Blogging for the Long Tail

One of the neat­est obser­va­tions to gain pop­u­lar­i­ty in the last few years is that of The Long Tail, first coined a few years ago by Wired mag­a­zine edi­tor Chris Ander­son (here’s the orig­i­nal arti­cle).
He noticed that the inter­net had opened up access to nich­es – that
search­es and nation­al dis­tri­b­u­tion net­works had giv­en new mar­kets to
obscure and small-market prod­ucts. The clas­sic exam­ple is Net­flix, the
direct-mail movie rental ser­vice, that has a huge cat­a­log of titles,
the great major­i­ty of which are so obscure that no local video rental
store could afford to car­ry them. But Net­flix actu­al­ly rents them all
and if you add all these low-volume rentals togeth­er you’ll find the
total vol­ume exceeds that season’s block­busters.

I
learned just how strong the long tail can be a few years ago when I
worked on Quak​erfind​er​.org, a meeting/church look-up ser­vice. For the
first year, the site got mod­er­ate traf­fic from search engines. Google
wasn’t able to index the actu­al church list­ings because users were
required to type towns and postal codes in to get results. The only
search engine vis­i­tors we got came in on very gener­ic phras­es like
“find quak­er meet­ings.”

Sus­pect­ing
we were los­ing a large poten­tial audi­ence, I redesigned the site so
Google could index each and every meet­ing (adding a few tricks so each
list­ing trad­ed links with half-a-dozen oth­er list­ings). Once the change
was in effect (help from our pro­gram­mer), those old gener­ic search
phras­es were still the most pop­u­lar. But now we got small num­bers of
vis­its on thou­sands of terms which we hadn’t hit before: “Quak­ers
Pough­keep­sie” and “Quak­er Church­es in San Fran­cis­co,” etc. This was the
long tail in effect. Our vis­its jumped four­fold with­in a few months
(see chart). The long tail made us much more vis­i­ble. (More on the Googliza­tion effort in that year’s ana­lyt­ic report.)

A great new traf­fic analy­sis ser­vice is called Hit­Tail.
Like many oth­er pro­grams it tells you what search phras­es have brought
traf­fic to your site. But what’s cool is that it gives
sug­ges­tions – key­words it thinks will bring even more vis­i­tors in. Some
of the sug­ges­tions are fun­ny. For exam­ple, it thinks I should post
about “tra­di­tion­al sweat lodge songs,” “tick­lish armpits” and “how to
dress with per­son­al­i­ty” over on Quak­er Ranter.
But it also thinks I might con­sid­er post­ing on “small church local
out­reach ideas,” “new online mag­a­zines” and “chris­t­ian quak­ers.”

If
all one was wor­ried about was sheer traf­fic vol­ume, then a post on each
key­word might be in order. But this would bring a lot of ran­dom traf­fic
and dilute any focus the blog might have (I already get a lot of
traf­fic on a par­tic­u­lar non-typical post that I wrote part­ly as an SEO exper­i­ment).
My guess is you should go through the Hit­Tail sug­ges­tions list to find
top­ics that match your site’s focus but do so in lan­guage that you
might not nor­mal­ly use.

I might try some exper­i­men­tal posts on
my per­son­al blog soon. I’ll def­i­nite­ly report back about them here on
the Mar​tinKel​ley​.com design blog. In the mean­time, check out HitTail’s blog, which has some good links.

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