What is the Long Tail?
The above video from 2006 shows Chris Anderson explaining how the Long Tail was undiscovered in things like movies and music – until the web came about.
If we think back to our example problem of a user searching for “Paris” and determining the user’s true intent, we notice another one of our Fundamental Online Laws (So far, we’ve seen Metcalfe’s, Moore’s, and Diffusion of Innovations).
Our next law is called “The Long Tail” and if we consider what most people would want when they search for the keyword “Paris”, chances are it would be the city in France and not the hotel heiress.
Search engines make some assumptions around this by looking at the history of the volume of search queries, whether users click thru to a site and immediately “bounce” back to the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), and the previous factors mentioned. Using some sophisticated statistical modeling, they are able to make a pretty good guess on what you as the user is searching on.
And remember the search algorithm is always evolving and getting smarter.
The Long Tail Graph
Chances are if we were to graph the volume of queries around “Paris”, we would find that most users are looking for the city in France. In fact, the volume of these keyword searches would fall to the left in green. Google would serve up pages that most likely reflect relevant content related to the city in Europe based on its search algorithm. After all, the majority of users are interested in this topic and not the television reality star.
Google is able to brilliantly track, aggregate, and then exploit what this collective “wisdom of the crowds” is for online search results. It won the search wars in part by providing better results using some very smart engineering on a simple insight that the majority of us are looking for the same thing.
For a fascinating read on the search engine wars and Google’s history, be sure to check out John Battelle’s The Search.
On the right in yellow, our research would show something surprising. If we were to examine the search queries, we might see phrases like “Hotels in Paris”, “Paris cafes”, “Best Hostel in Paris”, “Paris in the Spring”, “Paris in the 1920s”, “Weather in Paris in winter” and of course “Paris Hilton”. Taken individually, each of these phrases would represent a very small volume of searches compared to just the term “Paris”.
Image Source: SEOmoz.org’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO
It might be impossible to rank on the first page for the popular search term “Paris”. But the Long Tail tells us that in reality it only makes up roughly 30% of the overall searches performed on the web. Yet, 70% of the search terms are the little bits that are the unique longer phrased keyword searches like we just saw.
Visually, it can be deceiving but when all of these searches in the Fat Head and Chunk Middle are added together, the volume is equal to that of the Long Tail part of the curve.
Key takeaway: The Long Tail means there is an niche for everything online. Moore’s Law removes space as a constraint, so everything has a home on the web and an audience that will likely access it through a search engine.