How long is your tail?

October 3, 2006

The “long tail” is a term you will soon be hearing in SEO circles soon.

Before I get into the SEO implication let me talk a bit about the history of the concept.
The term “long tail” was coined by Chris Anderson, a writer at Wired magazine, who says that the collective demand for less-popular items (micro niches) can exceed the all the most popular added together.

Online music stores are a perfect illustration of “the long tail” as they can carry large inventories of music albums as they are not limited by shelf space like conventional brick and mortar stores.
Shelf space in a brick and mortar store has a price, and if the items on the shelf aren’t converting enough, you will need to replace the existing items with other items that convert better.

But this limitation doesn’t exist in the online domain. Amazon is a website has a digital inventory that would be many time more than what a traditional brick and mortar store can accommodate in physical media.

An interesting point to be noted is that only a small percentage of the total sales volume at Amazon comes from its best sellers. Most of its sales volumes come from the relatively obscure items that not many people buy.

So the aggregate revenue of all the “not so popular” items is 85% of the sales and only 15% from the best sellers.

You can see how companies are benefiting from this, but what does this have to do with your SEO efforts, and your web site?

Think SEO, and most people would think Google. Google states that more than 75% of its searches are unique search phrases that comprise 3 or more words. Most people make the mistake of trying to optimize their web pages for the short tail, i.e. the top keywords in their niche. For example if you were to focus your website on a keyword like “Stove” and I were to focus on a phrase like “Morso 3610 Wood Burning Stove”. While your webpage may be buried on the tenth page in Google, my webpage is most likely to be on the first page.

Now even though the number of searches for this phrase may be low, if I build my site around 50 such phrases the collective income from my site will far exceed your site.

Another advantge my site would have is that a person who comes to my site from a search for “Morso 3610 Wood Burning Stove” is a buyer, where as a person who searches for a term like “stove” might be searching for any kind of information related to a stove and not necessarily interested in buying a stove.

So the conversion rate on such focused phrases is much more than a generic phrase.

Now a question that may come to your mind is “How do I know what people are searching for?”

One option is to analyze your sites log files. You’d be amazed at the kind of marketing intelligence they can reveal.

An easier option is to use a free tracker like

This site has a link called “Referer tracking 1”, where it shows you the last 20 search engine queries that a user typed to find your site.

You would be amazed that there would be such obscure terms in there which people have found your web page for.

Your next step is to save these keywords and create additional web pages optimized for these phrases.

Now these new pages you have added might be found for further obscure terms. So this continual process can eventually make your site a leader in the niche you are targeting.

So remember using the long tail concept you can make money off obscure key phrases that others are leaving lying on the table.

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