Search's Long Tail
If you’ve somehow missed discussion of "The Long Tail," it’s a reference to a landmark article of the same
name by Wired editor Chris Anderson that ran last October. It covered how the media and entertainment industries will succeed not by pushing only mass market hits that are
popular among many but by also mining the "long tail" of interest among a few in less-popular books, songs, movies and more.
Sure, maybe thousands want to buy a hit song. But add up all those who want to buy lesser-known titles, and they might generate as much or more revenue than the hits
themselves. As a merchant, you want to tap into both the "head" of interest and the "long tail" that follows behind.
The tail makes much more sense when you see charts that illustrate it, such as the one below:
Those are the top 100 queries related to shoes on the Overture network, from an article I did last September about Overture shifting to a broad match system (Overture Shifting To Default Broad Match).
The point I was explaining in that article is that there are a large number of queries that happen far less often than the "leading" terms like "shoes" or "running shoes"
at the head of the list. Most queries form the long tail that’s illustrated behind the head. Tap into the tail, and you’ve got sizable traffic, as well as traffic that often
is reported to convert better than less general terms.
In other words, search has a long tail too. Indeed, I’ve long heard references for years to the "search tail" or "query tail" I’ve illustrated above. I’m not sure where
that phrase it originated and with whom, but tails aren’t a new concept to the search world.
While it might not be new to search, it’s certainly great to have the tail becoming more popularized in general. That’s because it will further help those search marketers
who mistakenly fixate on only the most popular terms to realize they need to consider the tail as well.
Over the years in my regular SES session "Intro To SEM," I’ve also referred to the search tail as getting the "onesies and twosies," the queries that might only happen once
or twice in a month. Maybe they don’t seem important because of the low volume individually, but tap into lots of onesies and twosies, and you can be doing well.
So if you’re a search marketer hearing about The Long Tail for the first time, rejoice! Many of you have intuitively been mining it for ages. If you haven’t, start! That
means considering broad matching on both Google and Yahoo. For organic SEO, it means having lots of good content that will naturally tap into the tail of queries.
Meanwhile, some examples of how the search tail is becoming popularized and integrated as part of current Long Tail awareness for further reading:
I’d beg to differ on that point. Excite gained search-targeted listings through a partnership with FindWhat in April 2001. Over six months later, Yahoo finally
got the same through its partnership with Overture. Both partnerships let these companies earn off the
search tail. Excite was ahead of the game yet died. Yahoo survived. Blame lack of tail targeting? No, something else was at work.
I’d say Excite went bankrupt because among other things, it couldn’t afford to continue competing in
the expensive portal competition it was trying to fight. Maybe if it had gone after the tail even earlier, it would have survived (my
The End For Search Engines? article explains why this was hard).
But as noted, the fact that Yahoo pulled through doesn’t mean that failing to target the tail can take such heavy blame. Also be aware that while Excite the company died,
Excite the web site is still going. The traffic is much reduced, but it’s earning revenue today for the company that runs search there, Infospace.
Right now, Overture and Google struggle with how to fill out the "tail" of search queries with ads. These are queries that happen only a few times per month but in
aggregate represent a huge amount of unsold inventory.
For example, advertisers focus on high frequency terms such as "shoes," which Overture reports had over 1,000,000 requests in April 2004. It sells for a top bid of around
$0.55 and has 90 advertisers competing for it.
In contrast, "winged track shoes" happened only 27 times last month. No one is bidding on the term. That’s most likely because the low frequency doesn’t make it seem worth
the time. Yet someone searching for something so specific might convert better than the more generic "shoes" searcher.
Paid inclusion is a perfect solution for unsold ad inventory like this. Simply tell the advertiser that you’ll spider their site and let pages appear in the paid placement
area for a flat, low-cost rate when there is space available. Advertisers can still target the important terms, but they gain easy visibility for other important ones. Yahoo
reduces its unsold inventory. Searchers are spared confusion.