Here is one of the plays that comes right out of my Search Engine Optimization (SEO) playbook. This tip should make you more money with your website, but it also unfortunately takes more work for you to implement. This technique is one of the tips that high performance website owners use to dominate Google.
What is the “The Long Tail”?
The Long Tail has a detailed definition at Wikipedia, which goes into quite a lot of detail that gets a little bit too detailed, but the opening paragraph is useful for this discussion. It goes like this:
The phrase The Long Tail was first coined by Chris Anderson in an October 2004 Wired magazine article to describe the niche strategy of businesses, such as Amazon.com or Netflix, that sell a large number of unique items, each in relatively small quantities. Anderson elaborated the Long Tail concept in his book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More (ISBN 1-4013-0237-8).
So we know that The Long Tail is a phrase that describes selling a large number of items, in realatively small quantities, that add up to be a large volume. In other words, the web makes it possible to sell a large number of items in small quantities, which when added up exceed the amount of more popular items that are sold. Amazon.com is an excellent representation of a company that sells way more unpopular books than it does popular books. The problem for Amazon, of course, is that it has to keep an incredible inventory of books in its inventory.
The point of the graph is that overall, Amazon.com makes more money (the yellow area) selling unpopular books overall, than it does selling popular books (the green area). This yellow area, is the long tail.
How does this help my website with search engines?
You probably thought I was going off track talking about books and Amazon.com, but I needed to explain that to lead you up to this next point. You and I can’t go out and build a warehouse and stock more books than Amazon.com, but there are things that are in virtually limitless supply that will help you sell online, and these are your keyword phrases and terms that your website contains. In other words, most website owners focus too much on a small number of phrases that they believe customers will enter into Google. The more popular phrases, or the first thing that comes into their mind, and they stop. If more time was spent focusing on a larger number of phrases and terms…. targeted words that coincided with each and every page in the website, they would have much, MUCH more success with less frustration. Lets take this further….
Focusing on Keyword Quality AND Quantity for SEO
Lets say that you are a Realtor. And you live in the state that I live in, Delaware. An you want to come up high in Google under “Delaware Real Estate”. So in your real estate website, you target the phrase “Delaware Real Estate” and you put it everywhere in your website. You might even hire an SEO guy to “optimize” your website to get that term in there everywhere. But nothing happens. You don’t really get a lot of traffic to your site, and when you search for this term in Google, you aren’t on one of the first couple of pages in search results. Something must be wrong with your website! Well, not really. It is more likely that something is wrong with your approach, because unless your website has an extremely high Google PageRank (discussed in a future blog post in detail), you aren’t likely to come up under that search term. So lets analyze why that might happen.
From the detail that Google gives us above, we can see above that 60,500 people searched Google for “Delaware Real Estate” in February 2009. The solid green bar also shows us that more than likely, quite a number of people are bidding on that term in Google’s AdWords system. This means that if you want to pay Google to have an advertisement under that term, you will probably need to budget into the thousands of dollars per month to both rank high in the paid listings, and have enough money to have staying power month to month. But lets face it – an individual Realtor won’t pay that. More people click on the free listings anyway, and since they are free, that is the place where Realtors want to be – at the top of of the organic (free) search results. It could also be argued that this term is too broad, so paying a premium for it or chasing it in your SEO might not be the best use of your time and money, since people that are searching for very broad terms are much less likely to be your ideal customer. This phrase (Delaware Real Estate), because it gets a significant amount of traffic, puts it into the green area of the graph, and it is not part of the long tail. Lets look at another phrase.
Now I did a search for “Dover Delaware Real Estate”. All I did is add the word “Dover” to the search phrase, making it 4 words long. You can see that Google shows “not enough data” for the month of February, but overall, they have statistics showing an average of 2,400 people per month that are searching for this phrase. Obviously this is a lot less people than the number that was searching for “Delaware Real Estate”. You can also see that not as many people are bidding up the value of the phrase, because the vague little green bar isn’t all the way full. If I were a real estate agent in Dover, Delaware, I would be targeting the crap out of this phrase. This phrase does not get a lot of traffic, but it is VERY targeted. There is also less competition for it, which is VERY important. It gets enough traffic to make it relevant to your website, so it should definitely be in there. More importantly than just including it, is WHERE you include it. Instead of being stuffed randomly throughout the website, it would make a lot of sense to make a page designed solely around this one term. The title of the page, the heading tag in the page, the content, the inbound text links, meta tags (not as useful, but not dead), and other attributes of that page should all have that term in it. This is where Delaware.Net shines, because we are very good at this, and we can automate much of it for you.
The Bottom Line
By targeting a larger volume of terms and phrases that are more specific, but less popular, will help you to cast a wider net with Google. Since there is less competition for larger word combinations, it is easier to dominate those phrases and come up number one. Understand that it is still sometimes worth the effort to target a two-word popular phrase, but as the popularity goes up, so does the work required to get noticed by Google for those popular phrases.
