New Report Documents Insanely Long Tail Of Search

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When something seemingly insignificant is able to control a more powerful entity, talk of the tail wagging the dog occasionally comes into play.  But according to a new report from Hitwise, the long tail of search is capable of something more akin to launching the dog into orbit.

Dustin Woodard, a Seattle-based SEO and Web analytics expert, tried to look at the top 10000 search terms recorded by Hitwise during a three-month period.  What he got was a very strange-looking graph, with data displayed in almost invisible amounts along great stretches of both axes.

Steve Ballmer
"Top 10,000 Search Terms by Percentage of All Search Traffic" (Source: Hitwise)

So Woodard then examined just the top 100 terms, and this sample generated a graph more normal in appearance.  He writes, "However, this is just 100 search terms out of the more than 14 million."

It turns out that, at least in this particular three-month data set, the top 100 terms accounted for just 5.7 percent of all search traffic.  Expand to the top 500, 1000, and 10000 terms, and just 8.9 percent, 10.6 percent, and 18.5 percent of all search traffic is involved, respectively.

Steve Ballmer
"Top 100 Search Terms by Percentage of All Search Traffic" (Source: Hitwise)

Woodard concludes, "This means if you had a monopoly over the top 1,000 search terms across all search engines (which is impossible), you’d still be missing out on 89.4% of all search traffic.  There’s so much traffic in the tail it is hard to even comprehend.  To illustrate, if search were represented by a tiny lizard with a one-inch head, the tail of that lizard would stretch for 221 miles."

Lone bloggers, SEO professionals, and small businesses (among all other sorts of things) should be able to take comfort in this discovery.  Woodard’s analysis makes it look like there’s plenty of traffic for everyone, without a need for cutthroat behavior and the spending of huge sums of money over the top few search terms.

A better approach might be to optimize for a lot of truly niche terms and see what happens.  Be careful not to confuse increased holiday traffic for success – and also not to put your holiday income at risk in the event of failure – but some small-scale testing seems appropriate, at least.

Anyone wanting even more reasons to experiment should know that the Hitwise sample only included 10 million U.S. Internet users, adult search terms were removed by filters, and the three spotlighted months were relatively slow ones.

New Report Documents Insanely Long Tail Of Search
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  • http://www.wordpress.com BlogNpro

    My blog doesn’t rank for any top terms, but it get’s decent traffic for very focused keywords. Add them all up and I beat out one or two top terms. I strongly agree with Woodard’s findings.

    • Johnny

      I started buying long tail domains in 1996 after the top domain for a category was taken.  I literally bought up thousands of them ……all generic domains in that niche…..I dominate it.  They collectively get more traffic than that top category-killer domain.  And, since each is a targeted long tail domain the click price is much higher.

      I have not had to work in 10 years now since my domains make me a ton of cash.  They are all parked.

      And guess what……after digging for domains in that niche since 1996 I still find new ones.  It is impossible to think of every combination of generic keywords.  I too discovered how deep the rabbit hole goes and I can’t believe after years of toil to dominate the niche how the rabbit hole keeps going deeper.  I have not even come close to the bottom.  I’m not even sure its possible to find the bottom.

  • http://www.mike-nagel.blogspot.com Mike

    My SEO keyword (my name) finally made it to the top Google hit after a year… now, to work on variations!

    • http://www.clearcrystalmedia.com/gc/ Chris Peters

      Congrats? What does that have to do with the article?

  • http://www.careerleak.com/profile_view.php?editid1=1294 Gap Jobs

    The more I learn about the long tail, the more I like it. However, the more I learn I also realize just how vast the tail is. The whole idea of the long tail has removed big businesses from having the edge is many of these keyword battles and regulars Joes can compete and win in the tail.

  • http://www.home-finds.com Rika Susan’s Home Improvement News

    For new guys, long tail terms are often gold. This is an interesting post. It really pays to go for smaller long tail terms, rather than the big main phrase. You are usually also more sure that you are getting a buyer if you do this.

  • http://wc-chicago.com/ WorkComp Chicago

    Its no shock that the broad interests of internet can’t be dominated or controlled by the top 1000 search terms but its alarmining to see the actual stats documenting the broad diversity of search and giving new hope to niche marketing for the long tail search term, especially for owners of small business.  Long Live the Long tail.   Interesting post.– Thanks.

  • http://www.classifiedflyerads.com Misty Lackie

    Our natural search engine traffic has increased almost 500% in 1 year due to re-focusing on long tail search phrases.  We are big advocates of long tail.

