Understanding the Benefit of Long-Tail Queries for SEO

By Bruce Clay

You want your SEO strategy to attract a lot of people to your website. But you don’t want just quantity — you want quality traffic. You want to attract visitors who come and stay a while and find what they’re looking for on your site. What you really need are customers. In the world of search engine marketing, site visitors who become customers are called conversions. They came, they looked, they bought. They were converted.

When you design your website for search engine optimization, keep in mind that you want high conversion rates, not just high traffic. You need to consider the long-tail phenomenon (a term coined by Chris Anderson in an October 2004 Wired magazine article and frequently discussed in SEO circles ever since).

The long tail is a statistical concept that says items in comparatively low demand can nonetheless add up to quite large volumes. For example, a large bookstore sells dozens of books from the bestseller lists every day. These popular titles make up only about 20 percent of the store’s inventory, yet their sales amount to more than half of the bookstore’s total revenue.

The slower, incremental sales of the remaining 80 percent of the store’s inventory typically generate the other half of the store’s sales. Individually, no one book sells a large number of copies, but added together, the revenue is substantial.

You can apply the long-tail concept when you’re choosing keywords for your website. The graph below represents different keywords (across the horizontal axis) and the quantity of searches, or traffic, that each keyword generates (up the vertical axis). The keywords that have high potential traffic appear at the left end of the graph, followed by keywords that are less frequently searched. The potential traffic drops off in what looks like a long tail while you move to the right.

Long-tail traffic is incremental traffic that, when added together, brings greater return than head

Long-tail traffic is incremental traffic that, when added together, brings greater return than head terms.

Dont ignore the long-tail traffic. In the bookstore example, this would be the equivalent of emptying all the shelves except for the bestsellers’ table — cutting revenue substantially.

Think about focusing your keywords for your target audience. You want to use some specialized phrases in your keywords to attract long-tail traffic. A specialized keyword phrase might be three, four, five, or more words in length.

A person coming to your website after searching for [compact rechargeable cordless widgets] would be more likely to purchase the item on your site than a person who had just searched for [widgets]. You might not have very many searches for that phrase, but the few who did search for it saw your listing (because it moved way up in the search engine results) and became conversions.