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March 12, 2008

Long Tail of Search - Choosing Your Keywords

As more companies are increasingly using organic search marketing to promote their products and services, it can be more difficult to achieve the higher rankings for generic terms that everyone else in your industry is pursuing. While essentially any search engine ranking is achievable given the right amount of time, money and resources, you need to decide whether the additional effort involved is worth it, considering you can get overall better results from a campaign by making sure that a high percentage of people that are typing keyphrases into search engines are looking for exactly what you have to offer.

A good way to accomplish this is by including keyword modifiers, or additional descriptive words, in the keyphrases that you target on your site. This helps to make sure that the traffic that comes to your site is highly targeted, meaning they are looking for exactly what you are offering and are therefore much more likely to convert by making a purchase or filling out a form. By including descriptive words you are targeting what is called the “long tail” of search.

To illustrate this, suppose your web site sells cars, but specifically specializes in selling used cars to people in the Dallas Metroplex area who possibly have bad credit. Since we are selling cars we could definitely say that we want the site to rank for the most general keyword “cars”. But in doing so, we could be spending time on generating traffic that is not even interested in your site. For instance some visitors may have been looking to “rent luxury cars” or for a company that performs “repairs on import cars”. These visitors will go back to the search results to find what they were looking for. The time, money and effort spent on ranking your site for the keyword “cars” was not the wisest choice. The better strategy would have been to optimize for keyphrases like “buy used cars dallas” and “dallas bad credit car loans”, etc.

long tail keywords

As you can see, the more words that searchers add to their query, the more qualified they become. Someone searching for “landscape” may be looking for landscape photos or for employment as a landscaper. The point is, it’s hard to tell. When they start adding words to their query they are coming closer to finding exactly what they want. In this scenario, when the searcher uses “Dallas residential landscape company”, we know that this person is actually looking for a company in Dallas that provides residential landscaping services. This searcher is decidedly more qualified as a potential landscape services client.

Finding keywords that are shown to have 5,000, or even 500 searches a day can feel like discovering gold. However, these "popular" search terms only account for less than 30% of total internet searches. The other 70% of searches are the "long tail" which consists of millions of unique searches that may only be searched for a few times in a day, but, when totaled, they make up the majority of the world's searches in the search engines.

To make it even more interesting, 25% of Google’s total user queries are unique, meaning they have never been searched for before. Long tail searches are becoming more and more common; a recent report now shows that the average Google query consists of 4 words and not 3. That’s up for the first time ever as of Q4 2007, from the long-time 3 word per query Google user average.

So as searchers become more sophisticated in their search engine use by adding more words to their queries to find the most relative content, it enables us to target these long tail keyphrases to drive a higher percentage of targeted traffic to your site. Targeted traffic = qualified customers = more conversions.