Is Long Tail SEO Really SEO?

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I’ve had many discussions with others in the SEO arena over the years regarding the value of long tail SEO. But until this weekend I’ve never had anyone in our industry tell me that long tail is NOT SEO.  So when I read that, I had a big WTF moment.  The ensuing discussion essentially got nowhere as far as anyone changing their minds.  For me, it’s because I believe there are various forms of long tail, but it’s all SEO nonetheless…

The whole discussion came up in the comment thread of my “JC Penney has bigger SEO problems than paid links” article.  Jill Whalen is the one who brought up the notion.

Jill Whalen says long tail traffic is not SEO

It’s Jill’s position that

“Anyone can get longtail traffic by simply writing lots and lots of content. You don’t need an SEO for that.

SEO is about getting highly searched upon, highly relevant traffic that converts.”

UPDATE 2/15/2011

Jill provided some great clarification this morning.  It’s her opinion that long tail is phrases that are only searched once , or rarely – like maybe up to a few times a year.  You can read her article about this aspect of Long Tail to see where she’s coming from.

And for the record, I think long tail is not just words that generate one or three searches a year.  I think it is that for sure, but it’s also just phrases that you might consider middle tail – phrases Jill might consider “keyword gems”.  Phrases that are four or five words, sometimes three even, and of course, even longer phrases… But that’s just my opinion.

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Some people actually agree with Jill on this.

I’m not one of them. And for the those who chimed in agreeing with Jill, others agreed with me.  Here’s why…

SEO is about getting highly relevant traffic that converts. It’s NOT all about only focusing on highly searched upon phrases.  Here’s an example of why I believe that.

Chart showing Revenue goes up with Long Tail SEO

Note how the best practices SEO implemented on this particular site resulted in an increase in organic visits, and total number of keywords the site was found by.  That’s a huge jump.

And sure, the revenue from long tail decreased as more people found the site through those higher value, higher searched phrases.  Yet the work I tasked out on this site was intentionally crafted to go after both short and long tail.  Both.

And to discount the revenue value from the long tail is, in my opinion, a serious disregard for a significant portion of revenue.

Aiming For Short And Long Tail

The fact is that on this site, I refined the focus – narrowed it down dramatically.  So instead of five or six phrases being stuffed in the titles, and eight or ten phrases being seeded on the pages, it became two phrases per title, and primary seeding.  And only two or three longer tail phrases in the content.

Well written content mind you.  The kind you’re supposed to be crafting when writing content for SEO.  Because it’s well crafted for users.  Yet with SEO in mind.

So by reducing the total number of phrases seeded across the site, everything important went up.

Long Tail Is Inevitable – Resistance Is Futile

Now here’s the thing.  No matter how much you focus on short tail phrases, you need to write quality content right?  Unless you’re JC Penney.  But that’s another matter.  If you perform Best Practices SEO on sites, you need quality content.

So if you already know you need quality content, why would you NOT ensure that you go after long tail?

I’m not saying it should be the primary focus.  Just that it’s worth the minimal amount of time involved when done properly.

The “it’s just content writing” Argument

So let’s say you’re not an SEO professional.  You just know “Write good content. Lots of it”. If you do that, sure, you’ll stumble into lots of long tail.  Some of it might even be accurately relevant to your offerings.  But if you intentionally integrate SEO into your writing, and do so in an elegant way, you will inevitably increase the likelihood that whatever long tail you get will be much more relevant long tail.

The Long Tail Bonus

The best part of integrating long tail into your plan, it reinforces the short tail.  So it’s not irrelevant or “not SEO” at all.  It’s IMPORTANT to SEO.  Because search engines read the content and say “this content is truly relevant to the primary topical focus, and has all this supporting content that’s really closely related.  So it’s strong in the relevance aspects.

Update – Another case for why Long Tail is important

An article that Barry Adams wrote over on State of Search defining Long Tail, advocates why Long Tail should be part of your SEO regimen more clearly explains both why it’s valuable and that it’s not just about content, but about good Information Architecture, tags, breadcrumbs, and even taxonomy…

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No – I don’t know about you – if you want to ignore the long tail, you’re free to do so.  And if you think long tail is only some extra bonus that you stumble on by having well written content, that’s okay.

Me, I’m going to continue focusing primarily on the short tail and secondarily on the long tail.  At least until my clients tell me the major growth they see as a result of my recommendations is something they don’t care about.

Before SEOAfter SEO
Organic Visits 355,530 518,548
Keywords100,299154,183
Revenue from Long Tail48%40%
Alan Bleiweiss
Alan Bleiweiss is a Forensic SEO audit consultant with audit client sites consisting of upwards of 50 million pages and tens of millions of visitors... Read Full Bio
Alan Bleiweiss
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