17 Dec 2009

Using the Long Tail of Search to Attract Leads

It was a great disappointment to hear that Chris Anderson is taking a hiatus from his Long Tail blog.  If you don’t know Chris, I should tell you that he’s written some great information on long tail search, and how it relates to the future of your business. To make a long story short, many are speculating that the long tail will be the end of mass marketing. And while I rarely hear people talking about the importance of the long tail, as a business owner, you need to understand the decisive power of the long tail for several reasons:

  1. 20% of all searches are with keywords that have never been used before
  2. You can’t optimize a page for keyword searches you don’t know about
  3. Upshot bloggers who understand what I’m talking about are going to out-compete you in the search results and steal your business
  4. Once you do understand the long tail, you can increase your business greatly by applying some long tail strategies to your search marketing campaign

To demonstrate the power of long tail search, this blog post today is going to give you a glimpse into how long tail search has helped us attract not only visitors to our website, but has also generated leads for our quality link building services. As I go through this example, think about how this abstract information can be directly applied to your business.

How This Blog Post Really Began

When I first began working for Vertical Measures, one of my first assignments was to create a series of SEO videos. Now this is a keyword that gets between 2-4K searches every month. Based on the quality of the content, and some very minimal onsite SEO and social sharing, the page we created quickly shot into the Google top 10. But the interesting aspect of this story comes months later, when our analytics guy noticed we were getting leads from several long tail keywords related to the videos. As he delved into the specifics, he found several other long tail leads…not traffic, leads. And hence, this blog post was born.

What You MUST Know About the Long Tail

Now, I glosssed over something there. Did you notice I said, “based on the quality of the content?” Well, we should pay close attention to that because it’s part of an essential element you absolutely MUST understand about the long tail – it’s not really about engineering your pages, onsite SEO, or link building. Sure, those things play a role, but what’s really at the heart of the long tail is your ability to provide useful and valuable content for your readers. And if you can be helpful in a way that demonstrates your expertise while positioning yourself for an up-sale to your free content, it’s a win-win situation.  This is really Google’s entire business model, and I would ask you a simple question: if you’re trying to get ranked in Google, don’t you think it would be easier if you embraced their philosophy?

So many people are trying to game the system, engineer results, and pay for rankings. But if they just took a step back, they would see the big picture that many great thinkers and believers in Web 2.0 are championing. Maybe Powazek was onto something….maybe there’s some truth to the one true way: Making something great. Telling people about it. And then doing it again. If you get this, then you understand the changes that are happening on the Internet are characterized by open communication, decentralization of authority, freedom to share and reuse information, and the use the market as a conversation–they’re not about your website rankings (although this could be a side benefit if you follow the philosophy closely)

But enough about mediated culture and web 2.0 philosophy…the good news is this isn’t just about giving stuff away; the long tail carries with it particularly financial benefits for your business, and here are the rankings to prove it…

The Long Tail Rankings

Here’s a list of long tail keyword searches we pulled from our analytics.  Let me preface this by saying we didn’t optimize our site for any of these and our site doesn’t rank #1 for all these terms. In one case, we actually rank in position 10 (still on Google page 1). Yet each of these searches resulted in a qualified lead from our lead form. Now, if this isn’t incentive to work on your corporate blog, I don’t know what is.

  1. how to find citations local serach
  2. how do you know if you have H1 tags on your website
  3. building top quality websites
  4. how to get good links
  5. best link building companies
  6. best practices for link building
  7. how can Microformats help in local business
  8. seo residential services marketing
  9. seo+seo company+seo services+link+partner+resource
  10. us based outsource link building service
  11. social media marketing services pricing
  12. high quality link building service

These Long Tail Rankings Tell a Story

And this is the story…

Imagine a business owner searching for information on SEO for her website. When she first starts, she types in a short phrase, like SEO. She learns a little; then enough to know she needs H1 tags. But she doesn’t know how to tell if her website has them. So she types “how do you know if you have H1 tags on your website” into Google, and finds our video on just that topic. Maybe she reads more articles, or watches more videos, but based on what she sees, she decides she wants more information about our SEO services, so she fills out a form to request it.

The implication here is, as a business owner and website manager, you need to be inside the head of your customers just like this. You need to figure out the million and one ways people will be looking for information about your product, and even related products. Then you need to create free content that is truly helpful, not just hype about your product or service. And in addition, you need to offer searchers a way to initiate the next step with you to take them from a casual observer to an active client.

Now hopefully this conversation gives you a few ideas of how people are searching the long tail and how you might begin to apply it to your business. Of course, applying it to your business could be an entirely different article, and in fact, Mark Nunney wrote an article on just that: how to optimize your articles and pages for the long tail. So if you’re looking for some ideas on how to apply the concept of the long tail to your website or corporate blog, give it a read. And if you have 6 hours to kill, take a listen to Chris Anderson’s Free: The Future of a Radical Price. If you don’t have the time, buy his $19 abridged version.


