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Invest in the Long Tail- It Will Pay Off!

Client: I noticed that visits are down but sales are up. Should I be concerned?

Me: No- you should be overjoyed!

I’ve been preaching the gospel of the long tail, to my clients, for years. This month, while preparing their reports, I found a great example of the long tail in action.

Would you like to see your year-over-year numbers from organic search look like this?


In case you can’t read the image:

  • Transactions from organic search grew by 47%
  • Revenue from organic search grew by 18%
  • Number of organic search landing pages generating a sale grew by 18%
  • Traffic from organic search grew by 12%

We did this using the power of the Long Tail. (Not impressed by 12% organic traffic growth Y2Y? Keep reading!)

What is the Long Tail?

The idea of the Long Tail comes from Chris Anderson. He observes a particular phenomenon in modern sales.

Most people know that a small number of products generate a large amount of revenue for any company.  These are the core products. Many think of these as the bread-and-butter of their company. These products become the focus of most marketing efforts.

However, if you totaled the sales from every smaller product you’d find they bring in a lot of revenue. In fact, this will be even more revenue than the core products. Sure, less people search for each of these products. The ones that do will buy from you.

This is what the Long Tail phenomenon looks like. This graph reflects two dimensions: how specific a query vs. how many people are searching for it.


Notice that a lot of people are searching for a broad topic and a few people are searching for a specific query.

This is important from an SEO perspective. For one, many companies have a laser focus on their most important products. It makes sense: these generate a large part of their revenue. Unfortunately this can make them blind. In the SEO-world, they get consumed with “ranking” for these products. If not ranking, they look at traffic numbers. This leads them to overlook the other products that they offer. As a result, they leave a lot of money on the table.

I’ve seen it time and time again:

  • An SEO campaign brings a large amount of revenue but the CEO thinks it’s unsuccessful. They don’t “rank” for their favorite product.
  • An SEO strategy focuses on the core products. All efforts are dedicated to those pages. Since these products are competitive, they move slowly. This leads to frustration with the SEO campaign.

These would have worked better had they embraced the Long Tail and…

  • Educated the C-level employees on how to measure an SEO campaign. Focus on revenue rather than “ranking” or traffic.
  • Made the core products a long-term goal but focus on the Long Tail first. This would have produced a more profitable campaign more quickly. It would also see the core products grow as they improved the site, as a whole.

There is a catch with a long tailed SEO strategy. Traffic won’t grow as much as sales. This is because there are fewer people interested in these smaller products. Despite this they are more likely to convert. This is why I’m excited when 12% Y2Y traffic growth generates 50% more transactions.

Will the Long Tail help my business?

My example is from a B2C ecommerce company.

Does the Long Tail apply to B2B Companies?

Yes! Instead of approaching the Long Tail with different products, you can talk about:

  • All the different services you provide. 
  • Different problems your services solve.
  • Different ways people describe your services.
  • Different industries that need your services.

This is why blogging is important to your B2B company. When you talk about your industry and services, you will discover traffic you never expected. Since your pages are more specific, they will be more likely to convert. This will bring more opportunities than your bigger services.

You can chart this phenomenon, like this:


Now that Google has “not provided” most keywords in Google Analytics, this isn’t obvious. Turn to Search Analytics in Google Webmaster Tools (Search Console) instead. Look at the crazy-specific phrases that brings people to your website from search? Who would have predicted these? (By the way- as more people use voice search, this will get even more unexpected.)

Does the Long Tail apply to companies looking to develop leads, rather than sales?

Yes! Take “lawyers,” for example. There are a whole lot of people searching Google for your “lawyers”. Visits from this phrase will have a low conversion rate. This isn’t because your website sucks. People searching for lawyers” might be searching for something else- such as “lawyer jobs”.

Fewer people search for “lawyers in Charlotte” than “lawyers.” Because less people are searching for that, you’ll get less conversions from it. Since it is more specific, your conversion rate will be greater.

The Long Tail takes this to the extreme. Far fewer people search for “personal injury lawyers in Charlotte who make hospital calls on Saturday night.” Perhaps only one person a year searches for this term. If your website comes up in a Google search for this phrase, you will be guaranteed the lead. 

How to use the Long Tail for SEO success

  1. Add more content to your website. These can be landing pages or blog posts. Content will help bring specific search traffic- that will have a high conversion rate.
  2. Make it easy for a website visitor to convert. This might mean adding contact forms to every page, for instance- even your blog. You never know how someone might find your site. Don’t make it difficult for them to contact you, now that you’ve solved their problem!

Here’s the trick: you want to focus on queries that have a balance between these two factors. In other words, start your campaign where these two graphs meet. That’s the sweet spot. That’s where a significant number of people are searching meets a good conversion rate. If you start there, you’ll use the Long Tail for SEO success.


How have you seen the Long Tail at work, on your website? What are some Long Tailed phrases you find in Google Search Console? Leave your thoughts in the comments, below.

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