The Art of SEO : Leveraging the Long Tail of Keyword Demand

12/2/2010 4:17:16 PM
As we discussed at the beginning of this chapter, the long tail of search is where 70% of search queries occur. Only 30% of those precious queries happen in the more obvious terms that people use, the so-called “head terms.” Another way to underscore this is that in May 2007, Google Vice President Udi Manber indicated that 20% to 25% of all search queries that Google receives on a given day are queries that Google is seeing for the first time. You can think of this as the “ultra-long tail.”

The long tail of search queries in a given industry is typically not visible via any of the major keyword research services or search engine ad databases (Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing, and MSN adCenter). In these instances, there is a research method to find those terms that can carry value, but it requires a good amount of research and analysis.

With this in mind, let’s outline a few methods for finding long tail terms.

1. Extracting Terms from Relevant Web Pages

One source for long tail terms is web pages that do well for searches that are relevant to your target market. Here is a basic process for finding those pages and extracting that information from them:

  1. Extract the top 10 to 50 most common search phrases at the head of the distribution graph from your existing keyword research in the industry.

  2. Search Google, Yahoo!, and Bing for each term.

  3. For each page in the top 10 to 30 results, extract the unique usable text on the page.

  4. Remove stop words and filter by phrase size.

  5. Remove instances of terms/phrases already in your keyword research database.

  6. Sort through the most common remnants first, and comb as far down as you feel is valuable.

Through this process, you are basically text-mining relevant documents on the subject of your industry/service/product for terms that, although lower in search volume, have a reasonable degree of relation. When using this process, it is imperative to have human eyes reviewing the extracted data to make sure it passes the “common sense” test. You may even find additional terms at the head of the keyword distribution graph.

You can expand on this method in the following ways:

  • Text-mine Technorati or Delicious for relevant results.

  • Use documents purely from specific types of results—local, academic—to focus your keyword mining efforts.

  • Mine forum threads on your subject matter. You could even use inurl:forum in the searches to grab conversational keywords.

This methodology is highly effective. The return on this research has a direct relationship to the amount of effort you expend (and how deep you dig).

2. Mining Keyword Research Tools

Although looking into keyword research tools for long tail data has significant limitations, there are still ways to do it. For example, if you own a chain of pizza restaurants in 50 cities across the country and you want to discover long tail terms, you can. Let’s look at the tail end of Wordtracker’s output for a combined search on Orlando Pizza, San Diego Pizza, and San Jose Pizza (see Figure 1).

Line 39, pizza san diego delivery, is an example of a valid long tail term. If some people search for pizza san diego delivery, it becomes quite likely that others search for pizza orlando delivery. It does not show in this data, because the volume of queries available to the keyword research tool is limited. All we are doing with these combined searches is giving the search tools more data to work with.

The takeaway remains valid: apply these logical long tail extensions across all of your cities, even though the keyword tool shows it for only one, and you’re likely to attract search queries for those keywords.

3. Identifying Long Tail Patterns

You can also take another stab at determining long tail information. As a hypothetical example using digital camera, here are 40 searches for two different brands and models of digital cameras that have been pulled (for this demonstration) from the KeywordDiscovery database that received only one search:

