Marketing To The Search Engine Tail

When you look at your site and your business a few keywords probably jump out at you. These keywords would seem to be the obvious ones you should target in your search engine marketing and optimization campaigns. They are searched most often and they decribe your business well. What if I told you that there are better keywords to target.

If you took all user searches and plotted them on a graph with the search keywords along the horizontal axis and the number of times the search was performed on the vertical axis it might look something like

The points to the left in the graph would be the search engine head. These are the obvious keywords you immediately think of in regards to your site. The points to the right form the search engine tail.

The search engine tail is composed of longer keyword phrases like ‘4 door blue honda accord 5 speed’ as opposed to the less descriptive ‘honda accord’ or even the generic ‘car’ or ‘automobile’ keywords. Now you might be thinking you should be working hard to optimize your site for car or automobile since more people search for those words and if you can get your pages to rank for the term you’ll have more visitors to your site than you can imagine. After all who types in those long keyword phrases anyway.

People type in the generic keywords when they are first beginning their search. The person who types in car really hasn’t decided what car he wants to buy. He is just beginning his research and not very likely to make a purchase.

The person who types ‘4 door blue honda accord 5 spd’ knows what she wants. She has done her research and decided what car she sees herself driving for the next few years. She is much closer to making a purchase than our ‘car’ searcher.

Which visitor would you rather have at your site? The searches in the tail may not occur as often as those in the search head, but they lead to higher conversion rates. Would you rather have one visitor to your site who makes a purchase or 10,000 visitors who look around and then leave?

Not only are searches in the tail more likely to buy, but the chances of ranking higher in the search engines for search tail keyword phrases is much greater than ranking for keywords in the search head. You can often rank well in the tail with a new site and some basic search engine optimization.

Continuing our car example take a look at the results returned by Google for the following searches.

Search Phrase # of Google Results
car 736,000,000
automobile 98,400,000
honda accord 6,470,000
blue honda accord 1,650,000
4 door blue honda accord 1,170,000
blue honda accord 5 speed 926,000
4 door blue honda accord 5 speed 574,000

Notice how the more specific the search phrase the less competition there is for that keyword phrase. Less competition usually means it will be easier to find your site pages among the results assuming you’ve optimized well.

How are all those low converting and difficult to rank keywords that seemed so obvious sounding now. Putting your search engine marketing efforts into the search tail can provide better results for your site and your business. You have a better chance of being found in the search results pages and also once found have a better chance of converting your visitor into a customer.

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

5 comments

  1. Steve,

    thanks for your SEO tips and suggestions, I’ve finally ranked #1 for my keyword on msn.com!!! couldn’t believe it! The search results read: #1 of 2,200,000!

    thanks, keep up the great SEO work!
    Dustin

  2. It’s great :)

    I just reread this post. I guess every once in a while I need to do that to really get something ingrained in me. Thanks again for the great post, I think I’m going to focus on some new keyphrases again for today :)

    Dustin

  3. What if you have certain products offered on differant pages. Is it best to put search engine tails on the main page and the additional pages or just the additional pages?

    Awsome article.

    Thanks

  4. Brent, sorry I didn’t catch this comment awaiting moderation so my aplogies for not responding sooner.

    The idea with the search engine tail is to be as specific as possible with your keywords where you can. So using the example of the Honda Accord you would use the longer search phrase ‘4 door blue honda accord 5 speed’ assuming it was one of your products. You might then have another page with ‘red 2 door honda accord automatic transmission’ Admittedly that might not exactly flow, but you don’t need to use the term exaclty like that.

    You might say something about your 4 door and door honda accords come in both blue and red with automatic and 5 speed manual transmissions as options.

    Notice though how incorporated within the ‘blue 4 door honda accord 5 speed’ you also have the generic ‘honda accord’ or the slightly less generic ‘blue honda accord’ With higher level pages within your site structure I’d generaly use more generic terms, but with your product pages it’s easy to use the longer keyword phrases.

    You might have an entire section of your site for Honda Accords and on that main page you would naturally use the phrase ‘honda accord’ That main page may link to 4 door and 2 door pages so on those pages your phrases would be ‘2 door honda accord’ and ‘4 door honda accord’ and so on as you get deeper and deeper into your site.

    Notice the whole section is still optimized for ‘honda accord’ as it should be, but given the competition you may not be able to rank on that phrase right away. You will have a better chance of getting those deeper pages ranked and in time as you build links to your site the other pages of the section will beging to rank as well.

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