There has been a lot of talk recently about the long tail, especially timed around the release of Chris Anderson's new book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More.
So what exactly is the long tail? When visitors are looking for your website, they will type many different terms into search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN. However, when you are able to examine exactly what those terms are, there usually is a core group of terms that are searched frequently and then a multitude of terms that are typed into the search engines only a few times leading visitors to your site. The terms that are searched infrequently are what everyone calls the long tail.
Here's an example. If you are BMW, one for your core terms might be “BMW 3 Series.” In searching for a BMW 3 Series, keyword research reveals that people type in all kinds of long tail terms as well. These terms are typed in (in the aggregate) more frequently than the 20,000+ times a month people search for “BMW 3 Series”. Some of these long tail terms include things like, “2007 BMW 3 Series coupe,” “2007 BMW 3 Series,” 2007 BMW 3 Series convertible,” “2006 BMW 3 Series,” and “BMW 3 Series parts.”
The long tail search terms can be important to your business. As customers proceed through the buy cycle, they usually become more educated consumers and refine their searches. Therefore, visitors to your website who come from more specific (long tail) terms are often closer to finishing the purchasing process. Thus, finding and targeting the long tail of search is often a lucrative practice. Let's say I'm looking to buy a new camera. When I'm just starting out my research (early in my buy cycle), I might search for something broad like “digital camera.” I do a little investigation and realize that I want to buy a particular brand, so I then search for “Sony digital camera.” Once I am ready to make my purchase, I might be searching for long tail terms like “Sony Cybershot DSC-H2” or “buy Sony Cybershot online.” Moreover, I might find these terms on a shopping search engine, where if a site selling Sony Cybershot cameras is not ranking well, they will lose the opportunity to gain a sale.