Aaron Wall has an excellent post today discussing how websites can use the long tail to generate a lot more reliable traffic than simply going for the major keywords in a particular niche.

Long tail

Consider an average e-commerce store selling thousands of books. It would be great if the site could rank number one for the keyword 'books' but in reality that isn't going to happen without a lot of work.

A much easier solution is to make sure your website ranks number 1 for the names of all the products you sell. This means you have thousands of number one rankings for terms that will probably only send 1 visitor a month. These visitors all add up to a very sizeable chunk of traffic and are highly lucrative.

Visitors searching for long tail product terms are focused on buying that particular product and convert at much higher rates than somebody searching for 'books'.

Although achieving long tail rankings is easier than getting rankings for major keywords, it is still quite hard for some e-commerce websites to overcome indexing issues built into their systems.

To take full advantage of the long tail, websites need to be very well structured and have basic elements in place to avoid duplicate content and 'bloating' issues which are caused when a content management system generates hundreds or even thousands of useless pages.

A good tip is to check all the different pages on your site and see if they are being indexed by the search engines. If they aren't, try to find out why. Common issues include a lack of PageRank caused by too few links pointing to that page or the fact it is very similar to one of the other pages on your site.

Each website has a finite amount of PageRank to share between its pages. If you have 10,000 pages then each page will have a lot less PR than if you only have 10 pages. It follows then that larger sites need to work much harder on link building if they want their long tail rankings to scale throughout the site.

Some webmasters submit an XML sitemap to let the search engines know about all their pages but this shouldn't be seen as a quick fix for a badly designed website or lack of PageRank.

Try to solve your indexing issues manually first and it will pay dividends in terms of better rankings in the long term.

Related research: SEO Best Practice Guide


Published 23 January, 2008 by Patrick Altoft

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Comments (1)

Richard Hartigan

Richard Hartigan, Industry Manager at Google

Whilst it is an advantage to rank well for the tail, it is important that organsations do not overlook the importance or ranking well for terms in the head.

Users that are searching within the tail are usually in the final part of their customer journey having started out with a generic click in the head.
Concentrating solely on the tail will allow for some conversion skimming but in the customers will tend to revert to the site they have used throughout the journey.

In thr long term it is important to have a good ranking across the full range of keywords, which is wholly achievable. There are plenty of smaller websites that rank well on important keywords in the head by operating a succinct and effective SEO strategy. Searching for big keywords such as "insurance", "flights" or "used cars" does not bring back results purely dominated by the major players.

Also, it cannot be forgotten that traditionally, keywords in the tail generally have lower paid search costs as well. Although a mechanism should be in place to ensure that these are consistently audited for conversion effeciveness and coordinated with relevant inventory levels.

The same principle must be applied to SEO rankings, to feature in position no.1 in the organic lsitings for products that you no longer sell will result in a long term loss of customer trust. This process is far harder to control in the due to the length of time search engines take to recrawl a site. Even sitemaps and URL removal tools take time.

over 10 years ago

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