  • consumer comments on nikon 5.1 mp coolpix l3 digital camera

  • new nikon coolpix p3 8 1 mp digital camera memory

  • nikon 3 2 mp coolpix digital camera

  • nikon 51 mp coolpix s1 digital camera and cradle

  • nikon 6 mp coolpix digital camera

  • nikon 7 1 mp coolpix 7900 digital camera

  • nikon 81 mp coolpix 8800 digital camera

  • nikon coolpix 4800 4 mp digital camera

  • nikon coolpix 5200 51 mp digital camera

  • nikon coolpix 5400 51 mp digital camera

  • nikon coolpix 6.0 mp digital camera

  • nikon coolpix 8700 8mp 8x zoom digital camera 8 mp

  • nikon coolpix l2 6.0 mp digital camera

  • nikon coolpix l3 6 mp digital camera usa warranty

  • nikon coolpix p2 51 mp digital camera

  • best buy sony cybershot dsc t7 51 mp digital camera

  • brand new sony cybershot dsc h1 51 mp digital camera

  • camera digital sony cybershot 51 mp

  • sony - cybershot 10.1 mp digital camera

  • sony - cybershot 6.0 mp digital camera

  • sony 5 mp cybershot dsc t9 digital camera

  • sony 72 mp cybershot dsc p200 digital camera information

  • sony 72 mp cybershot dsc w7 digital camera

  • sony 72 mp digital still camera cybershot rebate

  • sony cybershot 10.1 mp digital camera

  • sony cybershot 7 2mp digital camera 7 2 mp

  • sony cybershot 72mp dsc w7 digital camera 72 mp

  • sony cybershot 81 mp digital camera

  • sony cybershot digital camera 5.1 mp

  • sony cybershot digital camera 6 mp

  • sony cybershot dsc 1 81 mp digital camera review

  • sony cybershot dsc h1 51 mp digital camera

  • sony cybershot dsc w30 6 mp digital camera

  • sony cybershot dscs40 41 mp digital camera 3x opt zoom

  • sony dsc p73 cybershot digital camera 41 mp p 73

  • sony dsc p8 cybershot 32 mp digital camera

  • sony dsc s60 cybershot digital camera 4 1 mp

  • sony dsc s85 cybershot 41 mp digital still camera

  • sony dsc t1 cybershot digital camera 5 0 mp

  • sony dsc t1 cybershot digital camera 50 mp t 1

Figure 1. Extracting long tail data from Wordtracker

Our goal is to determine whether there are any universal patterns that searchers tend to use when searching. Within this subset of searches, a number of patterns stand out:

  • Approximately 48% begin with the brand name and end with digital camera.

  • Approximately 35% are ordered brand, model name, model number, megapixel, digital camera.

  • Approximately 22.5% are ordered brand, megapixel, model name, digital camera.

  • A whopping 60% follow the overall pattern of brand, model name, digital camera.

You might also notice that, at least in this example, qualifiers such as new, a specific store name, and a reference to consumer comments tend to precede the search phrases, whereas features and product-related qualifiers such as memory, 3x opt zoom, warranty, cradle, information, and even a repeat of the megapixels or model number tend to be appended to the search phrases.


Remember, this is purely a limited, hypothetical example and certainly is not meant to be statistically accurate. The goal here was to reveal different search term patterns to aid in determining the best groupings of long tail keywords to target.

4. Editorial Content Strategies for Long Tail Targeting

One of the most difficult aspects of capturing traffic from the long tail of search is creating relevant, targeted content. As a result, your chances of showing up for a long tail phrase are greatly increased if you have that long tail phrase, or at least all the words that make up the long tail phrase, on your page. Let’s look at why this may be challenging by checking out what phrases Wordtracker returns when we enter canon digital camera (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Sample long tail data

Already, with the eleventh keyphrase returned (canon digital camera solution disk), you can see the challenge. If you are trying to sell Canon digital cameras you are probably not going to work that keyphrase into your page copy.

The best approach is to use the long tail research techniques we discussed in this chapter and identify the major patterns, or the major words that appear across different long tail scenarios, and then work those words into your copy. Don’t force it and make pages that appear foolish to a user.

Make sure the writers remain focused on producing quality content. From a long tail perspective, more text is better because it creates more possible long tail matches, but there are limits to that too. Don’t put a 1,000-word article on your site unless it makes sense to your users for you to do so.

5. User-Generated Content Strategies for Long Tail Targeting

User-generated content (UGC) can be a great way to obtain lots of content that will help attract long tail traffic. Popular ways of doing that include forums, reviews, blog comments, and a way to upload videos or images, among others. As users submit content, they do the hard work of writing the text you need to capitalize on the long tail.

There are some downsides to UGC, though. Generally speaking, you need to moderate it to make sure people are not contributing objectionable material you don’t want on your site. Even if you get community members to participate, you will still need to manage them.

In addition, you need to have a strategy for getting the process started. In the case of a forum, you need to develop a critical mass of users to establish a real community. If you don’t establish this critical mass, a high percentage of the posts you receive will be one form of spam or another. To make UGC work, you need one or more of the following:

  • Significant existing daily site traffic. How much depends on how vertically oriented your community is intended to be. Narrowly focused topics can get going with a smaller number of users.

  • A way to generate a lot of buzz to generate site traffic.

  • Compelling supporting content.

If you can succeed at this, you’ll give life to a machine that produces long tail content on an ongoing basis with comparatively low effort.

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