SEO long tail: use it to your advantage

By Matt Cornock

One of the keys to a successful web presence has nothing to do with search engine optimisation. Though SEO techniques can certainly benefit the exposure of your site, what really counts is making sure the site has direction. Indeed for most websites, paying good money for a SEO consultant would be about as productive as posting junk mail to yourself. Search engine algorithms are being more aware of over-optimised sites and penalising those who attempt black hat strategies. Giving a specific direction, making sure your site stands out will help more than SEO for a generic direction. 

The web is frequently referred to in the sense of the long tail (a graph with a peak near the start and a long trailing tail off to the right). Applying this to searching, there’ll be a high number of pages filled with a small set of common, high-used words and phrases. Likewise there’ll be a small number of pages for a keyword or phrase that isn’t in common usage. However, as the number of specialised words far exceeds that of common words, the long long tail is formed by the cumulative number of pages featuring specialised words. So the number of pages in total for specialised words would be greater than that for the common words.

The inverse long tail is an approximation of how relevant a search results page would be. Searching for common words will produce a very low percentage of relevant results for a user’s particular context. However, a very specific search is more likely to produce a very high percentage of results relevant to the users context.

If a website can tap into a section of the long tail, then the visitors are (in theory):

  • more likely to find your website relevant to their search, so
  • more likely to click through form the search engine results page, so
  • more likely to spend time browsing your site, and
  • more likely to return or pay for your services or goods.

The approach is then to identify your niche market(s), write your content for them, and watch the natural algorithms of the search engines bump your site up the rankings. Other standard techniques which will help you: make sure your meta description is relevant to each page and eye catching (this will be displayed in search engine results pages typically), avoid the marketing fluff in your content, structure your page well with good coding and clear content areas.

Further information

Some good advice from US Web, illustration on Search Engine Land, explanation of the long tail in 2004 by Chris Anderson, on Wired.

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