Optimizing Your Long-Tail Content Strategy: A Guide

by on January 24, 2011 | posted in Miscellaneous Strategies

In this post, I am going to assume that your short-tail and your mid-tail content strategy is something that you’ve got relatively well in line. Whether or not that’s factual – well, only you can know that. But that part is relatively well documented (in my opinion), and overall, is functionally done a lot easier than the long tail is. Title tags in the front. A mild amount of Keyword Research – say buzz words like “great content” five times fast – and WAHZAM – you’ve got your content strategy.

Of course, it’s not that easy. But you get the point.

This is about the long tail. The sweet, syrupy long tail. Not your Daddy’s long tail – your extended family’s long tail.

Graphs - Youtube videos for smart people.

Source: SEOMoz.org

Dissecting Vertical Search Tendencies

Every time you do content and keyword research, it’s likely that you determine a good proportion of your  keywords rather easily. In this post, we’ll look at life insurance. In life insurance, most base terms have “chunky middle” nodes like quotes, policies, and rates that addon to the end of “life insurance”. For life insurance itself, this volume is rather large. Other mildly chunky-middle keyword add-ons most life insurance quote sellers would like to sell also exist – such as “compare life insurance”, “life insurance companies”, “best life insurance”, “cheapest life insurance”, or “cheap life insurance”. These types of keyword addons apply to many verticals – however, life insurance also has it’s own idiosyncrasies – such as it’s main life insurance types – whole, universal, and variable. On that end, “life insurance types” also has decent volume. Below, you can see how the “fat head” and “chunky middle” is represented by the main keyword – life insurance, and it’s chunky middle derivatives.

Individuals also like looking for policies specific to their state, although life insurance policies generally remain pretty static throughout the country. On that end, people, at even more granular level, are looking for policies in their city, such as “San Francisco Life Insurance”.

However, when we start looking deeper into life insurance, or any vertical with one large “head” term and several different “long” terms, it’s easy to forget about many of these prefixes and suffixes we’ve included. However, across one vertical – they ALL occur – even at some microscopic level – across the spectrum of your relevant keyword set. And they can ALL convert. So, it’s in your best interest to hit them all, right? After all, someone searching for “best cheapest Truth or Consequences term life insurance rates” has a need – and someone should fill it – right?

The difficulty with this is the balance beam of how much time it takes to create specific content for the cities, weighed against the likelihood they’ll drive any decent traffic. And then, the worry that too many weird SEOed links will hurt your user experience, first, and your rankings, second. These concerns are real – but in many ways, the concerns are exaggerated.

Creating a Keyword Node

When you start a website or begin an SEO campaign – or plan to do SEO in general, you should first create a keyword node – the building block upon all of your connecting content is built upon. Before starting this, you must first understand and differentiate between your content types. This applies to transactional queries – if people are looking for information, these nodes probably don’t apply across the board, because they are generally more broad and difficult to discern between. For transactional queries, though, these long tail keywords generally apply pretty broadly across a vertical, although they may not always be relevant. But they can’t hurt – as long as you know your information when you’re writing it, and you apply it correctly to the content.

So, your aim is to do intense keyword research at the beginning of your content creation cycle. When establishing which content should be created, you’ll notice lots of semantic commonalities that cross-reference across keyword sets. But at the same time, other keywords seemingly won’t show up, at least as it comes to having a significant keyword volume to show up in standard research techniques. But be sure, these applications exist, and you’d be naive to ignore a potential, relevant query that could occur in the future.

To give you an example of what I speak of, let’s look at a node for the sample vertical mentioned previously, life insurance.

As a head term, a singular piece of content on life insurance has very little chance of ranking for any of the terms I list above, simply due to the competition surrounding the keyword term. But the point, here, isn’t to rank for “cheap life insurance” or “cheap life insurance plans” – it’s to rank for all of these terms in your long-tail content – which, in life insurance, is the random, various ways people find to express “life insurance”, such as survivorship life insurance, joint life insurance, California life insurance, or anything else similar. On those three terms – or any others – it is very possible – and downright likely – that you’ll rank very well for all of the above keyword strings just by creating a piece of content with instances of all the above keywords.

I’m not suggesting that you say “cheapest life insurance” and then a sentence later “top life insurance” – that would be terrible and get you in immense trouble for keyword stuffing, and also, it would hurt user experience and make it difficult to convert users. However, at this long, long tail point, all it takes is to have these different long-tail keywords to occur once or twice in the content – independent of the “head” term – and you’ve got a great chance of ranking for the long, fat tail.

If you’re in a vertical, such as insurance, where local queries are common, I suggest building out a state page with all the instances of the above node, and within that, finding a natural way to name five or so of the most populous cities. It takes a great balancing act – and a good content writer, to balance user experience and optimal content writing, but it’s very possible.