Action Plan For Using The Long Tail
Here is a “to do” list of things that you can do to use this technique in your website.
- Use Free Keyword Tools – There are a lot of tools online for generating keywords, and for researching keywords. You can get a good start on your own, but these tools sometimes expose ways that people search for your products that you are not aware of.
- Create a Larger List of Keywords – Don’t stop at 20 or even 50 terms. The more keyword research you do, the longer your list should be.
- Don’t Worry – You can always add more and more detailed keywords to your site as you go, but the sooner they get in there the better. Moving up in Google and changing your PageRank value can take months.
- Automate Where Possible – I mentioned in my example above that the Realtor should have a page in their site for ever city in their state. This could be done by manually creating each of those pages, or, it could be done by making a dynamic city page. In other words, one city page whose content changes on the fly, depending on how you link to it. Using this technique, I was able to make a page for every state in the country for a client in minutes. Be smart and plan this out with your web designer.
- Use Long-Tail Terms Everywhere – Google reads only what you give it, so these terms should exist in your links as well as your content. Also consider adding these tags to your image alt tags, and your link title tags.
- Add Pages – If you are able to add pages and content to your website on your own, then keep in mind that beside the cost of your time, those pages are free of charge to you. So the more content that you put into your website the better. This doesn’t mean that you should indiscriminately add pages and pages that have nothing but keywords in them. If you aren’t able to add pages and content to your website on your own, then consider adding a Content Management System (CMS) to your website. Almost every site we build now contains a CMS system so that clients can add and edit content on their own.
- Ecommerce Tricks
- Informational Products- If you have an ecommerce store, then you should be able to add detailed descriptions of products, and also have the ability to add informational pages. In other words, it is possible to add pages into an ecommerce store that behave as articles, even if they are within a product page. In our store engine, we built the ability to hide the checkout and “add to cart” icons on certain pages. We call those pages “informational pages”. This was done so that customers can embed articles into the product catalog.
- We also created “informational options”, which allows customers to add keyword-laden instructions into the options area of the product pages.
- Always mix up your keywords in your custom page titles. The page title is the text that appears at the top of your browser window, and this can be edited on each product page. Instead of using the same keywords over and over in your store, add a custom title that reflects the make, model, part number, and keywords that reference each product.
- Blogs – If you are an expert at what you do, then you should add a blog to your site. Most importantly, you should keep it updated. Blogs are an easy and inexpensive way to add supplemental content to your website. I charge only $50 a year to host a blog, and there are free alternatives online as well. Blogs can exist as a site on their own as well, like this one. Adding articles to your blog that have long-tail phrases in them are very helpful.
- Add Product/Services Pages – get into detail about what you do, so that you can have more rich content in your site.
- Use Tagging Features – Blogs, Ecommerce Stores, and our new CMS system contain the ability to add keyword tagging links to each page. Use this feature to mix up how you are describing the content in your site. If you don’t know what this is, please ask me.
Problems with The Long Tail
- More Keyword Research is Required- Leveraging this technique requires more research time to find phrases that work. There are many resources online for generating keywords and phrases. You can’t be effective by only using one tool, so you see why this takes a lot of time. I can steer you in the right direction if you want more information on them.
- More Pages Need to Be Built – You might need a page for every city in your county if you were a Realtor that was following my example above. Also, you would need to know another dozen tricks or so for how to add those words in your site the right way. Many website owners forget that traffic can come from Google to one of your deeper pages (not your home page). So each page should be a little bit different and highly targeted to a small group of phrases, instead of stuffing lots of phrases into one page.
- There are Exceptions – Landing number one on a popular phrase can make you rich. I have seen it happen. But since Google shuffles up the index from time to time, that easy money can quickly vanish. Having a larger catalog of terms in your website that you target is like balancing your stock portfolio.
- It Requires Time – If you aren’t looking at your traffic reports and your inbound link performance from search engines, then you have no basis for measuring your performance. If you want to experiment with strategies like this one, you have to schedule monthly reviews of your traffic, to make sure that it is working for you.
- Fresh, Unique, Targeted Content is Still King – This isn’t what most website owners want to hear, but it is the truth. Search engines like fresh content. Stuffing your website with terms and walking away from it won’t necessarily help you in the long run. You should instead focus on how to adapt the long tail strategy into your overall strategy of adding and updating content in your website in an ongoing way.
- There is More – A solid website that has a solid SEO effort involves work in a lot of areas, so this is in no way a magic bullet.
I hope that this article will help you better optimize your website content better, and help you focus more on what will help you to get noticed. If you have questions about this article, or you have a related question, please reply using the comments under this post. I promise to answer every one.