there common themes which are surprising – if you are getting a lot of long tail traffic for a common theme, perhaps there is a related ‘head’ term which should be incorporated into your SEO or PPC strategy?
c) Are there few main themes? If so, then perhaps you should try and develop your SEO campaign to develop some ‘free’ long tail campaigns. Or alternatively, how can you group these terms for a more comprehensive PPC longtail campaign? The key is try and organise your long tail so that you can better manage it.
d) Is your PPC head largely Branded terms – this is a common phenomenon, and you need to ask yourself – can this be easily shifted to natural traffic to save money?
e) Is your non-branded SEO traffic largely in tail terms? This insinuates an ineffective SEO campaign for specific terms. Maybe you aren’t targetting high traffic terms? It is important to try and get head terms from SEO as well, just so you aren’t dependent on the fluctuations in the PPC bidding market.
Your own long tail will raise its own questions and patterns, so obviously this list of questions is non-exhaustive.
Step 3 – Expanding on Your Long Tail
How to do keyword research for the long tail? Well of course you can use your normal keyword tools, where you suggest terms and they give you more. Or you can use Googles Search-based Keyword Tool, where you type in your URL and it suggests terms for your particular site (AND links each term to an appropriate landing page – v. useful).
Another way is to look in your natural search term traffic report. You will see tonnes of tail terms which people will come to your site on. You might wonder, if you are already getting traffic from them via natural search, why spend money bidding on them in PPC? Good point, but the reason is that those terms should be cheap, so you can just test and see if you can improve on your natural search performance. If not, switch it off!
Then, you can also use those natural tail terms to try and generate more tail terms using your normal keyword tools.
Some PPC marketers might think that they can use broad match instead of doing longtail keyword research. You could – but don’t think it will bring optimal results. Also, remember it is largely only going to bring traffic for terms that have your nominated search terms as stems. It doesn’t hurt to make a long tail keyword list in your PPC campaign – if no one is searching for those terms, you won’t pay!
The key with long tail PPC campaigning is to make sure that you group your long tail terms appropriately so that you can target your ads effectively and therefore minimise wasted clicks.