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4 ways to make long-tail search deliver

Craig Greenfield
4 ways to make long-tail search deliver Craig Greenfield

Since the online advertising industry isn't immune to the effects of the economic downturn, search advertisers have been taking a well deserved closer look at long-tail keywords. Incorporating longtail keywords into a paid search program offers one of the most cost effective, no brainer strategies, especially given today's economic reality and need for greater accountability.

In fact, long-tail strategies should have played a role all along, because they can create healthy, long-term growth for search marketers.

Consumers use long-tail keywords, detailed four and five keyword or multi-phrase search queries, to find specific products, services, or information. These long-tail keywords, like "women's Lycra padded bike shorts," express much more specific consumer interest or purchase intent than general or category level keywords.

While more generic or category-level keywords offer marketers effective ways to engage consumers earlier in the purchase process or further a wide range of branding initiatives, long-tail searches convert into immediate sales far more often. The specificity of these queries often reflect consumers' efforts to seek out something they already know they want, so the length of consumer search queries continues to grow.

According to a recent study from Hitwise (PDF), longer search queries, averaging five or more words in length, increased 10 percent in January year over year. The same time period showed shorter search queries, those averaging one to four words in length, decreased two percent. This sweetens the long tail pot for search advertisers.

Although the traffic generated by a long-tail keyword pales in comparison to its short-tail counterpart, all the long-tail keywords in an advertiser's search program can produce significant traffic spikes in aggregate. Even better, the traffic generated from long-tail keywords is far more targeted and likely to convert. Since long-tail keywords tend to generate low click volume and cost far less per click than short tail terms, the increased spend can be controlled. So as advertisers target long-tail keywords, the cost per conversion decreases and ROI grows.

With all of these benefits in mind, advertisers can begin to tap the potential of long-tail keywords by following these four steps:

  1. Quantify the possibilities

  2. Upgrade bid management

  3. Keep it relevant

  4. Identify and overcome natural search obstacles

Next page >>

Quantify the possibilities
Advertisers will benefit most by performing some long-tail keyword research upfront and determining which phrases have enough traffic to make them worth pursuing. It's best to start by reviewing query reports for paid and natural search via analytics platforms and search engines, such as Google's query report.

Marketers should also review product catalogs and use keyword research tools like Google's Search-based Keyword Tool (SbKT) and Word Tracker to help develop long tail keywords.

Unfortunately, the matter of quality control can't be overlooked; lots of keywords means lots of room for error. Marketers should look for obvious issues like profanity, non-relevant phrases and evaluate keywords once data becomes available. Still, any data should be taken with a grain of salt.

Not all keywords today generate traffic; so marketers should ensure they build out long-tail keywords properly. Using tools like Google's traffic estimator will also help quantify the potential of those keywords. Ultimately, the best long tail variants will be equipped with the right combination of volume and relevance.

Upgrade bid management
Simply knowing what long-tail keywords to target is not enough preparation to begin implementing a long-tail search marketing effort; advertisers should take steps to manage their search programs more efficiently. For example, although most search marketers already utilize a bid management platform to manage and optimize pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, these tools simply cannot be overlooked when bidding on extensive sets of long-tail keywords. Bid management platforms make the unmanageable manageable and enable advertisers to operate efficiently and better meet ROI or budget goals.

Bid management platforms allow marketers to bid more aggressively and also boost their odds for success. Advertisers can justify more aggressive bidding for long-tail keywords, because fewer companies compete for those longer and more specific terms.

The low cost-per-click (CPC) pricing of long-tail keywords minimizes budget risks and allows advertisers to expand their keyword portfolios aggressively and establish a cost-effective approach to paid search. Since more rewards can be obtained for lower prices, marketers should bid aggressively.

Keep it relevant
Running more efficient search programs won't mean much unless advertisers can consistently build experiences for consumers that remain true to the long tail query by utilizing relevant messages through to some conversion event.

Custom messaging helps to ensure all communications and promotions throughout the consumer experience -- including links, product descriptions, and landing pages-- are relevant to the long tail query. Incorporating long-tail keywords into ad copy can attract more eyeballs and boost click-through rates among searchers.

Relevancy goes beyond using dynamic keyword insertion in ad copy. Competitors may be using it, meaning all headlines may look the same or marketers could end up with keywords that contain misspelled words. Instead, marketers should focus on organizing keywords thematically and writing copy based on those themes to create relevancy.

In the same spirit, the landing page for those ads should continue to reiterate a consistent message as advertisers connect consumers to desired products or services.

Identify and overcome natural search obstacles
Matching specific, targeted phrases to relevant site copy through natural search also plays a key role in long -tail keyword campaigns. Advertisers often encounter significant technical constraints when trying to optimize their dynamically generated websites for natural search.

Unfortunately, the features required to make complex hierarchical sites user-friendly also tend to present obstacles to crawlers, while individual product pages generally dont get optimized for relevant, targeted keywords.

Marketers should determine whether these issues pose a problem to their natural search campaigns, and those dealing with these constraints can tap technology solutions to address them, more effectively optimize their site, and gain greater visibility.

Making sure content is visible to the search engines by getting deeper product pages indexed and optimizing web content based on extensive keyword research, as suggested above, can help advertisers increase rank and capture the most qualified long tail search engine traffic.

Over time, data resulting from long-tail PPC efforts can also feed natural search strategy, as marketers leverage PPC findings to ensure they also use the most effective longtail keywords in site copy. These and other steps to do more with long-tail keywords will create a long-term impact for advertisers while helping them focus on customer acquisition in this uncertain economy.

Craig Greenfield is VP of search and performance media for Performics.


to leave comments.

Commenter: norman nisbett

2009, September 21

Handy reference article

Commenter: Benjamin Burns

2009, July 07

Great article.

As the SEO Program Manager for Marriott we truly see a noticeable lift in not only traffic, but more importantly the conversion rate on transnational based long-tail keywords.

Keep up the great work!