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How Long Should Your Long Tail Be?

Aug 17, 2007
One of the hot topics in search engine optimization right now is the long tail; that is, the 3-5 word keyphrases that can be less competitive and bring you in more visitors. However, what qualifies as "long tail" can depend on your niche.

Let's take a look at "home business" as a keyphrase. Two words.

Increasing "home business" into three words expands a little bit into the long tail but in many cases isn't decreasing the competition that much.

Now take "search engine optimization." Three words, but definitely not a long tailed phrase for that particular industry. We're talking some serious competition for those three words.

This is the case in many an industry. Don't limit your long tail thinking to just 3-5 word phrases. In some industries you're barely describing it at 3 words. Things don't even start to get interesting until you have at least 5 words in the phrase.

The entire point of the long tail is to get the attention of the serious searchers, the ones who know what they want. People typing in"home business" and similar phrases into a search engine are just exploring. They generally aren't ready to buy. Someone typing in "affiliate home business" or "home business party sales" is somewhat more ready to go, but perhaps not completely certain. But as the words get more definite you can quickly recognize that someone is searching for something they are really interested in.

Rather than thinking of the long tail as a 3-5 word keyphrase, I suggest trying to think of it as a keyphrase 2 or more words longer than your primary keyphrase. In many industries a single keyword doesn't come close to being relevant; in fact many times 2 words don't do much better.

The challenge with the long tail then becomes "how long." How long a phrase should you aim at?

You cannot get every phrase typed into a search engine for your topic. It's just not possible and every day phrases that no one has ever typed in before are used. What you want to do is pick phrases that are still typed in regularly. You want phrases that will be productive, not that will only produce a visitor by sheerest random chance.

This is why you need to make the most of your keyword research. You want those keyphrases that customers actually use yet relatively few of your competitors have noticed. That's where your best shot at making a living off the long tail comes from.

Using the long tail effectively is not all that easy. You have to be able to work it naturally into your copy. You have to appeal to the search engines. You have to be able to use a lot of different yet similar keyphrases without appearing to be nothing but near duplicate content. Originality can be hard to maintain if you're trying to optimize a site.

This is what makes the long tail ideal for pay per click. You can make as many targeted pages as you need, and just block the excess from the search engines. Your visitors get what they need and you don't annoy the search engines. Long tailed phrases are more likely to be on the cheap side. Combine that with the tendency of such searches to be more serious and you have a dream pay per click situation.

Every webmaster is going to have his or her own way of dealing with the long tail. Take your time and test what is effective with your sales tactics.
About the Author
Stephanie Foster runs http://www.aspectsofhomebusiness.com/blog/ where she talks about running a home business. She also discusses affiliate marketing and other topics at her site.
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