The Long Tail, the Ah-Ha Factor, and Saying What No One Else Says

A client asked me today, how to get the long tail search engine traffic. Good question, and a good goal. Getting it has always seemed easy for me, but when I actually started to analyze why so many people fail to get it, and why some people just easily do so, I learned a few things.

First, it is important to understand WHY long tail traffic is so important. Think of a very big fish that dies on the beach, and all the seagulls swarm to it, fighting over that one fish. Hundreds of seagulls, and one fish that happens to look bigger than all the rest.

Meanwhile, all around, there are other fish. Smaller ones to be sure, but still enough. Maybe you have to go catch a few, and that takes a bit of work, but it certainly takes no more work than fighting your way to the front of the crowd to get one measly bite of the big fish.

Personally, I choose not to be a squabling gull. Recent research suggests that less than 6% of traffic comes from the top 10 keywords in a given industry. If you increase that to the top 100 keywords, it still accounts for only 20% of the traffic. So everybody and their dog are fighting over that 20% while the other 80% is pretty easy pickings.

There is a trick to it though. Common marketing instructions say to get it by having lots of content. They leave out some important information though. Because content alone is not enough.

  • If it is reprinted content, it will lack the power. Good long tail content is ALWAYS unique.
  • If it is the same thing everyone else is saying, it won’t work. Good long tail content is interesting… it gives people information they can’t get elsewhere. It has the “ah-ha” factor.
  • If it is egotistical it is as much a waste of your time as the content is a waste of the visitor’s time. It has to speak to the needs of the individual who might want what you have, and it has to do so in a way that other marketers are overlooking.

Everyone who tries to go after the long tail tries to take shortcuts. So it doesn’t work. You have to be thoughtful, and you have to know your customers to get it.

Every VA in the world knows that if they write articles, they can market with them. So every VA in the world writes the same articles – “How a VA can save you money”, “Grow your business with a VA”. BORING! There are 200,000 copies of that same article, written by 200,000 different people, and not one of them says anything that a real prospective client wants to read.

If you want to grab the long tail, and profit from content writing, you have to start thinking out of the box. What are the real concerns of your customers? What are they really searching for online that they can’t easily find?

Forget keywords. Seriously. Long tail keywords happen naturally as a result of good writing, you simply do not have to think about them. If you start thinking about them, you destroy your ability to get them, because the power is in the variety – the happenchance that occurs with good writing.

Think about needs.

If I am considering surgery, I want statistics on morbity rates, but I also want personal stories. In fact, with that target market, personal stories may be the most powerful writing.

If I want a website, and I don’t know much about the technology behind it, I want someone to explain things in simple terms.

If I am looking for insurance, I may want to know what effect my health history may have on rates or ability to get insurance. I may want to know whether there is a medical exam, who does it, and who pays for it and how.

Listen to your customers. What are they asking over and over? What are they most concerned with? Answer those questions in ways no one else is doing. And make sure you give some information in there that gives them a key, or a grain of understanding that they can’t get somewhere else – that is the “ah-ha” factor. The meat in the article that makes them think, “Oh, NOW I get it!”.

The combination of those things – original content, stuff that is interesting and informative to your audience, unique writing with the “ah-ha” factor (that tells them something no one else is saying in quite that way), will bring in traffic and people who are already pre-sold. When you give them something they can’t get from just anyone, you’ll be pulling in people who want to work with you, specifically. And you’ll be astonished at how they found you – it will be something you could not predict.

Unpredictability is part of the power of the long tail. It is what makes it easy to just write, without worrying about doing anything other than creating good writing, and it is what brings them in to you rather than to your competitors who are just aiming at the top spots.

It’s been working marvelously for us – and by getting power in the long tail keywords, we eventually start moving up in the top ones. But I’d be happy if we never did that, simply because those long tail keywords are so powerful, we really don’t even NEED the top ones.

Let the other mindless gulls squawk and squabble. I’m content fishing on the fringes.

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