The Internet Marketing Driver: Glenn Gabe's goal is to help marketers build powerful and measurable web marketing strategies.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Long Tail of SEO, How Long Tail Keywords Impact Natural Search Traffic, Bounce Rate and Conversion.

The Long Tail of SEO and how it impacts your Natural Search initiatives.Imagine for a second that you are an SEO consultant and that you have a big presentation today. Your prospective client has an e-commerce store and a fledgling blog at this point. The first thing the CMO says to you is, “OK Mr. Hotshot SEO guy (or gal), tell me how you are going to help us rank for these 10 keywords?” You glance around the room and your heart starts to beat faster as you make eye contact with the CEO and COO both smirking at you. After a brief second, you turn to the CMO and say, “I’m not going to help you rank for those 10 keywords.” {There’s a collective gasp in the room.} You quickly follow with, “I’m going to help you rank for those 10 keywords plus the hundreds of long tail keywords that are associated with them!” Now you’ve got their attention. Did that sound a bit dramatic? It’s actually a common occurrence when speaking with people that aren’t heavily involved in Search Marketing. The common perception is that you should rank for a handful of competitive keywords and focus your attention on getting top rankings for them. I agree you should, but if you just focus on those top keywords, you would be missing a huge opportunity. Enter the long tail of SEO.

Note: If you're a small business looking to learn more about SEO and how to target the long tail of Search, then you should check out my online marketing ebook, Taking Control of Your Online Marketing: Small Business Edition. The book includes an entire chapter on The Long Tail of SEO (including how to target it). It's a great place to start.

The Long Tail Explained
Let’s begin by defining the long tail. It’s a term that describes the strategy of selling a large number of unique items, although it may only be in small amounts per item. Think of a large e-commerce retailer and the amount of revenue generated from all of the items housed on the site (versus just the top 10 items). The “long tail” may generate more revenue than your top categories (when you combine all of the units sold). So, for our Search example, the long tail would be the hundreds (or thousands) of terms that derive from your competitive keywords. Here’s an example. Let’s say you sell HD TV’s. You might want to rank for the competitive keyword HD TV. However, you would also want to rank for 42 inch Samsung HD TV, how to choose the best HD TV, reviews for Plasma HD TV’s, etc. As you can see, the long tail keywords are simply more targeted search terms than your original keyword.

The Impact of The Long Tail on Natural Search Traffic, Bounce Rate and Conversion:
Now, you might be wondering what the impact of the long tail of SEO can be? In my experience, the long tail can be a powerful driver of targeted traffic to your website. Also, since long tail keywords tend to be more targeted (think “Samsung HD TV reviews”), you might find lower bounce rates per keyword (if you have content that matches what people are looking for of course). More on that later. If you have more overall SEO traffic and lower bounce rates, then you have a greater chance of converting visitors (which can mean more revenue, subscriptions, downloads, and other forms of conversion specific to your site). Yes, there is a connection to the success of your business! :-)

How Does This Translate To Your SEO Projects?
I ran some reports using KeywordDiscovery to give you a few tangible examples. Let’s say you sell men’s shoes (I’ll use a generic example without brand names). A quick report from KeywordDiscovery yields 2,143 keywords including the words men’s shoes. Now, you wouldn’t want to target all of these keywords since some don’t apply to someone buying men’s shoes, but there are a number of keywords that you might want to target. For example, men’s casual and dress shoes, men’s narrow shoes, men’s slip on shoes, or best men’s running shoes. You get the picture. Now, let’s say you don’t have an e-commerce store, but you target people looking for medical news (you might have an advertising model). Again using KeywordDiscovery, there are 490 keywords that include variations of medical news. Some of the keywords you might want to target include latest medical news, medical ethics in news, breaking medical news, controversial medical news, etc. For more information about finding the right keywords, please read my post about keyword research for SEO.

How does this affect what you do, SEO-wise?
Warning: I’m about to explain a very technical and important part of SEO. If you get confused based on my elaborate and technical response, please read this section again. {OK, I’ll cut the sarcasm…} In order to rank for specific keywords, you should actually have those keywords on your website. I know that’s a crazy concept, but it’s true. ;-) So, in order to target competitive keywords and their long tail counterparts, you should develop ways to include that text on your website, in your blog posts, in the tools you develop, etc. The actual content can take many forms and it’s one of the reasons I love SEO. You can be creative and develop ideas for new content and functionality for the site. Please read my blog post about SEO, the amazing multi-channel channel if you haven’t already. When you need to develop new content, you can take several routes, including developing new areas of your site, blogging, creating new functionality or tools on your site, writing whitepapers, issuing press releases, etc. You would just want to make sure that you target more terms than just the core competitive keywords I mentioned earlier in this post.

The Long Tail Summary:
Although this was just an introduction to the long tail of SEO, I hope you see the power of targeting more than just a few competitive keywords. SEO can be a robust marketing channel and can drive thousands of targeted visitors to your site via a multitude of search queries. Keyword research can help you determine those long tail keywords and then your web analytics package can help you determine which ones are generating quality traffic.

Last, but not least, my blog post has given you a great line for your next sales pitch! ;-)


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