More Customers, Fewer Costs: Why Marketing to the Long Tail Makes Sense

Day one, session one. I’ve had a giant iced mocha (yay, caffeine!) and a bagel. I’m ready to go.

Also ready to go are our speakers Mary Bowling (SEO Blizzard Internet Marketing, Inc), Brock Purpura (Etology), Aaron Shear (Boost Search Marketing) and Stephan Spencer (Net Concepts). Moderator David Szetela (Clix Marketing) gets us started.

David gives us a little history of the long tail and references the original article by Chris Anderson of Wired. You can do a search for it if you need the run down on what it is.

He encourages everyone to take notes and ask tough questions. Check, David.

Mary Bowling is up first. She’s going to be talking about the long tail of local search. Any search made with tintention of finding something in a specific geographic location. Seeking information online with the intenion of completing the transaction offline.

30-40% of searches have local intent. Search engines are committed to interpreting local queries and delivering results.

How does the long tail figure in? Your big term might be “Denver Plumber” but long tail would be ‘broken pipe’, leaky faucet, toilet repair, etc.

Could also be nearby towns, brand names, etc. It’s all long tail and the combinations of it are longer tail still. Long tail traffic is relatively cheap to buy (PPC) and fairly easy to rank for organically (SEO) because they’re less competitive. Long tail traffic adds up though and that makes it attractive.

Group terms properly for the best quality scores when you’re doing PPC for long tail terms.

Optimization is relatively easy. Create a new page and link to it with the term you’re wanting to rank for. (Basically, optimize a page specifically for your long tail term. Putting in with a related category will support it as well.)

For some clients, they see that 47 percent of organic traffic comes from very long tail terms. It’s a targeted term and so the conversation is higher when the visitor is sent to the right landing page.

Conversion on short tail terms: less than half a percent. On long tail terms, eighteen percent.

Tip: Use blogs to harvest long tail traffic. Quick and easy to do, blogs get spidered quickly.

Use local tail terms in local business listings. Use long tail terms in your listings in Google Maps, Yahoo! Local, etc. Google has recently added attributes to their local listings and you can really populate it with long tail terms that will help.

(Mary’s fast!)

Brock Purpura is up next. He’s talking about marketing to the long tail from an ad network perspective. Etology started in 2005. They’re a self-service ad network. They serve over a billion ads a day over a network of 20,000 Web sites.

Dynamics of the long tail

The long tail exists under the Tier 2 Web sites–basically all the rest of the Internet outside of the search engines and the Alexa 1-5000 sites. The long tail is the medium to small Web sites with CPM that’s very low, often using Google AdSense to monetize.

[Imagine that there’s a long tail graphic here]
What’s the opportunity?

They ran an experiment on Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 Web sites. Same campaign across all three. They discovered that all the conversion rates were the same but the lower tiers were getting those conversions at a lower CPM.

They’re still working on how to target the long tail. The opportunity is there because of it.

How can you leverage the opportunity?

  • Build your own “Micro Vertical Network”
    • This should be overall goal
    • Human Targeting drives selection
    • Look for 10+ long tail Web sites then add to it
  • Test small, then lock in big
    • Use time based flat rates
    • Start with a week long test
    • If it hits your metrics, then lock in Month, 6 Months, etc.
  • Use new, custom ad sizes – be creative
    • Don’t compete against Google
    • Position as extra revenue for publisher
    • Small Flash ads, links, JavaScript ads
  • Build up relationships and trust
    • Prepay
    • Get publisher to reference you

Aaron Shear is up next to talk about the long tail from the eCommerce side. He’s from the shopping engine side of things. He says that makes him jaded. E-commerce sites haven’t embraced search engine optimization yet and it’s really quite sad. He defines head terms (printers) fat tail (wide format color laser printer), long tail (something very specific to a type of printer)

Most site see the largest traffic AND the largest abandonment in the Head terms because it’s not targeted enough yet. Just [printers] is too broad to deliver the right results. The fat tail is a little better high traffic, lower bounce, not really high conversion. The long tail brings low traffic, low bounce and very high conversion.

The common problems with the tail.

Overly descriptive product names:
Think carefully about what people will be looking for. Too long and the shopping engines aren’t going to return the right response. You can use a shorter name or come up with multiple titles for the product (um, what?). Page titles should be precise and what the user is searching for.

Related keywords — product pages
Related searches — category pages, product pages, content pages, reviews and guides

Where do you get these terms? Log files, PPC terms.

How many terms should be on a page? At least 5 permutations per product up to 20 at a top level. 5-20 per category and 5-10 per attribute or facet.

Expose the words close the top of the site. Make sure that the links to the words are repeated on appropriate pages throughout the site.

Consider using a comparison shopping engine to supplement your traffic
Shopping engines are highly tuned to drive the tail and see upwards of 99 percent of their inbound traffic from the tail.

Your affiliates are great sources of information. Look at what they’re doing and learn from them. Look at how they’re naming their pages and how they’re getting traffic.

