A Scenic Tour of the Online World

Why The Long Tail Still Matters

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Let’s pretend you’re about to optimize your brand spanking new website. You do a little keyword research (and sadly, I do mean a little …) to find that one phrase you had in mind to optimize for gets 720 global monthly searches. Not exactly what you had in mind for overnight success and riches beyond imagination.

So you keep looking. And you come across a search term with 55,600,000 global monthly searches. Whoa! That’s more like it. Reserve my place on the beach in Rio, right?

Being an astute reader of this blog, you’ve probably already figured out that I’m going to tell you not to book that AirBrasil ticket just yet. In fact, you’ve probably figured out that I’m going to tell you that 720 trumps 55 million. Wanna know why?

It’s the long tail. 

We haven’t talked about it in a while, but the long tail still matters. The example I gave above uses real Google search data.

55,600,000 – “insurance”

720 – “health insurance for small business new york state”

As attractive as it would be to draw on a pool of 55 million potential customers, that number is misleading. A huge percentage of that audience isn’t interested in what you’re selling at all. (Assuming you’re selling health insurance to small businesses in New York.) They’re interested in liability insurance or E&O insurance or they want to insure the Picasso they just bought on eBay. (Complete with “Certificate of Authenticity,” no doubt.)

But those 720 searches, they know what they’re looking for. And they’re motivated enough to have figured out how to do a search that gets them the results they’re looking for. They know what they want, they’re motivated enough – and close enough to a buying decision – to have taken the time to refine their search. (It’s a lot of trial and error that gets you from “insurance” or even “health insurance” to “health insurance for small business new york state.”)

And that makes them a much more attractive group to target.

In this particular case, competition for the long-tail term is higher than for the broader term, but that’s not always the case, so not only is your target much more clearly defined, but you usually have less competition for the long-tail terms.

Don’t let the big numbers fool you. Particularly for small business, long-tail keyword terms can be much more productive in generating not just traffic, but conversions. And that’s always the measure of success you should be monitoring.


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