The Long Tail defined

by ian on October 18, 2010

The Long Tail
Specific, niche search phrases, usually more than 2 words in length, that offer a low competition, low search volume and high searcher intent.

An example of the long tail in SEO

Say you sell socks. You obviously would love to rank #1 for ‘socks’. So you hire an SEO professional, and they go to work. After spending a ton of money, you still aren’t ranking #1 for ‘socks’ – you’re #3. That ain’t bad.

So you look at your data, and sure enough, ‘socks’ is by far your biggest traffic generator:

socks is clearly a 'head' term

Socks is your ‘head’ term. After that, there are hundreds of other phrases that generate little dribs and drabs of traffic. Examples might include:

‘red wool socks’
‘socks with cats on them’
‘socks that knock my socks off’

At first, it seems like you should dismiss them. But when you add them all up, they’re generating as much traffic as ‘socks’:

long tail terms generate as much traffic as the 'head' term

And they convert better, because the people searching on them know just what they want:

the long tail generates a higher conversion rate

The end result is that all those long tail phrases actually generate more revenue:

the long tail can be a better revenue source


In this example, ‘red wool socks’ and the other lesser phrases are the long tail.

Long tail: It’s opposite the head

SEOMOZ has collected some great data about the long tail, so I’ll just summarize:

  • ‘Long tail’ terms comprise 70% of all search queries;
  • The top 1000 terms searched only comprise 10% of all search queries.

The long tail is where it happens. No one long tail phrase will show up in an SEO’s portfolio – getting a high ranking for ‘socks that are blue with spots’ is far less sexy than ranking #3 for ‘socks’. But they do the work, because folks who search for them are more likely to buy/become leads, and because the vast majority of searches are long tail.

Long tail phrases are the blue collar workers of the search world. They make it happen. Ignore them and your whole internet marketing economy may fall apart.

To dos

  • Do on-page SEO
  • Use a good site structure
  • Build a keyword map
  • Ensure site visibility
  • Don’t over-focus on ‘head’ terms

Related/other modules in this section:

  1. Measuring SEO opportunity gap: Know what you’re missing
  2. Creating Your Keyword Map

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