Strictly from and SEO view, over 90% of your traffic should be from long tail terms. Otherwise you’re leaving money on the table.

Stephan Spencer wraps up the session, just as my wrists start to hurt for the first time. He says we’re not going to keep up. Curse you, Stephan. You can get the powerpoint from

The long tail focuses on unbranded search markets, leverage your Web site scale & authority and rely on users to create content for you.

He just went through four slides in about 10 seconds. Oh god.

For large dynamic sites, they saw 100 search terms for every unique page.

Most merchants have 80 percent of their pages driving NO search traffic. Most don’t even know this or why it’s a problem (and most analytics programs won’t tell them this either). That’s a sign that they’re not capitalizing on the long tail. Measure which pages exist but aren’t pulling their weight. Non-performing pages are opportunities.

Phrases per page: reflects on page keywords. More pages, more long tail.

User generated content–turn JavaScript into text content and use the searcher’s own words to bring in more long tail terms.

Visitors per phrase: reflects your brand’s strength

Iterative testing and measurement:

  • Experiment with your SEO
  • Only utilize the strategies/tactics that follow if you can test and measure the effects
  • You can’t just quantify effects on sales alone
  • Incorporate new KPIs to in order to view the whole channel more holistically (vs just looking at rankings on the top 100 keywords)

Thin Slicing:

  • Make quick decisions, don’t overthink.
  • Only really works if you’re an expert.
  • Hand optimize titles across the tail. Just five or ten seconds per page. (They have plug ins for wordpress to help that)

Shorter URLs get more clicks. Put good keywords in the URLs but keep it short.

Anchor text is critical. Optimize pagination. Pagination kills your SEO. Reduce number of pages to improve crawlability and indexation. Consider disallowing “View all” links and forcing spiders through sub-category pages.

And we’re done. So fast. I don’t have fingers anymore. (other coverage: SER, AimClear and…someone I missed.)


Is Tier 3 traffic worth it for number of conversions?

Brock: The volume wasn’t the same, of course.

For Stephan: What three things would you tell us to do?

Stephan: Tagging is very very powerful. You can tag it yourself or use mechanical turk for scale. Create “combo” tags that tag brand names, news, etc and then you can group those pages into combinations “apple news” “apple iphone news” etc. Three tags, grouped into one page.

How do you organize your tags and develop a taxonomy
Stephan: you can leverage your consumers, using internal search data (external search data isn’t as good as because it’s a self fulfilling prophecy–you’re getting traffic because you already rank for those terms.) Again, you can outsource to Amazon’s mechanical turk. (Mechanical turk is similar to Google Image Labeler.) The devil’s in the details in terms of organizing it but you start with raw data and start to sort and test it.

How much time do I spent on long tail vs other things?

Aaron: I’m biased so 100 percent.
Stephan: Depends on your site, 5000 SKUs would be less than a 500,000 SKU Web site. I’d spend a lot of time. Focus on title and URL optimization because it’s going to make your whole site rock.
Mary: Take care of your major optimization first and gather your long tail terms as you go then focus on those and work through them.
Brock: Long tail terms are definitely valuable but it’s all about automation. We’re working on a new technology to help automation. (Aaron: With the logs, you’re going to really be looking at what the users are doing.)
David: From the PPC side, you’re going to have several fat tail terms but many many more long tail terms.
Stephan: You don’t want the same tag cloud site wide. There should be distinct categories. Start with news, that page would then have apple news on it, the apple news page would have apple iphone news, etc. (AN: Siloing!)

Question about keywords in URLs

Stephen: You need to do a lot of testing to see what keywords would work where in a URL. Tracking parameters are death to SEO. If you have multiple URLs that lead to the same content, that’s a duplicate content issue. Use hash to do your tracking parameters because the spiders will ignore that. [AN: Really?]
Aaron: When you’re dealing with scale, you’re going to run into duplicate URLs. Take the next word from the Description in that case.

How do you get the little local guys to understand the value?

Mary: Your best friends are the yellow pages guys who are telling them that they need to be online. You have to do a lot of the work for them and do it in little pieces and give them back results. You can’t ask for $10000 up front, you need to say ‘give me half of your yellow pages budget and I’ll show you results’. Radio and print don’t have trackable results. Online does, and you can leverage that to show value.

How do you consult a big company competing against the niche sites?

Aaron: the little sites are usually pretty easy to overtake. Get the social media attention on them or move your niche pages closer to the home page.
Stephan: Increase your entire site’s reputation in the engines. A rising tide lifts all ships, kind of thing. Increase your PageRank (the real stuff, not the green toolbar pixie dust). Identify good sites to go after and get links from. One link can do a huge amount of good.

Susan Esparza is former managing editor at Bruce Clay Inc., and has written extensively for clients and internal publications. Along with Bruce Clay, she is co-author of the first edition of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.

See Susan's author page for links to connect on social media.

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