  • Kevin Dec 18, 2009

    The long tail keywords are truly a plus… they are easier to rank for and indeed, harder to figure out. You can use a keyword tool to dig them out, that helps too. I myself use the ISpionage keyword tool which i find very good and does a really good job, but for long tail keywords having a good tool on your side is simply not enough.
    Like said in this article, you have to look with through your customers’ eyes and think like they do. What would one think when searching for something? What would one type when searching for something? There are millions of ways a simple service or product might be searched for, as there are millions of people searching, so the hardest thing is to try to think like the searchers. This is the reason why those long tail keywords have low competition and still attract qualified traffic.

  • Jerry Nordstrom Dec 18, 2009

    I like the topic Ralph. However can I ask you to be more specific and demonstrate some practical applications of long tail keywords in PPC, SEO?

    I have read a lot of articles about “you need to use the long tail” but rarely do I see examples of step by step implementation. Nor have I read careful evaluations of when it is appropriate and when it is not. It seems to me the longer the tail you pursue the more complex your campaign management, reporting and analysis can be. Determining the right balance of long tail complexity and efficient campaign management is critical to success.

    What are your suggestions for breaking down vast lists of long tail keywords in PPC campaigns for Content, Search, placements for images and so on? Do you break them down into hundreds of campaigns with thousands of micro adgroups each with a unique landing page? Consolidate them into general themes? How detailed to you get? How far do you take this approach? I have spoken to many Google “experts” on this, each has had a different approach.

    Long tail is an interesting study in human behavior and vocabulary.
    Each business, service and or product will have a different level of keyword complexity.
    A lawyer for example, may be fielding questions from a thousand different legal circumstances. Long tail really works in these cases, SEO or PPC.

    However, we do often find businesses where 98% of their search terms are contained in 10 simple phrases. Do you forget the 2%? NO, but you have to be careful about what resources your dedicate to that 2%. Don’t triple the complexity of your overall system for a small bump in returns.

    I’m being selfish here Ralph and asking you to share your knowledge and experiences in this area.

    Thanks – Jerry

  • Ralphm Dec 18, 2009

    Hi Jerry, your questions are very insightful, and yours is probably one of the most intelligent questions I’ve received on our blog. I checked out your blog too, very well written and interesting.

    In regard to your questions, I’m tempted to say that it’s not that complicated, but I’m also not running a fortune 500 company. I’m also tempted to say that that’s kinda the point. I think a lot of people have been saying this for a long time, in many ways. People like Merlin Mann, Gary Vaynerchuk, Matt Mullenweg, and other web 2.0, GPL and creative commons fanatics.

    Here’s what I mean. If you try to do all that management, you’re never going to make it. It’s way too complex; you’re gonna get bogged down. Maybe I’m wrong; maybe someone with more experience has a great way to manage all that stuff. But what I see is a growing momentum on the Internet toward the destruction of mass media. And the way it’s happening is one person at a time, like you or me, blogging about something we know a lot about and are passionate about.

    A large scale company is going to get left behind in this conversation, because they are not in the trenches. Many of them don’t understand the ground conditions, and therefore, they’re still doing the same old things, while a 21 year old girl video blogging from her room probably has more influence and reach than any commercial about makeup or fashion for girls in her age group. Really, it’s just a feeling…in no way is anything I’m saying based on hard metrics in anyway. But this is the future of advertising.

    It’s people like my mom, who started a Facebook group for quilters. My mom knows quilting in and out. So consequently, she doesn’t have to “think” about the long tail in the way you’re suggesting. It just comes naturally. I think this is really what Powazek was talking about. You can’t fake this stuff. You can’t go into a niche and try to finesse the long tail. It’s what Robert Scoble was suggesting when he asked if 2010 is the year SEO isn’t important anymore? and when he talked about big brands turn to small blog houses for big results

    You’re either a part of the demographic or your not. You either understand your customers needs, wants, desires, fears, loves, hates, or you don’t. And if you’re not part of their inner circle, if you don’t understand them inside out, watch out! Because when you try to fake it (as many have and many will), you’re going to stand out like a sore thumb. And no one’s going to listen. Why? Because people know, trust and love my mother. And when she tells you Singer sewing machines used to be great but now they’re a piece of crap, you’re going to listen, and you’re going to buy something other than a Singer.

