The Long Tail Theory

by Dmitry Kirsanov 16. April 2012 16:00

SEOThe Long Tail theory in Search Engine Optimization is a reflection of an older Long Tail concept which was developed in the middle of 20th century and which basically states, that you can either focus on a few very popular things or many unpopular, but the accumulated popularity of the latter, reinforced by higher specialization and increased diversity, will make it more stable investment of your money and time.

In other words, instead of trying to moderately please everyone, try to highly please few diverse groups of customers. If one product fails, it won’t become a catastrophe, because you have other products. And because the product is “aimed” at something special – be it function or group of customers, it will be considered “professional” even if it’s not better than more generic or more complex products.

This theory can be successfully applied in many other areas, even though it’s not the only right way and in some situations could be even detrimental. An example in real world production could be the Swiss knife. It contains a lot of items bundled inside a single bulk tool. However, if you would produce and sell each of these tools separately, chances are you would have better profits even though some of the tools would be more successful than others.

In software development that would be developing a number of separate tools instead of creating one that would have the functionality of many. This also explains the success of mobile applications like picture resizers, even though more advanced free picture editors have that functionality as well. In consumer’s mind, the specialized application most likely does it better.

In system administration that would be having multiple less expensive servers instead of one very powerful and expensive.

Long Tail Theory in Search Engine Optimization

Since modern SEO is more than just optimizing the website contents for the search engines, but also satellite disciplines such as advertising and copywriting, I think you won’t be surprised by that applying the long tail theory to SEO doesn’t really optimize the content of your website for search engines. However, when we say “optimization”, it’s not only about the content of your website. In this particular case, since the main advertising platform is powered by the search engine, visitors are coming from the search engine and advertisement is triggered by the keyword entered into the search engine, we can say that in this case we are talking about the SEO in it’s pure sense.

The long tail in SEO is like sharpshooting. Instead of showing your advertisements to the crowd, you are doing it to more interested audience. Imagine that you are selling mountain bikes in Dallas, and you want to promote your website by placing advertisements in Google Adwords. In that case, you should not choose the target keyword “bike” or even “mountain bike”, because more than 99% of people who will search for that keyword are not interested in buying mountain bike in Dallas. However, a lot of people are searching by that keyword, and a lot of companies – usually manufacturers of bikes, compete for that keyword. And that makes keyword very expensive.

So, aiming at generic keyword will make your advert highly ineffective and inadequately expensive. At the same time, aiming for “mountain bike Dallas” will be much cheaper, and there is a better chance that people using that keyword are looking for a mountain bike in Dallas.

But even that might be not enough. Since you have many bike brands in your store, use each one of them as part of the phrase – you’ll get a lot of variations, but they will be inexpensive and highly targeted. “Merida mountain bike Dallas” would do, among others.

Examples of using Long Tail concept in SEO

If you are selling real estate in Dubai, you don’t have to compete with real estate agencies in UK. Which means that “real estate” alone should not be in your list of keywords. “real estate Dubai” is much better and much cheaper. “Buy real estate Dubai” is even better. Even though you will get less clicks for these more specific, less expensive keywords, the potential conversion ratio is much higher, because people will see your advertisement when they will look for it!

In case you are selling only luxury items – make your keywords even more specific, to avoid needless competition with players from other segments of the market. And to make keywords even cheaper, hopefully, allowing you to show more adverts using the same budget.

So we can say, that Long Tail theory is about effective spending of your resources – be it time, money or efforts.

If you are running software development company in Ukraine which is specializing in developing software for medical and insurance companies, then you should have a large list of very specific (and cheap!) keywords. Although people won’t see your advertisement when they would search for software development company in Ukraine, they would see you if they would look for a company that has experience in developing software for hospitals. And they will click to convert, instead of click and close.

If you own a café in Manhattan and you are proud of your Latte recipe, and you would like to see a lot of hipsters as your loyal customers, then target for all combinations of these keywords, but definitely not for any single one of them.


So, you get the idea. You can show your advertisement to the world and enjoy a lot of visits that won’t convert, or show less adverts, but have more conversions per invested dollar. Still, there are situations when you should aim at the head, not at the tail, make sure you don’t limit yourself with any theory, no matter how good it is.


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