Search’s Long Tail

HitTail Best Practices Jun 10, 2006

I think few people realize quite how long the long tail is in the demand curve that Chris Anderson lays out. I’ve been developing this technique for search optimization since 1999, well before Chris’ fateful article, but am thankful to him for framing the discussion in such a way that the average marketing department will understand. You can’t target everything, so why not target what works best? That was the reasoning in both natural search optimization and pay-per-click campaign management for the longest time. But it was because it didn’t make sense to fill the quality site of a reputable company with garbage doorway pages. And likewise, managing keyword campaigns of tens-of-thousands of words was unwieldy. So you choose your battles wisely, as the saying goes, and focus on the short tail.

Well, focusing on the short tail is short sighted, because you don’t know what the most productive short tail for your particular niche in your particular industry is. It reminds me of Chris’ point that we will only come to know the true shape of the demand curve of products worldwide as we approach infinite supply of diverse products as well as infinite ability to find those products. Only then, will the true shape of the demand curve reveal itself. And as Chris says, this is a statement about the diversity of people and culture.

Similarly, you will never know your perfect demand curve for capturing the optimum number of sales leads in your industry if you don’t start filling in the missing gaps. After all, it doesn’t cost you anything but your employees’ time to write new content for your website. In natural search, this writing would be analogous to product. And the Web imposes no limits to how much product you can fill your website with. Black hat SEO spammers take advantage of this effect to spin out tens-of-thousands of pages at a time. They will gradually be penalized, for they cannot help but to use duplicate content and create abusive patterns that should be easily caught. But if you follow the method described here, you will be speaking in your own genuine voice to your customers who, hopefully, you know better than anyone else.

You must avoid plagiarizing at all costs. At most, you should just quote someone else, and when you do, put it in blockquote tags, so you’re acknowledging what you are doing. This is a finer point having to do with the “semantic” Web. Over time, the original HTML tags that have semantic meaning will carry much more weight than the oh-so-popular, but meaningless div and span tags. But I digress. Back to search’s long tail.

As you take the writing suggestions issued by HitTail, and fill in those gaps, an interesting phenomenon occurs. You will find that when you hit the real money-winners, they are going to produce LOTS of hits, and therefore won’t stay in the long tail of search. They start climbing their way up… into the short tail! So, writing for the long tail of search actually creates a Darwinian process where the fittest keywords survive. Your top-10 producing keywords from natural search may be very different than what you expect, and you will never know until you start zeroing in on them!

Hopefully, this makes sense to at least a few readers out there. One of the biggest criticisms of the HitTailing system we run into is that you can get the data out of Analytics software. They don’t see any point in one more tracking gif. The only answer I can give is to try to zero in on the best topics for writing from just your analytics software. It generally gives you your top producers, and lets you drill down by engine, and lets you pull “the big list” of keywords. But what you lose is context. Is it the first time any of those words EVER led to your site? Which ones are subtle clues? Where did people dig deep, deep, deep into the results to find you? Where is the latent potential built up, just waiting to be released with just the perfect topic selection?

Hopefully, we’re shedding some light on what it means to be a HitTailer. HitTailing is the phenomenon that will sweep the international world of marketing once the PPC honeymoon wears off. HitTailing is like a homesteading process, where you claim the natural search real estate that should rightfully belong to you and your company anyway. These are the questions HitTail strives to answer. Zeroing in on the very best keywords in your space using better data than anyone else is the process of HitTailing. Someone who has successfully built the thickest, longest short tail composed of the fittest surviving long tail keywords is a HitTailer.

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