  • Kaila S. Dec 18, 2009

    Jerry I also wanted to give a little feedback from my end. I write on our blog a bit, but most of my job duties are in the social media realm and in content development. I’ve suggested having clients utilize long tail keywords mostly on their blog and instruct them to have a plan of attack. What I mean by this is look at the long tail keywords that you want to target (using keyword research tools), and address the easiest ones. Which are those? The ones that are simply asking a question. Once you answer those you can go on to other keywords that you might see others using in your industry, and don’t be afraid to start building a campaign for that keyword and abandoning it when it fails. Its okay to fail, as long as you recognize it fast, and it doesn’t cost too much.

    One example I like to use is a post on our blog I wrote last year called “What is Link Building”. I wrote this post mostly because my family wanted to know what the heck I did for a living. I also wrote it for long tail purposes. I searched Google to see my competition for the keyword, used keyword analyzer to see how many times per month it was searched (under 800), and did what I could on the post to optimize it (meta title, description, keywords, etc…I promoted the post a little online, and that was that. Where does that post rank? On the first page of Google….and has for quite some time. It has received just shy of 700 views in the past year (this month it received 50 views….a year after it was posted). The average person stays on the page for over 4 minutes and the bounce rate isn’t great…but it’s not super bad either. I spent maybe an hour writing the post and doing my research.

    My point with this example is that by simply answering a basic question I have now received traffic back to my site that may or may not be my end clients, but at the very least I’m providing a service…which in the end helps branding for Vertical Measures right? Can you really put a price on that?

    I don’t have any examples for you on PPC but know there are pros and cons. Looking at the individual keywords in question, analyzing how many times per month they are searched, looking at your competition, and determining your potential ROI (PPC spend vs. return) will provide you with the logical answer on whether or not it is worth your time.

    Hope this helps! :)

  • Al Kuenn Dec 18, 2009

    Great article Ralph! I thought I would share a few thoughts that might answer some of Jerry’s questions. I manage PPC campaigns for a living, so some of these ideas will seem more pragmatic than theoretical.

    First, long tail keywords do not belong in a content campaign. They really should only be used in search campaigns only. You really only need a relatively few broad keywords in your adgroups for content campaigns.

    Jerry hit the nail on the head with the comment about the “80/20” rule (or maybe the 98/02 rule in this case).

    Long tail keywords can be a hidden gem, but you really need to focus on the keywords that bring in business for you to be successful, whether they are long tail or not. It has been my experience that long tail keywords are more often ‘bonus’ words than the main drivers.

    Long tail keywords in PPC can be outstanding if you have a small advertising budget. If you are a business that is just starting out and the your industries keywords are expensive, long tail can be a great way to start and not burn up your days budget on the high traffic words.

    Focusing on long tail words also makes you really think about your product and its relationship with the customer……and that is a good thing as well. It will help you valid your short tail keywords as well.

    I hope that helps!

  • Blogger Den Dec 19, 2009

    This is actually a very smart strategy to bring in SE traffic, I hadn’t even though of this! An amazing article you’ve got here, I am definitely going to be trying to implement this into some of my site’s in the near future.

  • Ralphm Dec 21, 2009

    Thanks for that insight on PPC, Al. It’s true, the 80/20 rule is definitely real, and you certainly don’t want to spend a lot of money on keywords that aren’t contributing to the overall health and success of your business when you’re doing PPC.

  • Rebekah Paul Dec 23, 2009

    I recently wrote a blog post “Free Keyword Suggestion Tools” that you may find of interest:

    [link removed]

  • Ann| link building service Jan 05, 2010

    Amazing Article. Very Good convincing point. I completely agree we have to think from customer point of view before website optimization so that we can get maximum queries in a short span of time.

  • Ryan Pitylak Jan 07, 2010

    This is very insightful and I’ve been seeing the same things myself. Google clearly wants you to focus on individual keywords in Google Adwords. And, as we worry more and more about Quality Scores, we’ll see the long term come in as a major component of improving your QS where we’ll need to build ads targeted at even longer tail words.

    It’s seems difficult to build great content around keywords that have never been search before. I have never heard the “20% of all searches are with keywords that have never been used before” stat, but it makes sense. I guess that’s why Google’s broad (or maybe better stated as really really really broad) search is, well, so broad.

  • anonymous Mar 06, 2010


    You really know what you are saying. I tried your tips using long keywords (phrases) some days ago for some customers new to SEO. However, could you suggest a quicker yet white hat way in working with short yet highly competitive way. I know you may come back with the idea of more link building. So may be I am asking a white hat, free and most probably a prompt way of getting traffic and ranking high in SERP against short and competitive keywords.

    Many thanks again for sharing this because I am the real beneficiary of what you wrote above!

  • Dissertation proofreading services Dec 07, 2010

    Well, this will be actually very nice strategy to bring forth SE traffic. This is a great advice.