So we know we care about the long tail keywords because we know they make up around 75% of all searches. The other big advantage of the long tail is that it’s often easier to rank for long tail searches.
If I started a site today selling custom-built laptops, I would have no practical likelihood of ranking for the head term “laptops.” Instead a smart SEO strategy would be to include a lot of very thorough articles about how to customize laptops, and detailed reviews of different machines or components — in other words I’m creating the kind of content that places like NewEgg and BestBuy.com don’t have, which gives me the opportunity to capture long tail searches that the big guys either aren’t ranking for, or aren’t very topically relevant for.
Optimizing for the long tail is a bit more subtle, since we often don’t even know what terms we’re specifically trying to capture. The key to long tail optimization is to have a lot of very good content (and by content, I mean word count).
More Content for More (Long Tail) Keywords
Sites targeting only head terms often have only a paragraph of text that stressing their head term keywords and, frankly, doesn’t really provide much information.
Long tail optimization stresses having much longer text that provides truly useful information that people are looking for, and answering questions that people might have. The more quality content you have, the better the odds that you struck some vital word combination that someone might search for.
Long articles that aren’t truly useful, or good, tend not to do very well with long tail, because by the very nature of bloating your word count with fluff, you aren’t saying things that people are really looking for (indeed, these types of articles aren’t really saying anything at all). No one is searching for your stream of consciousness ramble about different types of laptops. By focusing on providing real information that real users are looking for, you’ll end up hitting lots of things people are, or will be, searching for.
Rank the Head to Rank the Tail
The other part of long tail optimization is simply to rank for the head term. A site that ranks for the head terms is far more likely to rank for the long tail, as long as it’s topically relevant to the search query.
Thus doing all the things you can to build authority and rank for the head term — even if you know you have no chance of ranking for it — will increase your ability to rank for all the related long tail terms.
In my laptop example above: while the new site can write some awesome articles to capture long tail traffic; if BestBuy or NewEgg had the same articles, they would outrank the new site due to their overwhelming authority.
Happily giant sites (or rather, giant corporations) tend to be really bad about providing lots of great content — or indeed much of it at all. My theory is that once they get really big, they get the idea that it’s not worth pursuing things that take lots of man-hours, but instead only want to do something they can scale across their massive site. As a result they leave lots of scraps around for the little guys — and a smart site owner can use those scraps to grow their brand to the point where it can compete with the big guys.