The Very Long Tail of Local Search

In Internet marketing, the theory of the long tail is that the sum of all the niche searches made for your business can add up to the same or a greater volume of traffic than the primary keyword phrases that drive searchers to your Web site. In local search, there’s a very long tail of keyword search terms that can help you gain more traffic and more targeted traffic than the popular keywords for which nearly everyone else is striving.

Many business people and their marketers focus strictly on bidding on and optimizing for the keyword phrases that get the largest number of searches. Why? Because these high-volume searches are where they think the bulk of the demand for their products and services comes from. They are playing the odds that enough of these searchers will convert into leads or sales to pay off for the time and money invested in ranking well for them in the advertising auctions and organic listings.

While this sounds logical, it’s not always true. We all know that it isn’t the shear volume of traffic that matters. Instead, it’s the amount of traffic that converts into leads or sales that we must focus our efforts on, and only good conversion tracking through your Web site analytics program can tell you which terms are bringing you the best customers.

The competition to rank for most high-volume search terms is also truly fierce, which gives the advantage to the players with the deepest pockets.

Long-tail terms are just the opposite. They don’t get very many searches. Therefore, there’s generally much less competition for them. This makes them relatively cheaper for PPC (define) bids and easier to rank for in the natural or organic listings.

In addition, long-tail terms tend to convert better than high-volume search terms and the cost per conversion is generally lower. However, when terms only get a few searches per day, you may need to harvest the potential of many long-tail terms to see a significant improvement in converting traffic.

So how do you develop a long-tail strategy for your local business? As with most things in Internet marketing, it all begins with keyword research.

An example would be a plumbing business in Denver. According to Google, the most searched, targeted keyword term is “plumbing Denver,” with an average of 5,400 monthly Google searches and more than 6,100 sites competing for it. This is the keyword phrase you want to optimize your home page for and the term you want to show up in a decent position for in the PPC space on the SERPs (define).

However, think of all the ways someone could search for a plumber in Denver without using either of those words. These terms can also indicate a search for a plumbing contractor: “leaky faucet,” “broken pipe,” “stopped up toilet,” “flooded basement,” “add a bathroom.” I’m sure you can think of many others.

Next, think of the terms people can use to imply a search for “Denver.” They could use the names of nearby towns, neighborhoods, what something might be near, or other location identifiers, such as major intersections or highway exits. Now add the brand names that imply plumbing products, such as Whirlpool, Delta, and Kohler; the number of possible combinations becomes enormous.

Imagine all the ways just these few terms below can be combined into two- and three-word phrases:

repair toilet Arvada Kohler
install hot water heater 80202 A.O.Smith
flooded basement near Coors Field Price Pfister
frozen pipe I-70 and I-25 Whirlpool
leaky faucet DIA area Delta

This is the very long tail of local search.

None of these combinations gets a large number of searches. In fact, most of them don’t even get enough queries to show up in the keyword research tools. However, they are highly targeted terms and if you can deliver searchers to a page on your site that talks about exactly what they are seeking, you have a very good chance of gaining their business.

In February 2008, Google revealed that one-fourth of all the queries made on its search engine each month are unique, meaning no one else has used that search term. It also said that the average number of words in search queries has grown from three to four. All these factors make the long tail even more attractive.

Next time, I’ll uncover some actionable tips for using long-tail terms in your PPC (define) advertising campaigns and how to optimize your site to capture targeted long-tail traffic.

Join us for SES Search Engine Marketing Training Day, September 26 at the Fairmont Dallas.

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