How Long Is Your Longtail, And Should It Be Long At All?
INTRODUCTION TO “LONGTAIL”:
I, as well as others who have been working with the longtail for years, credit Chris Anderson of Wired Magazine with popularizing the term “longtail”. In the 2005-2006 time frame Chris began writing a blog (which was soon followed by a book by the same name – The Long Tail).
The blog and the book focused on the fallacy that the 80/20 rule applies to all things. In particular he showed that in this digital age the cost of creating, storing and distributing digital media (e.g., digital CDs, DVDs, books, etc.) enabled an economic effect that allowed online companies, like Netflix and Amazon, to offer a much greater variety of products than could be offered by traditional offline retailers, to whom the 80/20 rule absolutely applies. Traditional offline retailers have no choice but to focus on generating80% of their revenue from 20% of the products produced because of the physical and economic constraints of the real estate from where they conduct business.
But in an online world those economic and real estate constraints are quite different, allowing the consumer to explore their own tastes instead of having to choose from the narrow products previously available only offline.
WHERE ELSE ARE LONGTAILS FOUND?:
Having dealt with the longtail for 4+ years, I am fortunate to have worked with some of the most talented PhD mathematicians from MIT and Princeton. I’ve come to learn that there is a longtail for nearly everything digital. For example, if you counted, and then plotted on a graph, all the nodes on the internet and the traffic that flowed through them you would find that the graph would reveal a true longtail.
The same is true of search engine search-terms, otherwise referred to as keywords. If you captured the billions of unique keywords entered into search engines on a daily basis, and then plotted them against the frequency that each gets entered into a search engine (and then organized the keywords from most frequently-entered to least frequently-entered), it too would reveal a true longtail.
DO THE KEYWORDS IN MY SEM CAMPAIGN CONSTITUTE A LONGTAIL?:
“Longtail” has become such a popular term that everyone likes to think/claim they have a longtail of keywords for SEO and/or PPC search engine marketing (SEM). However, I use the following three characteristics to determine if a SEM campaign is truly longtail in nature.
First, a longtail SEM campaign must contain keywords that number in the multiple- to many-thousands. A 500-1,500 keyword campaign simply does not qualify as longtail in nature.
Second, although longtail SEM campaigns should be highly organized and structured (i.e., thousands of ad groups containing no more than 20 related-keywords per ad group, each ad group containing its own set of ads), many of the keywords will appear quirky and unnatural (e.g., misspellings, extra spaces, unnecessary punctuation, word concatenation, improper grammar, long strings of words, etc., etc., etc.) After all, people are only human and they make mistakes when searching too. I‘ve learned that people search in strange ways that cannot be predicted.
Third, keywords in a longtail SEM campaign will contribute a significant percentage of the value that the campaign is intended to deliver. For example, if a B2B company is utilizing a SEM campaign to generate sales leads that are then turned over to the sales team for follow up, then somewhere between 25-50+% of all leads should be generated by longtail keywords.
This can only happen if the first definition above is true (i.e., the keywords must number in the multiple- to many-thousands) because any single keyword will not get clicked in mass, so you need to include in your campaign a large portion of the keywords that constitutes your unique longtail in order to capture any serious volume.
DOES THE LONGTAIL WORK FOR BOTH SEO AND PPC:
No. I often chuckle when I hear people refer to a “longtail SEO” campaign. A true longtail SEO campaign is almost an oxymoron. Although they do exist on occasion they are rare because very few companies have the interest, knowledge, time, resources and patience to construct a true longtail SEO campaign over a period of years. Vistaprint.com has done it, and so too has TripAdvisor.com, but it has taken them years to construct at a cost of millions of dollars.
True longtail SEO campaigns are rare because the tactics used to produce an effective SEO campaign are not conducive to a true longtail SEM campaign containing many thousands of keywords. The amount of content that must be written and revised and pages under management is a herculean task.
That said, every company who is serious about their SEM campaigns (PPC and/or SEO) should be pursuing both PPC AND SEO tactics simultaneously. SEO campaigns are great for short-tail, frequently-entered keywords that are often too expensive in a PPC campaign, whereas longtail PPC campaigns can capture traffic cost effectively from many thousands of longtail keywords.
SHOULD I PURSUE A LONGTAIL SEM STRATEGY?
Yes. However, since longtail campaigns are defined as containing multiple- to many-thousands of keywords, I would not recommend that you pursue a true longtail PPC campaign on your own (without the help of an experienced longtail PPC professional), unless you can answer the following affirmatively.
Ask yourself who will design, construct, manage and optimize the campaign on a daily basis. If you’ve every managed (or oversaw the management of) an Adwords campaign with even a few hundred keywords, you know how time consuming it can be. That time consumption grows exponentially with the size of the keywords in your campaign, so you can imagine the complexities that result from a true longtail campaign with multiple- to many-thousands of keywords. If you don’t have the knowledge, tools, experience, resources and time to devote to a true longtail PPC campaign, then you should seek a professional who has such experience. We have exactly that experience.
A LONGTAIL OF SEARCH TERMS FOR MY COMPANY’S PRODUCTS/SERVICES DON’T EXIST:
If only I had a nickel every time…well, you know the rest. This comment stems from the earlier mentioned myth that the 80/20 rule applies universally. This is simply false in an online world, and those in online marketing that believe it is true simply do not know the facts.
There is a serious problem that arises from this false belief. It is what I call the “inside-out” syndrome. What I mean is that most companies describe their products and services using certain nomenclature developed “inside” the company. Their marketing materials (online and offline) reflect this nomenclature, and the company uses this nomenclature to communicate “out” to their target audience – this is the “inside-out” syndrome.
Given the sheer number of searches conducted on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, there are innumerable ways that people search for products and services. If guilty of communicating “inside-out”, then your campaign is devoid of important nomenclature used by your target audience. If your target audience is using nomenclature that is not included in your PPC campaign, then at the very moment when your target audience is searching for your products and services, you and they will be like “ships passing in the night” – what a shame, and what a senseless lost opportunity! Don’t fall prey to the “inside-out” syndrome!
If you have questions about anything in this article please let us know. And please feel free to contact us if you would like a free consultation about your PPC SEM efforts. Good luck in your SEM endeavors.