In Search, The Tail Wags the Dog!


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For those who have been in the SEO game for a long time, the term “The Tail of Search" or the “The Long Tail" are well known key terms. For those of you who are new to search, these phrases describe the end of the curve which represents the number of keywords that are searched for around a particular topic. I am going to cover what this means and why this is a key factor in Search Engine Marketing.

As an example, let us say that your key focus is selling dog food supplies online. You would find that there are many searches for the keyword “dog". The quantity of searches for “dog food" would be less; followed by “dog food supplies" even less. If you were to plot the curve of Keyword vs. Number of Searches, the curve would have a bulk upfront and then a “long tail" of terms toward the right.

To visualize the curve think of it a bit like a slide in a children's play park. The curve starts off high (representing the terms that generate a huge amount of searches), dropping down fast (as we add in 2, 3 and 4 word phrases) and then easing off for a long time near the bottom (representing combinations of the popular keywords that people use less often).

The careful and consistent exploitation of the long tail is the single most important factor in modern times in terms of Search Engine Marketing. Why do I say this? Well, simple really; most people, who are starting out in Search Engine Marketing, are hell bent on their primary keywords. They often select only a handful of keywords and key phrases and then overbid on these since there are another hundred people making the same mistake and driving up the price by bidding on the same handful of keywords.

The best approach to take is to analyze as many variations of keywords and key phrases as possible, using tools such as the Google keyword tool or the Overture keyword tool. Do not be afraid to go for phrases of 3 and 4 words. These phrases will bring in a smaller amount of searches, but with the added benefit of less competition as well.

It is also important to pay attention to regional or even country specific keywords. For example in some countries Health Insurance is referred to as Medical Aid. If you were to check on the number of searches for Medical Aid vs. Health Insurance, the latter would be several times larger, but would be heavily bid on in terms of pay per click campaigns.

In a future article I will deal with the mathematics behind the long tail since I have found some commonality between equations which describe some other social behavior and the theory of the long tail.

For now suffice it to say that one can get much better value per click by focusing on a larger number of less searched for terms. If you work hard at this strategy, which is used by all successful search engine marketers, then the tail does indeed wag the dog.

Ken Metcalf is a professional engineer, also holding a business commerce degree. He writes articles in his spare time on technical topics ranging from low level programming to The SEO Blog which deals with search engine optimization. For more information on using Search Engine Technology visit The SEO pages here


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