search engine optimization

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, 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.)

search engine optimization

The Long Tail of search represents dozens of search terms that each generate a few clicks
each month.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)
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. hey’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. 


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.


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. 

Thanks for reading.

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