The Long, Long, Long Tail of Search

I think it’s safe to say that many search engine optimization initiatives start out by focusing on a core set of keywords.

These keywords should represent a website’s overall content while taking into account words and phrases that people are actually searching for. After all, bringing qualified traffic to a website is one of the goals of SEO.

Optimization efforts ensue and, if things are done correctly, the results are as plentiful as Thanksgiving dinner. At first, some may want to award all this newfound success to the initial set of chosen keywords, but not so fast.

It’s time to take a much closer look at the impact long tail search terms have on your site traffic.

A recent blog post from Hitwise presents us with some interesting numbers to look at while considering long tail terms.

According to the author, the Hitwise search data gathered over the last three months shows the majority of traffic coming from long tail search. The top 100 terms, which one might suspect contains those terms initially targeted through optimization, represents only about 5.7% of the total search traffic for the time period. Extend this out to the top-500 (8.9%), top-1,000 (10.6%), and top-10,000 (18.5%) terms, and we still see that the vast majority of search traffic is coming through terms other than those that are most popular.

So what does this all mean for long tail search? It means that it’s massive, or rather, has the possibility to be massive for sites who manage it as best they can. Keeping in mind that everyone searches differently is important. These differences promote seemingly endless possibilities in the ways in which internet users could potentially find sites.

Optimizing a site around a core set of keywords is an important first step, but paying attention to long tail variations is crucial to the overall impact of your search optimization efforts. The benefit of these highly focused, long tail terms can bring users to your site who already know what they are looking for, which usually means there is a higher chance of them converting if they find what they want.

While every site will garner long tail traffic in its own way, and may not necessarily reflect the numbers mentioned above, understanding the potential for long tail is what is really important. It can account for so much more of a site’s traffic than most think, which means it’s something every webmaster should take into consideration.