Moving The Strategy Across Verticals

So you’re probably not in life insurance, but this strategy works in pretty much any vertical. If you’re selling premium WordPress themes like WPMU.org, you should do intense research around both the terms “pens” and “promotional”. A scrape-the-surface look finds unique terms to the vertical, such as “low quantity”, which could be wrapped into “high quantity”, and placed into a blurb at the bottom of the page – and broken down to an even more microscopic level on each specific product page. If you’re selling t-shirts like Cafepress, you look for common iterations that run across thematic types – such as “t-shirts for men”, “t-shirts for women”, “t-shirts for kids”, “cheap t-shirts”, and “t-shirts online”, and fit them into the product blurb on each of your pages – where applicable, of course.

Google Suggest and Plutonium Nitrate

When I was at SEOMoz’s recent conference, I picked up a great tip from Tom Critchlow (did I mention?) regarding Google Suggest for building out content. So, I suggest you do the following – adjunct the above node next to your content writer when they’re about to type up something for your site, and also have them boot up Google and input the term into the search bar. It’ll pour out some occasionally nefarious suggestions that may not fit into the above node, but people are searching for – whether it’s because Google suggests it or because they actually intended to.

Some of the terms won’t be very relevant, but even if there’s .0000003% relevancy, I’m strongly consider adding it in the content — as long as it doesn’t mean inputting “Las Vegas prostitution life insurance”. But don’t put it past me – someone’s searching for that.

What this requires, though, is a good content writer. You can’t have some random guy from Podunk, Cambodia writing your stuff – because it will be absolutely unreadable and also do a terrible job of pitching what you’re selling.

Content is Prince William

Yes, an SEO walks into a bar, and a post like this might be upsetting to the wrong crowd.

I don’t know about you, but I’m in it to win it, and our job is to drive relevant search traffic that converts. Using the above strategy, I am absolutely positive you can do both things in whatever vertical you call home. So, do what it takes to get stuff done and move the needle, or go cry about it in hopes that one day, good things will come to those that wait.

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  • http://supernaut.seo-teric.com Don Rhoades

    Solid as usual, Ross. I have been trying to explain the node for the better part of last year. Illustrations make all the difference! I’m like a fat man at a buffet, because I’m about to blow up!!! Pu3-HNO3

    • Ross Hudgens

      Yeah, turns out people don’t like text – who knew? Thanks for the dropping in the comments!

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  • http://www.essexseo.co.uk Essex SEO

    Thanks for sharing.

    I’ve found going for the main keyword, as an example “SEO”, doesn’t actually do much for traffic coming in from the search engines.

    Yet on our website DR Adept, we have used long tail keywords, not intentionally, but have seen a greater volume of traffic and a growth in links.

    I need to get this across to my clients and I think you have explained it really well. Its given me an idea of how I can now communicate this to my customers.

  • http://www.sparkplugdigital.com Charles Sipe

    Great tip on creating keyword nodes. Are you using a mind mapping tool? If so, which one do you use?

  • http://www.dragonblogger.com Justin Germino

    There is no doubt that instant search reduces the effectiveness of long tail keywords as results are displayed after your first word is typed which decreases the chances the reader will need to type more then 2-3 words in many cases. I myself however still have a few 4 or 5 long tail keywords that still perform fairly strong for me.

    • http://www.codrutturcanu.com Codrut Turcanu

      Why do you think it reduces the effectiveness of LT keywords? I think it helps the user finds what he’s looking for faster, and it helps them reach to your site/blog faster too.

  • http://davidodonnell.com.au David O’Donnell

    Great advice on keyword research considering the long tail, I would also suggest trying Google’s wonder wheel, related searches, and even having a quick looks through the Google Adwords keyword tool results.

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  • http://RateHub.ca Alyssa Richard

    Just found your site through a tweet by Rand and am loving your articles especially this one. Thank you for making your content so actionable. I just printed the node diagrams and am passing them to our content writer :)

    I was wondering if you’ve seen the the link/content block at the bottom of SalesForce.com? Do you think adding something like at the bottom of state/city pages could work? Would love to hear your thoughts!

    • Ross Hudgens

      Glad to hear that Alyssa!

      I definitely like the content block below the fold if that’s what you’re referring to – it allows you to still convert well by getting good CTAs above the fold while retaining the content below it. I recommend this to my designers when we create a new website in the lead gen space because we want people to fill out the form and not worry about reading the content.

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  • http://blakemccreary.com Blake McCreary

    Great write-up Ross. I’ve had a hard time finding some good explanation of SEO and content writing but this really his the spot. Bookmarked!

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  • Marzena

    Content is king! Bringing good articles to the table (such as this one) is the way to go. You can lure customers one or twice but you can’t hold them forever if your content is just bad. Using the long-tail is also a brilliant idea, because most of the creators don’t bother with creating unique articles from unpopular niche. Monitoring the traffic with proper SEO Tool is also crucial (currently I’m using http://www.colibritool.com and it’s amazing).

  • http://www.myplace.sg/ Interior Design Singapore

    Thanks for sharing this. We have been ignoring our long tail but ever since we got hit by Penguin2.0, we decided to focus more on the broader keywords instead of the popular ones.

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