SEO KPI: Exposing the Long Tail

This is part of my series on SEO KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators). I found it hard to find this sort of information before (presented in an unbiased manner) and have as such begun compiling these articles. I hope they help you!

What is the Long Tail?

If you’re only interested in the KPI part, skip this section. The term The Long Tail was pioneered by Chris Anderson of WIRED magazine when he first published an article about it in 2004.  To quote him directly:

The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of “hits” (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail.

How does this apply to SEO and your website? Quite simply, the richer and more detailed your content is, the more exposed it will be to an even larger combination of keywords people search on. Imagine for a second you sell clothing online and rely on the images within your e-store to describe the product visually to the client. The typical and popular keywords flowing in could include something like “blue shirt”, but the theory behind the long tail is that there are so many other search terms that hardly get any traffic, but when put together, their numbers become very significant. A typical long tail search for the same scenario could be “men’s navy blue french cuff dress shirt from calvin klein”, but how is anyone ever supposed to find your product if those sort of descriptive keywords aren’t even listed?

Regardless of the industry, there is always great potential for the long tail. Below is a chart of relative traffic for every single keyword or keyword string that was searched on my client’s website. I sorted it with the most popular keywords at the beginning in order to display the “long tail”:

Google Chart

What’s remarkable is that the top 10 keywords only dominate 30% of the search. With my particular client, some users will use “hotel” instead of “resort”, or “boutique” instead of “luxury”, or use words in different orders. Being able to optimize your website towards such a diverse use of keywords will allow you to tap into the long tail (the area highlighted in gray above). If your keyword distribution isn’t similar, you’ve got some work to do!

How do you measure the Long Tail?

Being able to measure how wide of a net your website casts is very important, because a solid long tail now will let you know that when you start scaling up your business or inventory, you’ll be doing so with good on-page optimization that results in traffic and conversions.

If you read my previous piece on SEO KPI’s, I had discussed a small business client of mine that was in a highly competitive niche (tourism). Below you will see on a weekly basis how many keywords or phrases generated visits to the website.

Google Chart

The popular keywords (i.e. in the top 10%) made up the foundation, but when I started optimizing pages in week 8 to reflect certain opportunities I detected, the website suddenly had stronger exposure to other keywords (even doubling the previous performance at one point). This contributed nicely in terms of conversions and is a great KPI to monitor.

Extracting from Google Analytics

I monitor this statistic through excel as it’s not something that is automated in Google Analytics. What you’ll want to do is navigate to Traffic Sources >> Keywords, and then set a weekly date range. You will retrieve the number highlighted below for each week:

long tail google analytics

The larger the number, the further your reach. Analyze and optimize, rinse and repeat!

Further Reading