  • http://www.thelostagency.com Dave

    ok so fair article, you can remind a client that you are not going to get 1 billion hits even if you rank #1 for metal, metal worker & metal sales guy…. but im interested how these results skew for paid search.

    ive looked into the adwords reports to see what the actual terms are being search for around broad keywords and sometimes its really random longtail that are driving sales conversions eg. "metal workers that focus on quality not quantitity.."

    i know that certain products are mostly driving by paid search, which can allow you to capture longtail if you set the option to "broad" not "exact" are more businesses missing out on this?

  • Michael

    Our websites rank in the top 3 for all of the short tail search queries, I’ve been interested optimizing and getting backlins for long tail terms since the field I’m in (legal) has about 2 or 3 different was to say the same thing…however I haven’t seen any keyword tools that could generate or trck longer tail terms for my industry. Any suggestions?

    Good article btw.

  • http://www.scottfox.com/blog_index.html Scott Fox, Author of Internet Riches

    Thanks for this article.  Good to see documentation of the true value of long tail keywords.  Niches are where it’s at for sure.

  • http://www.soflaweb.com SoFla Web Studio

    Doesn’t this all just come down to relevancy?

    Isn’t this what google has been striving for (and every other search engine since then) all along?

    People are now more comfortable with search engines (than they were 5 years ago for instance) and are searching for more specific phrases (long tails) because the engines are capable of delivering very accurate results.

    I think this is just a natural occurence of technology and user adaptability.

    I am not sure if I am missing anything here, but this should not be news to anyone who is the SEO industry…
    Maybe the study is new, but it only confirms what everyone already knows.

  • http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/ Gwydion

     Nice to know that those of us who are working on good content and getting links in to our sites are working on the ‘long tail’. There’s a lot said in SEO circles about finding keywords and targeting keywords. But the truth is that if you pick a niche, write good content for that niche and get enough links to your site the long tail will take care of the rest.

    Google will find the keywords for you and if you have targeted a decent niche those keywords are almost guaranteed to be long tail. That’s how my free recipes site works and the regions of the site that get the most hits are often the obscurest recipes.

  • http://blog.pushon.co.uk Simon Wharton

    This really isn’t well thought out. Serious questioning of the validity of this article needs to take place. Search isn’t just one theme, one idea. It does not make sense to make a judgement based on amalgamated data from the whole space of search as opposed to identifying themes of related data. Not easy I know but more relevant than sensationalist irrelevant article writing.

  • http://staffdocs.com Alex

     Niches are where it’s at for sure. Thanks for this article.

  • Guest

    I have a vintage jewelry site that features many different designers.  Many people search by designer or era as well as the main key words that I try to target (ie, vintage jewelry, antique jewelry, etc.).  I seem to get my traffic from these lesser search terms.  ie.   Vintage Trifari Jewelry, art deco jewelry. etc.  The second is more niche than the first. 

    My question is:  Is is probably wise to create a blog (ie research/price guide) for as many as possible of the secondary search terms and create links to my site categories in order to create good anchor text?  Does anyone see any reason that this would not work.  As I said the secondary terms ie (long tail) seem to be my pay dirt so If I work on them more maybe I can increase my traffic and sales.

    Thanks to anyone who might respond.





  • http://www.forestsoftware.co.uk John Mitchell

    This is a conversation that I regularly have with clients. Why bust a gut trying for the phrase that has 10’s of millions of results when you can get good results on a longer, and often more relevant, phrase that is much easier to feature in.

    For example many people in the UK seem to search for services in their local area so why bother with carpet cleaning if you are really looking for carpet cleaning in Nottingham – these are much easier to rank for and will probably also convert into sales for the client.

  • http://jeans.justwang.com Lively Jason

    I strongly believe in the long tail – some of my webpages rank within the top 3 with carefully researched keywords.

  • http://A-Night-in-Paris.com Teena

    I’ve read so much about how 3, 4 or 5 word keyword phrases "don’t work", are "no good", etc etc for the past year, so I followed my gut instincts.

    I named a lot of pages (on a new travel website) as questions, sometimes up to six words long, and those pages get tons of traffic, e.g.


    Old style SEO still works, but there’s plenty of room for us to wag the tail of the LONG TAIL KEYWORDS – YAY!

    We need to write FOR the web visitors, so naming the url with the long tail keyword phrase works great, then name the first H1 with the same phrase, and continue to use it the way you traditionally would with good SEO practices.  I then also name my photos with the same long tail keyword phrase on that page, and it works great for me :-)

    By naming our urls and pages as a question, we can capture a ton of targetted traffic to our pages.


  • http://www.3arabsoft.com/ Guest

    very useful records , thank you

  • http://www.lightsonline.com/ Anonymous

    You would be surprised at the stuff people look up!

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