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In Search Marketing, the long tail can produce tremendous results to deliver high-intent traffic that converts really well.

So, what is the long tail and why is it important?

What is the Long Tail?

When we talk about search terms, or keywords that we might want to bid on in AdWords, Bing Ads or target with an SEO strategy, we’re talking about a range of terms across a search market which your customers use to find your product or service.

Let’s use mortgages as an example;

– “mortgages”, “compare mortgages” and “buy to let mortgages” have a huge monthly search volume.

– “first-time buyer mortgages”, “remortgage advice for over 60s”, “corporate buy to let mortgage” and a huge number of other, very specific terms have a much smaller monthly search volume.

When these search terms are plotted on a graph in order of search volume, you’ll see that the broader terms form the “head” and the more specific terms string out into a “long tail”, hence the term.

An example of a power law graph showing popularity ranking. To the right (yellow) is the long tail; to the left (green) are the few that dominate. In this example, the cutoff is chosen so that areas of both regions are equal.

Why is the Long Tail Important?

In most keyword markets and therefore Search Marketing campaigns, adding the volume of traffic in the long tail and comparing that to the volume of traffic in the head almost always reveals that there’s more traffic in the long tail. It’s just spread across dozens or often hundreds of search queries or keywords.

Targeted correctly, long tail keywords have cheaper CPCs (Cost per Click) inlaid marketing campaigns and are easier to rank in an SEO campaign.

Long tail keywords usually represent a customer who is closer to a buying decision. They’re more educated about the product or service they need and, provided that your ad, and/or landing page content address that need, conversion rates are much higher too.

The net result of those factors is usually;

– more leads and sales from long tail keywords versus those in the head

– lower Cost per Conversion from long tail keywords than those in the head

Why the Head is Important

Don’t forget keywords in the head!

We’ve discussed Search Funnels and Impression Share elsewhere, both of which are critical to producing a great conversion rate. Briefly, here’s why;

– higher cost and more complex purchases need more clicks to convert

– customers often use different search terms during the buying journey, starting with head terms to research and understand before getting more specific with long tail terms

When your brand is only present in the head, you’ll miss the clicks when customers are ready to convert.

When your brand is present only for long tail terms, you’ll miss the opportunity to gain familiarity and build trust in your brand.

For the same reason that Impression Share is critical, being present throughout the customer search journey is critical too.

Google Shopping and the Long Tail

For eCommerce stores, the development and increasing prominence of Google Product ads have meant a huge increase in long tail traffic – unchecked, that can be unwanted traffic and needs managing carefully.

Google Shopping campaigns match far more long tail searches because, unlike search campaigns, the matching algorithm is more organic. With search campaigns, you bid on keywords, whereas with Google Shopping, you’re bidding on your inventory which Google automatically matches with search queries.

The Most Effective Long Tail Keyword Strategy

– Target long tail terms with strong buying intent with paid search, Google Shopping and SEO

– Target long tail terms with lower intent (research queries) with great content and optimise for organic rankings

– Target terms in the head with paid search, measure Google Shopping carefully and optimise and of course target head terms with SEO if you have the budget.

– Most of all, be present for as much of the head and long tail as you can. The more present your brand and site is, the higher the conversion rates you can expect.

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