SEO and Blogging: The long tail and the short tail

by Julie on August 26, 2009

tail

When you’re building a presence online, the goal is to lead as many people to you as possible. Wait, no, that’s not true. You don’t just want ‘people’ to come to your site, you want ‘the people that want what you’ve got’ to come to your site. Besides the power of viral content and the majesty of word of mouth, your third tool is the draw of organic search. And organic search depends on content and how findable it is.

SEO

In the world of SEO (search engine optimization), you hear a lot about keywords and their importance for driving traffic. Specifically, keywords are broken into two categories: short tail and long tail.

A short tail keyword is a general term, like ‘cats.’ It’s a short tail because it doesn’t lead you anywhere deep, there are 93,600,000 sites that come up when you type the ‘cats’ search term into Google. And within those 93 million sites, you’ll find everything from photos to videos to medical info to breeders to college sports teams with the word ‘cat’ in their mascot name.

A long tail keyword is much more specific, for instance, ‘brown longhaired Maine Coon cat.’ This long tail will lead you through all of the information you don’t want to know (like the sports teams), down a long trail of sites to, in this case, the 134,000 sites that have the information that you’re looking for.

Blogging

The leap to blogging isn’t actually that far, as Heidi Cool pointed out to me in a recent Twitter conversation. A short tailed blog only takes you ankle deep. It has general information – and you’d better be a big player to bring in the traffic, because it’s going to be harder to stand out in a sea of, say, 93 million other blogs that are also covering your general topic.

But a long tailed blog, like a long tailed keyword, is niched and specific. It will bring highly targeted traffic right to your door site. With content built around a specific topic or industry area, you can be the expert in your field, or at least have a fighting chance of being found.

Heidi did warn not to get too specific – and Craig Kessler added his two cents as well. They both agree that while an intensely narrow niche is likely great for generating advertising dollars and for search ranking, it might be hard to sustain a consistent, information and value-packed stream of content. So? Walk the line: not general, but not too prohibitively specific.

Image credit: pCka

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Heidi Cool August 26, 2009 at 11:56 am

Julie,
Great explanation. I think many people get confused about long tails. Some see them as being unpopular or obscure. But the reality is just as you describe, narrowly focused on a specific niche. When it comes to blogs I think one just needs to find that sweet spot, narrow enough to be targeted to a specific audience, while broad enough to offer flexibility and lots of potential content.

I wrote a blog post awhile back, 5 reasons your blog should have an editorial policy, that can help bloggers define this sweet spot both to help them plan their content, and to let readers know what the blog is about.

Like your blog on social media, my Web Development Blog covers a specific subject, but Web development includes a range of topics from writing and content development to HTML, CSS, search engine optimization, social media and beyond. I’ll never run out of content ideas, but my readers also know what to expect. Topics may vary but it will always have something to do with the Web.

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