What exactly is the long tail? Individually unimportant, but collectively significant according to Chris Anderson, who coined the term in 2004.
Why is the idea of the long-tailed keyphrase so critical to your link building campaign?
(Besides the obvious reason that is its very definition, of course.) It’s mainly because these keyphrases (which have been quite well tested in both PPC and SEO) tend to be niche enough that they can give you more conversions. When people get very specific, they mean business.
Before I move on, let it be said that when we’re talking about long-tailed phrases, I am not in any way suggesting that you try and bring in traffic for anything that you do not actually have. That would be foolhardy.
Ways to identify long-tail keyword phrases
- Analytics software. Whether you use a proper package or you’re wading through logs on your own, you can identify the long-tailed keyword phrases that searchers are using to find you. You can also do basic extrapolation on these if they’re not too numerous (or if they are numerous and you’re just either highly productive or very, very bored), adding relevant modifiers, for example.
- Keyword research tools. These abound in both free and paid versions, and I’m not tied down to one or the other most of the time. These can be used to create long-tailed keyphrases by simply entering in a few generic terms, or they can help out with the aforementioned attempt to find decent long-tails by adding some modifiers. They are particularly useful in helping you identify common misspellings, something that makes me shudder, but hey, lots of people can’t spell and they will indeed use misspellings when searching. Google Suggest, while not specifically a keyword research tool, can also give you some amazing ideas for long-tails, and it uses data from the most popular searches, so that’s a win-win situation.
- Checking rankings for primary keyphrases. Search for a primary keyphrase and take a good look at the content surrounding the keyphrase in all the SERPs. Just now I searched for “shirt” in Google, and the very first result gave me the content of “new graphic t-shirts.” That’s not a bad long-tail. When I search for “new graphic t-shirts” I see one that says “new limited edition graphic t-shirt.” Neither is that one. Just be careful not to spiral out of control here.
- Brainstorming. I have found that Excel is quite a useful tool when trying to come up with good long-tailed phrases. I may be overstating the obvious, and apologies if so, but it’s quite easy to put together a list of generic phrases that you know you want, and a list of adverbs and adjectives, etc. Talk to anyone you can about this, as people who sell the products know them well, as (occasionally, if you’re lucky) do people who designed/coded/maintain the site. Every SEO has dealt with someone who will not listen to reason when it comes to keywords, since there’s always that one guy who is absolutely positive that searchers will search using a phrase that, in reality, mainly just that one guy uses to search. Try these out as long-tails! Maybe there are more people out there like him.
Identify good landing pages for the long tail
How? Two ways:
- Find existing content. if your site has an internal search functionality, make us of it. Search for the long-tailed phrase plus your site name (or do any one of a variety of Google search queries, whatever is your preference) and see if you have something suitable. If so, you’re set. If not, see below.
- Create new content. if you’re sure that you either have no relevant landing pages or that you have no content for the long-tailed phrases but you do, in fact, offer this item/service/whatever, create some new content. That’s never a bad thing, in any case. Don’t create a full page for every insanely specific niche phrase, of course.
*Again, please, please don’t intentionally try and bring people into a page or site that actually is wildly irrelevant. I’ve had this happen to me, and I no longer trust those sites.
Build a few links with long tail words as anchor text
- Take a baseline. The baseline is a simple and oft-overlooked thing to do when link building. If you’ve used any form of analytics referrals in order to identify the phrases you want to work on, you should be able to easily get a baseline idea of how much traffic is currently coming in. If you’ve used another method and you’re not currently getting any traffic from the phrases, there’s nowhere to go but up, right? If you’re watching rankings, get an idea of where you stand with those. Just make some notes, basically so that you can later see if your efforts are paying off.
- Monitor progress. As mentioned above, you want to monitor this to see if what you’re doing is worth it. If you spend months linking to niche phrase x and you never see more than 2 referrals per month, it might not be worth it. If you see that niche phrase y initially brought in 15 referrals but now, thanks to your amazing link building, it’s typically bringing in 50 referrals per month, you’ll be able to expand on this, whether it’s through additional links or some other form of optimization.
- Adjust as necessary. The good thing about long-tailed optimization of any sort is that it tends to show results quicker than usual. Generic phrases, especially the more competitive ones, can take months to show any decent results. Long-tailed niche phrases, which are also commonly used to test different theories, can show results almost overnight in some cases. Just don’t be afraid to admit defeat, but don’t do it too quickly, either.
To conclude, long-tailed keyphrases tend to exist as afterthoughts, as something such as rankings or traffic that arise from the pursuit of the more traditional generic keyword phrases, but they can jazz up your link building if you’ll just pay a bit of attention and not treat them like the red-headed stepchild. Yes, you’ll get some residual long-tailed rankings and traffic, but you’re missing out on a huge opportunity if you don’t make some sort of concerted effort to capitalize on this phenomenon.
** For more information, SEL has an excellent older article on the long tail of search.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.