The Long Tail Theory, Defined

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The long tail theory of SEO is a premise that states that a website benefits more from ranking for lots of longer search terms on Google than it does from ranking for a few big search terms. For example, if you have a wine store in San Francisco, you might think that ranking for “wine store” would rain business down upon you. And indeed, that would be awesome. But the long tail theory hypothesizes that it would be better to rank for “best wine store in SF” “bay area’s top wine store” “store that sells fine rare wines” and hundreds of other highly specific terms. The aggregate value of ranking for all those terms is much greater than the value of just ranking for “wine store.” In fact, “wine store” is so general that the people who type it in may be less serious about finding a wine store than the people who type in “best wine store in SF,” for instance. Research has shown that the longer the phrase, the more likely that the searcher is looking to make a purchase.

Naturally, it would be great to show up for all the shorter, more competitive terms like “wine store,” in addition to all the long tail terms. The thing is, it takes months or even years to rank for the most competitive terms in an industry. Often, this means that people turn to a short term ranking solution like Google AdWords. But the approach First Page Sage takes, and the one I recommend to anyone doing SEO themselves, is to create lots of thought leadership content so that your site can rank for long tail terms. Any site that puts real effort into great content can rank for valuable long tail terms in a matter of weeks. Over the long term, your site will also begin to rank for the shorter keywords that feel more exciting. That’s probably the best part about the long tail theory: it allows your site to rank for both long tail and more competitive keywords if you do it long enough.

The key to successfully implementing a long tail SEO strategy is to create lots of landing pages, blog articles, and other content about highly specific topics, and to make sure your title tags contain keywords that reflect that specific content.

All of the biggest content websites on the Internet employ a long tail strategy. But where the long tail really shines is in the B2B world. The most successful B2B websites get their best leads for long tail search terms. Think about it: if you run a business law firm in Boston, would you rather show up for the ultra-competitive keyword “lawyer” or the far more specific long tail term “top boston business lawyers”? The former would probably be typed in by a researcher, and the latter by a prospective client.

Although the long tail theory was developed to explain a retail strategy, its application to SEO was soon realized and the term was adopted by the search optimization industry. I’m glad it was because it is the foundation for all of our thought leadership marketing campaigns.

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