The significance of longtail keywords can be exemplified by thinking about the following two people:
Bill is a cafeteria worker who spends his spare time fishing and has heard that his favorite TV shows will look even better on on this new-fangled technology called “HDTV”. He might as well upgrade from his 20” to something a little larger while he's at it his friends tell him (though they don't know much more about it than he does). He sits at his computer and enters “hdtv” into the Google search box.
Steve also works in a cafeteria but is a bit more tech-savy. He has and uses a Facebook account, watches videos on YouTube and looks up information on Google when he's looking for an answer to one of his questions. He too is interested in HDTV but decides to check out a few review sites first before making the leap. He reads a great review on CNET and likes the specs of the “Panasonic Viera TC-P50G10” and decides to look around for pricing. He heads back to Google and searches for “panasonic viera tc-p50g10” or perhaps even “buy panasonic viera tc-p50g10 online”.
The difference between these two? Other than the fact that one has a dismal likelihood of conversion and the other a high likelihood - the difficulty in attaining top rankings for the two phrases is very different as well. Now, I'm not saying there isn't a place for going after the generic, high-traffic phrases but ignoring the higher converting, less-work-per-conversion phrases that are easier to attain rankings for – well – that just doesn't make good business sense does it?
So – how do you rank for the longtail?
We all understand that the factors of SEO are the factors of SEO. Just like any other phrases – your ability to rank is quite simply based on a combination of page strength and relevancy (yes there are tons of signals Google uses but they essentially break down to these two points). To affect these areas we use a combination of onsite optimization and link building. Sounds easy so far? Perfect. So let's take a look first at onsite optimization.
Optimizing your site for the longtail
I can't possibly cover the different technologies and how to make sure your site is crawlable. Let's just say – the first step is to make sure that the crawlers can get to your internal pages and that strength passes down. If the crawlers can't get through to the internal pages then you've got bigger problems than tweaking your content and building some links. Contact a developer immediately and get that sorted out first – then continue reading.
Once you know that the crawlers are getting through and strength is passing we move on to the actual optimization. The first thing one wants to look at it how to push the items with the highest ROI potential up in the hierarchy of your site. Let's use Amazon as an example of how that should be done (they know a thing or two about ranking for products).
Amazon uses one of my personal favorite tactics in that they automate the process but it's not necessary. You probably don't have the same number of products so you can likely do manually what they have to automate but let's look at what they're doing and you can apply the strategy as you see fit.
If I was Amazon and I wanted to rank my site for longtail phrases I'd want to rank for the phrases that had the highest search volume and highest chances of conversions. I'd have to apply global rules to a massive site (you don't have to – you can likely do things on a case-by-case basis but I'm sure we can all agree – Amazon cannot). So to keep the most profitable phrases high in the hierarchy but still not ignore the other longtail phrases they have created a hierarchy that puts the top product categories one hop from the homepage (Laptops & Netbooks For Example) and on that page they have links to all the major brands and uses but my favorite tactic is that they have the bestsellers. This information is easily created from their database and insures that the more popular products are two hops from the homepage and linked to with the brand and model number. At the time of this writing they have a link to the “ASUS Eee PC Seashell 1005PE-MU17-BK 10.1-Inch...”. If I search “asus eee pc 1005pe-m” who do you think shows up first? Amazon.
So step one – make sure you're linking to the product pages with the brand and model number of the item and also put the more important items higher in the hierarchy of your site. Now this doesn't mean cram all your products on the page. You have to apply the same principles to links with onsite as you do with offsite optimization. A page has a vote. It you have a page with 10 products listed on it – each product gets 1/10 of the weight passed to it. If the page has 500 products listed on it – well, you get my point. Figure out what matters and focus there.
Of course – you don't want to ignore the other potential phrases. You'll notice that as well as linking to the top products in each category they link to sub pages with brands, specs, etc. This is why they rank so well for so many phrases. Well – that's part one.
Once you've got the internal linking sorted out you need to follow that up with some onsite relevancy. Here we're referring to optimized titles, descriptions, H1 tags, content, etc. I'm going to have to leave a full breakdown of onsite optimization for another article but I can discuss some of the differences you'll encounter with longtail optimization with ecommerce sites.
With “traditional” optimization we visit a page and adjust the relevant aspects (titles, content, etc.) manually. With large ecommerce sites we need to come up with rules that apply site wide. Developing titles, descriptions and content for each and every page one-by-one is likely not an option. If you look at Amazon again you'll see that they automate the process by using the brand, model and categories in the title, description, keywords and H1 tag. Easily automated. Through their use of automated elements (“Customers bought with ...”, specs, descriptions, reviews, etc.) they are also able to insure that that the brand and model number appear on the page.
Now that works well for Amazon. They have millions of links and huge site strength. But what if you don't have that behind you. They can build a page, put it on their site and rank. You may need to invest some of your time in link building.
Link building for longtail optimization
There are two primary aspects of link building that one needs to address when we're looking at longtail optimization. The first is to the homepage for site strength and the other is to specific internal pages. The reason that we'll want to link to specific internal pages is that like it or not, you're not as strong as Amazon and so you need to build links to compete where they do not.
I'll leave the discussion of how to build links to other articles (you know – one of the 800,000 written on the subject) however we will discuss the purpose of the links and thus you'll understand the pattern of the link building.
The homepage links are in place to simply build overall site strength and should be geared to your generic, homepage phrases – it's the internal links that are specifically geared to brands and models. So we'll focus on those links in this article.
How to build links to internal pages
Building links to internal pages is virtually identical to homepage. True you can't use directories but that's about the only link building tactic that doesn't apply. There are two points that you're going to want to direct links to:
1 – the category/brand main page.
The first point you're going to want to direct links at is the main category page and the main sub-category points of the ecommerce site. You'll want to direct these links in with anchor text that suits the brand and/or category subject. Let's use Amazon as an example again.
For the purpose of longtail optimization – the links we'd direct to http://www.amazon.com/Netbooks-Computers/b?ie=UTF8&node=679517011 would primarily be geared to strengthening the page. Oh I'd use anchor text geared at “netbooks” and the link but the main point is to make that page stronger and in turn – the pages it links to. These links will also get the page spidered more.
What this will do is make the links to the brands stronger but most important – the links to the top sellers stronger and more quickly picked up. This is why they rank for new products in a matter of hours.
The individual brand and usage pages are the same from this perspective./ You'll want to optimize the pages and you'll want to focus the links for long term gain but the short term purpose is to pass strength to the product pages.
2 – the product pages.
On top of building links to pages one level up (as we've just discussed) you'll also want to build links to the individual product pages. Amazon can build a page, link to it and have it rank – you probably cannot. For products and models you know will stand the test of time – building links can be a long term strategy but not my favorite (due mainly to the fact that it's not exciting). Personally I like building links to “Coming soon” product pages and getting them spidered before there's any competition and then adding in the product the day it launches giving you a one-up over your competitors in both timing and strength. Heck, you might even win out over Amazon for a while. 🙂
Don't overdo it in the link building. You've got a lot of products. Unless you know a specific product is going to be HUGE you'll want to just build a few links and move on. You've got a lot of products to cover.
Obviously I can't cover all the various aspects of ranking for the longtail in a single1800 word article and in fact, if I turned this into a 180 page book I'd still not be able to cover all the variables but my hope is that I've given you food for thought in the tactics and timing you'll find helpful in moving forward and ranking your website for the longtail phrases that convert so well and for which you can rank so quickly if you do it right.