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Writing for the Long Tail
By: terri
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    If you've been building your website's content in the hope of ranking well on the search engine results pages, you may have heard that you should “write for the long tail.” What exactly is meant by the long tail, and how do you target it in your writing? Keep reading.

    As Jennifer Laycock explains, the phrase “long tail” refers to the hundreds of three-to-six-word phrases that may bring only one to three visitors each to a website. Taken collectively, though, these longer phrases attract more visitors than the keywords you may actually be targeting for your website. What's more, many searchers who use these longer phrases know exactly what they want – so if they find it, they're much more likely to convert.

    The obvious point here is that, if you want to increase your traffic and make more sales, you need to target the long tail when you add content to your website. But how do you do that? Long tail language is very specific; it includes lots of adjectives to differentiate whatever one is searching for from the rest of a general category. What kinds of adjectives you need to use to do this depends very much on what you're selling.

    Laycock uses several examples in her article, showing the “before” and “after” for a paragraph that was rewritten with the long tail in mind. The first one, for a classic car dealership, originally kept it short by mentioning that they carried hard-to-find American made cars from the 60s and 70s, along with their photo gallery and online database. The long tail version evoked very specific mental pictures, using phrases like “rare Corvette convertibles,” “muscle cars,” “hot rods,” and even the lovely word picture of “driving down the highway in a bright yellow 1972 corvette convertible while the wind blows through your hair.” The point is, by using these heavily specific phrases, the site gets a shot at attracting searchers who use those phrases.

    Don't believe it? Let me give you a recent real-life example. This involves lighting. Now there are lots of different kinds of lighting, but I happened to be looking for outdoor lighting. Specifically, I wanted an outdoor light that was sensitive to both motion and ambient lighting, so that it would only turn on in the evening, and even then, only when someone approached it. I also wanted it to be battery-operated, so that I wouldn't need an electrical cord and could (at least theoretically) put it anywhere I wanted to. My keyword phrase ran to something like “battery-operated light sensitive motion detecting outdoor light,” and I found exactly what I was looking for very quickly.

    You won't be surprised to hear that I found it on Amazon. If you're not an online retailer who is trying to sell to everyone in the world, though, you'll want to target the long tail in a slightly different way. Say that you're a certified public accountant, and you have your own practice. You may do federal income taxes for your clients, but you're probably certified to do taxes in only one or two states. Moreover, most of your clients will be easy driving distance from you. So when you describe what you do, your descriptive paragraph targeting the long tail might look something like this:

    “Certified to prepare taxes in both Florida and New York, [your name] has been serving clients in central Florida since 2000. As a CPA to numerous small businesses in Orange and Lake counties, I put your needs first, finding all of the legal tax deductions to which you are entitled. I also offer bookkeeping services in Orlando, Leesburg, Clermont, and Tavares.”

    Read that again. It mentions preparing taxes, small businesses, legal tax deductions, bookkeeping services, two states, two counties, one region and four cities/towns – all in the space of sixty-two words, or just three sentences. This description mentions certification in both New York and Florida because the CPA I had in mind started his practice in one state and later moved south – not at all unusual, and there are enough New Yorkers in Florida that adding this point could give him a bit of an edge.

    Whether you decide to target the long tail by focusing on your product specifics, the region you serve, or some combination of the two, careful thought can increase your long tail traffic from the search engines. And long tail traffic is more likely to lead to sales. Good luck!

    DISCLAIMER: The content provided in this article is not warranted or guaranteed by Developer Shed, Inc. The content provided is intended for entertainment and/or educational purposes in order to introduce to the reader key ideas, concepts, and/or product reviews. As such it is incumbent upon the reader to employ real-world tactics for security and implementation of best practices. We are not liable for any negative consequences that may result from implementing any information covered in our articles or tutorials. If this is a hardware review, it is not recommended to open and/or modify your hardware.

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