Anatomy of a Revolution – SEO And the Long Tail (Part Two)

Remember the example I gave in the first installment of this article “SEO And the Long Tail”, about the music industry and the changes that the Internet and digital delivery brought about, well we saw how the long tail of music was the tens of thousands of, (often independent) artists many of whom self-produce their music without the benefit of a record label or promotion, or really any chance of ever having their music displayed on the shelves of Sam Goody -and yet people are able to find and download their music, and in fact itunes and others like them are profiting nicely because of it.

Well lets move the scenario to our world, the website. Let’s say that instead of the music industry, we’re using a given website as the industry, or more specifically the content on the website, that is about to be redefined by the long tail. So, in this scenario, the web content is the industry, the process of SEO is the old-style brick and mortar record shop.

The old-school process of SEO usually involved trying to guess how potential web surfers might find the site. You’d do this by looking at the site and what it was trying to sell or accomplish, then come up with search terms that seemed to fit the theme of the site. So, a site that sold sun glasses may come up with key phrases like:

Men’s sunglasses
Women’s sunglasses
Children’s sunglasses

Then once the “best” keywords were chosen, web pages would be developed around each phrase – usually one phrase per page. Once the optimized pages were indexed by the search engines, their placement in the SERPS would be measured; tweaks would be performed if the pages weren’t ranked high enough. After several months (often times much longer), the pages would (hopefully) rank in the top three or five for each of their respective phrases. Then guess what, you’d be getting a few hits each day from each of those terms. Would you sell many sunglasses? Probably not, terms like “Men’s Sunglasses” are far too broad to bring in any qualified traffic. No, more then likely you’d need hundreds, even thousands of these hits to make a single sale.

Let’s take a closer look. Who do you think is further along in the buying process, the person who searches for:

“Men’s Sunglasses”

Or the person who searches for:

“American Chopper Sunglasses black with blue lenses”

My guess it would be number two – he seems to have a pretty good idea of what he wants and now just needs to find someplace to buy it.

You see the flaw with traditional SEO is that the really good keyphrases, the long tail key phrases, really didn’t exist. When you’re optimizing a webpage for a specific keyphrase – like say “Children’s Sunglasses”, you’re trying to keep the page extremely focused on that particular phrase, so you consciously avoid straying from the focus of the page. In other words, those great long tail key phrases simply don’t make it to your page. Remember, in this scenario, the old-school process of SEO is the brick and mortar record shop – you know the one with the severely limited amount of shelf space -that can only house the most popular records -the records that everyone wants. Well the “records” in this case are the key phrases; traditional SEO can only fit so many key phrases on their shelves (the web pages).

So what changed? What caused the Long Tail of SEO? Well, people started blogging! A blog by definition is kind of an anti-SEO environment. You see, the blog is designed to give anyone who wants to, the ability to publish on the web. With the advent of the blog, anyone who had something to say (or thought they did), could start publishing, quickly and cheaply. These new publishers gave no thought to SEO (many wouldn’t even have known what it was) – they’d simply say what the wanted to say, the way the wanted to say it. So now, all the richness of language that the old-school SEO’ers had squeezed out of the internet was now being dumped back in and the search engines devoured it. Suddenly these web sites started showing up in the SERPs – for those long tail keyphrases that no one was optimizing for.

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