One of the great things about most Webmaster World of Search Conferences is the diversity of presentations. Having attended other conferences where speakers start repeating the same content and ideas by the afternoon of the first day, the range of content and opinions are refreshing. The recent New Orleans conference was no exception – an attendee’s biggest regret had to be only being able to attend one of the three simultaneous sessions at a given moment.
In this environment, one of the interesting challenges is to try to distill some commonality between diverse presentations. While it was hardly a pervasive thread, one idea that came up in different contexts was the long tail.
In another article, we’ll go into more discussion of power law distributions and the long tail. For the moment, let’s simply state that many web statistics don’t follow a normal distribution (the infamous bell curve), but a power law distribution. A few items have a significant percentage of the total resource (e.g., inbound links, unique visitors, etc.), and many items with a modest percentage of the resources form a long “tail” in a plot of the distribution. For example, a few websites have millions of links, more have hundreds of thousands, even more have hundreds or thousands, and a huge number of sites have just one, two, or a few.
One context the “long tail” came up in was in pay-per-click keywords; instead of focusing on a small number of expensive, high-volume keywords, PPC experts are increasingly suggesting that it is more profitable to “work the tail”, i.e., bid on thousands of low-volume (and low cost) keywords. Even though each keyword may only generate a few clicks a month, in aggregate they create a large volume of cost-effective traffic.
Of course, “organic” search results have the same issues – while competing for high volume keywords can be very time consuming and expensive, creating content that can rank for many uncommon search terms can be much more economical.
Even inventory can show a long tail effect. An interesting article in Wired magazine, The Long Tail, explores how markets like book-selling are shifting from concentrating on a few huge hits to generating sales from a huge list of often low-volume titles.
Last Note: Beating your head against the wall trying to out-market competitors with far more resources? Start working the tail instead!