Are your clients' search engine optimization efforts making good use of long tail queries?
A good grasp of keyword usage is as essential to SEO as SEO is important to online business. Different keywords, however, perform variably. For instance, some keywords bring in a deluge of organic traffic when targeted properly, while some, such as long tail queries, generate a trickle in comparison but make up for it through high conversion rates.
Long Tail 101
The term "long tail" originates from statistics, where a greater number of consumers can be found in the tail-end of the normal distribution's graph instead of its head. If that was a mouthful, layman-unfriendly phrase, just remember that when applied to keywords, longer queries theoretically generate more traffic.
Actually, this is usually not the case. What really happens is that long tail queries do not necessarily bring in more traffic, but rather, more valuable traffic, made up of consumers who know what they want and are ready to purchase.
Targeting the Long Tail Works
Long tail queries have been proven to work. You can effectively target long tail queries for pay-per-click ads as well as organic search.
What makes long tail queries so effective is the factor of specificity. We mentioned that long tail brings in more valuable traffic that converts more easily - this is because people who use long tail queries obviously know what they want (thus the multiple keywords) as opposed to people who use more general, generic, fewer keywords who are most probably asking search engines to point them in the right direction. Long tail people already know what they want to buy or purchase or subscribe to, they just need search engines to show them where to get it.
Challenges to Long-Tail Profitability in the Past
One of the more notable challenges that has raised concerns that long-tail might be "dead" is that long tail queries are simply not effective in larger niches such as blockbuster or music "pop culture."
Far from the truth. Try searching for concrete challenges to long tail profitability and you'll probably find some more examples, but from a couple of years ago. More and more people have been using long-tail queries, mixing and matching keywords to find the right place to get what they want (hello, conversion!)
To illustrate this point, an article from May 2010 in the Small Business Search Marketing website notes Google's raw search data (click-throughs and other actions not included) that 54.5% of search queries use 3 words or more. Search queries have been evolving and have been becoming more unique as the technology progressed and the users learned.
So how about today, in the reign of Google Panda, Penguin, and soon, the Knowledge Graph?
After Panda, Penguin, and Most Notably, the Google Knowledge Graph
You can probably expect long tail query optimization to become more valuable in the future. As Google Panda is still sending webmasters into frenzied rank-saving tactics and Penguin is still being analyzed for what it is and what it isn't, Google's content quality and link structure integrity standards are becoming increasingly more rigid. Trying to rank for just a couple of keywords is tantamount to going up against the big brands and websites that dominate them - nearly an impossible task.
And then there is the Google Knowledge Graph - the future of intelligent search. In the Knowledge Graph's search results, your small to mid-sized business website will probably not even register as a related result, unless the search term used is quite unique.
What this all means is that long tail queries work: they are more likely to convert to sales. They will also become more central to the future of SEO strategy, especially when technology like the Knowledge Graph starts to lead the industry.