In the Long Tail

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You experts in SEO out there will laugh, but I had never heard the expression “in the long tail” until I came across this sentence on a site devoted to that subject:

Fresh and relevant content is becoming more and more important to SEO and establishing rankings, both for money terms and in the long tail.

My immediate reaction was to ask myself if the writer had been reaching for the expression “in the long run.”

But that sentence is followed by this:

It may be easy to tell people [to generate fresh content on a daily basis], but in the long run, writing an article or blog post everyday [sic] can be tiring…

Clearly the writer is familiar with the expression in the long run, so what am I missing?

According to PCMag.com, long tail is

[t]he potential for online retailers to make more money than their bricks and mortar counterparts…

There’s even a book by Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine, called The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More (2006).

Those of you who understand such things can go to the Wikipedia article for a more detailed explanation.

Wikipedia “Long Tail”

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9 thoughts on “In the Long Tail”

  1. This is a term that is frequently used in marketing. The concept has been around a long time, though the term is fairly new.

    One example of the “long tail” is selling 8-track tapes, a technology that has passed its peak. While most people have abandoned 8-track tapes, a few people still want them. If you imagine a bell curve representing interest in music playback products, these people are way out past the mean, past 3 standard deviations where the other 99.7% of us are. They are out where the “tail” of the curve stretches toward infinity. This is the “long tail.”

    Or you can imagine a frequency distribution (like the graph in the Wikipedia article). Using imaginary numbers: 80% of people may want MP3 players; 15% may want CD players; 4% may want cassette players; and 1% may want 8-track tape players. Buyers in the 4% and 1% groups represent the long tail. There aren’t many of them, but they exist.

    Because these buyers do exist, sellers still exist. However, no one is going to open a store to sell 8-track tapes. Such an enterprise would soon go broke. The buyers are too few and too widely dispersed geographically. On the other hand, selling 8-track tapes through the Internet is possible, using such sales outlets as eBay.

    Sellers could specialize in these “long tail” products. They won’t sell many of any one product, but if they have many such products to sell, they could do reasonably well in the market.

    When you are shopping and see some unusual product, you might think to yourself, “Who would buy that?” Maybe most people wouldn’t, but some will. The store, in this case, is using the concept of the long tail to make a few additional sales and, perhaps, attract people into their stores who would otherwise not visit. Those people may buy other products, too, even though they came specifically for the specialty product.

    How this applies to search engine optimization (SEO) is pretty much the same as the store in that example. Buy focusing on terminology specific to a buying niche, the articles (or other SEO strategies) target very specific types of people who are interested in very specific things. Then, when those people enter search terms related to their niche interests, the article or website containing those terms will rise high in the organic search results. In this way, people who visit a particular website are more likely to become buyers of whatever is being sold on that site. The conversion rate for these visitors is higher than for general visitors.

    Phew. (It’s times like this when I am glad that I type fast.)

  2. @ PreciseEdit: Thank you for the clear and well written explanation.
    I edit how-to books for a living – and I wish some authors I work with could explain something not so simple so well. 🙂

  3. I was very curious as to the meaning of “In the long tail” I had never heard it before and I am most interested to read the explanation in Wikipedia.

    Thank you for your informative well written explanation


  4. PreciseEdit,
    I second Nuscha — great explanation. It caused me to understand the concept better than the Wikipedia article did.


  5. @PreciseEdit
    Awesome explanation! I had no idea what that was until now, so I’m glad I’ve officially learned something today! I’ll have to put the concept into usage.

  6. I like Precisedit’s explanation. Through the net you can make money with niche products, which the mainstream sellers have to leave.

    Another definition is to develop a website with a long tail. In this case the long tail was lots of content, with some non-standard words, so that you can catch searchers using unusual combination of words.

    In reality the more content you have, and the larger selection of words you have, the bigger target you are for searchers. Then playing the other SEO techniques, such as freshly updated content, makes you very attractive.

    This was an argument for longer posts and posts that are not tightly written for a specific set of search words. One site years ago, which was fairly successful, targeting car parts advertising, wrote the same, or similar article, for every make of car.

    So a general article – how to check the oil level on a Ford Focus, would be cut and pasted for every version of Ford Focus, eg Ford Focus GTI, then a new article for Ford Focus GTEi, etc, with just a little bit of detail describing that particular version. (This was no doubt cut and pasted from Ford’s website).

    He would then use the specific make detail in a whole range of other articles, such as how to replace the exhaust pipe (muffler) on each of the models. Which would be identical.

    His site could therefore be described as having a wide tail, ie a large target, in his niche market.

  7. Great explanation Precise edit..

    Internet certainly helps people with long tailed interests (if i may say so) in finding out their obsolete or tough-to-find or rarely/scarcely liked products.

    All the enthusiasts already know this and use internet extensively to find out those cornered products in a box (i call them cornered because they were in the mainstream box eversince and now they have been cornered). Once in a blue moon, someone comes out in search of them creating the famous LONG TAIL.

  8. Nuscha–thanks. We edit and write how-to books, too, so the kudos are appreciated. It’s an interesting topic.

    At the moment, I’m thinking specifically about eBooks and how easy distribution to a large market can help writers focus on the long tail.

  9. I should know better than to post comments at 4:00 a.m. Here’s the rest of the comment above:

    As I’m sitting here, I’m thinking specifically about e-books and how easy distribution to a large, but geographically diverse, market can help knowledge specialists focus on the long tail. E-books offer an interesting opportunity for those with specialized knowledge to share, and sell, their knowledge to a niche market. We’re using this strategy with our e-books on effective writing.

    The business model looks like this: Perhaps only 0.1% of English-speaking book buyers want a guide for improving writing. Of all book buyers, these people are in the long tail. However, one person in every thousand still represents a large number of potential sales when you consider the number of English-speaking book buyers globally. [As something of a footnote, we sell quite a few copies of the Precise Edit Training Manual and our 100 Days to Better Writing to buyers in India, which seems unlikely for printed books but is possible with e-books.]

    In this way, those with specialized knowledge or abilities can target the long tail through e-books and Internet technologies.

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