The Long Tail: What It Means for Your Content

By Guest Author

This is a guest post by Mark Pack. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

The least popular posts on my blog are the most important.

Sounds like I’ve made a mistake in typing that sentence, doesn’t it? But when it comes to reaching an audience, he top 10 posts in any month on my blog typically only account for between a quarter and third of the total traffic.

In other words, it’s not the most popular posts that make or break reaching a good sized audience — it’s the collective effort of the least popular. In my experience, many blogs have a similar pattern. It’s an application of Chris Anderson’s long tail idea. It also raises two questions. If this isn’t the pattern on your blog, are you missing out on something? And if it is the pattern, how can you make the most of it?

If your pattern is different, it’s worth asking yourself whether there is a good reason for that. A blog that regularly picks up large influxes of traffic from external sources, such as Digg, could expect the most popular posts to be a much higher proportion overall. But do think carefully about whether or not there really is a good reason for you not having a long tail effect. If you do, please do share your experience in the comments. If you don’t, then there is an opportunity for you to grasp.

Whether it’s creating your long tail, or improving on one that you already have, there are some similar steps to think through.

First, you need a steady supply of good content on your site. It’s not just that search engines like sites with a solid record of quality content, it’s also that your (potential) audience is not all made up of identikit people. More content does not just please search engines, it means you are more likely to have a post that suits what one of
your audience is looking for.

Moreover, it’s quite common for people who are interested in the same information to be interested in it at different times. The bigger the archive of content you build up, the more likely it is that what interested you at some point in time is what someone in your audience is interested in right now.

Second, keep your old content updated. Many posts will happily stand the test of time, but where events or your knowledge have moved on, go back and update your posts.

Third, cross-link between posts. If people are still interested in your older content, it makes sense to make it easier for them to find it. Software solutions such as the “Yet Another Related Posts” plugin for WordPress are a handy way of generating automated links to similar content at the bottom of your posts. Tags and categories are another way of getting links through to other posts.

However, you usually get much better click-through rates from links in the body of the post than you get from a list of other content below or to the side of the post. So work in references and links to your older posts as you write new ones.

Fourth, keep an eye on your blog statistics. Amongst the long tail there may be some surprisingly popular posts. That gives you a clue as to what topics may be good to return to or write about more often than you were planning to.

In my own case, for example, I have found that my occasional historical posts often pick up a low but steady trickle of traffic. When I look back over a period of several months, posts that seemed to get very little traffic at the time of publishing suddenly look much more successful. In my case, this traffic does not appear to be from
the core audiences I would like my blog to reach, so it has not resulted in me significantly upping the historical content. However, your experience may well be different.

Got any other suggestions? Do share them in the comments below.

Mark Pack is Associate Director, Digital at Mandate Communications, a London-based integrated communications specialist firm. He’s on Twitter as @markpack



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19 Responses to “The Long Tail: What It Means for Your Content”

  • Benjamin

    This month was an exception for my blog because one of my post got slashdotted and another one got about 500 visitors from stumbleupon, but I’d guess it is true that less popular posts are also important. I’ve read a lot about the long tail, but I am not sure whether it’s not exaggerated. I think my popular posts get more pageviews than the rest of my posts accumulated.

  • Mark Pack

    Good set of comments and feedback – thanks. The point about keeping comments open is a good one. If you’ve got a decent spam protection setup then the extra spam this will generate is easily dealt with, whilst you get the benefits of the extra genuine comments coming in.

  • Paul Cunningham

    This is how I grew one of my blogs, and why I tell new bloggers to write frequently and not worry about what looks like a small amount of traffic at first.

    Individual posts might only get 20 visitors a day but if you’ve written 100 posts suddenly you’re getting 2000 visitors per day.

  • Terence Eden

    Keep comments open. That’s my top tip. Too many sites automatically close comments after a few months – usually to prevent spam.

    Keeping comments open allows an older blog post to spring back to life months – or years – after it was first published.

    Terence

  • Kent @ Leawo

    Indeed. At the beginning when information about an item is not flourishing, it is easy to locate useful articles or posts with short tail keyword search. But as the competition for keyword becomes fierce, the folk would turn to long tail keyword search in an attempt to reach the information they need. So it is what makes a blog outstanding by elaborating long tail keywords. Most of the recent traffic to my blog is based on long tail. That could prove a point.
    Thanks for sharing the truth.

  • chris frerecks

    We actually used a month’s worth of a client’s search data [albeit anonymous] to pursue that targeting the long tail is a much more cost effective approach for small business’ here
    [ http://kineticknowledge.com/blog/best-blogging-practices/the-long-tail-and-search-engine-visibility/ ] in ‘The Long Tail’ as it Relates to Search Engine Visibility.’

    While a business may generate less search discovery per variation [i.e. Architect specializing in New York City Schools] than it will for the most obvious OR highly targeted search phrases [i.e. New York City Architect], the collective impact can be much greater for those variations.

    Based upon a competitively indexed real estate firms’ [one month’s]key phrase search discovery data, we were able to demonstrate the collective strength of the long tail versus short:

    A. Total Short Tail search discovery equaled 190/ 1,015= 19%
    [Short Tail being the town’s name plus the words property, real estate, home or homes]
    B. Total Long Tail search discovery equaled 825/1,015= 81%

  • Chris Peterson

    I agree with Mark, updating older post is most important concept. From my blogging and search engine marketing experience,

    I am telling that I generally used long tail keywords for new website and blog because as new website,

    if we will target short term keyword then we can’t get good visitors and good ranking in all major search engine.

    So I always try long tail keyword for new site and also I get good target visitors and good ranking within short period.

  • Sebastian Schaefer

    Long-Tail is also a great argument for introducing blogs within a company. The traditional intranet supplied by editors mostly only covers the left part, i.e. information valuable to many people. Blogs with a diverse set of posts do also unveil the right (tail) part, i.e. they make information available that might be of interest only for a few, but may be of great inportance for them.

  • Tom – StandOutBlogger.com

    I have been focusing on long-tail keywords for a couple of my new blogs and have been seeing great results. But for a while at the beginning you really do start to question whether it was worth it.

  • Chetser

    This is highly informative. I will try using the links in the body of the post than putting a list of other content below or to the side of the post. I think what I must try devising now is how to incorporate my old posts with the ones I am currently writing.

  • Cylblog

    “The least popular posts on my blog are the most important.” Totally agree . Because the least important posts on my blogs are links to contact me as well as affiliated ones . You, like me count on this for improvement and motivation.

  • Chad

    This is an important topic to be aware of. I have noticed that on my site, the majority of the traffic is the trickle to older posts as opposed to the ones I thought would be the most popular.
    People have needs and Google things at different times, not just shortly after you post something. So yeah, it’s important to be aware of what people are showing up at your site for and always try to keep older content up to date.
    Good Stuff.

  • Bob Bessette

    Hi Mark,
    This is great stuff. Linking to older posts is a good idea and updating older posts is also an interesting concept. I also am not looking for “identikit” readers. I am hoping to generate traffic from all walks of life. Now that I have been writing for a while I have older content to refer and link to. I will now explore Chris Anderson’s long tail concept that you mentioned in the article. This is great information.

    Best,
    Bob

  • Kok Siong Chen

    I think i have learnt something here. I will try to write some one long detailed for my content. Thanks for sharing!:)

  • Rudd

    My buddy is a longtime blogger, He always talks about dailyblogtips.com and how it has helped him. I never gave it much thought, but now that I’m starting my own blog, I can see what he means. Thanks for the advice.

  • Dave Doolin | Website In A Weekend

    This is exactly my experience, and I attempt to write at least one long very detailed technical article each week. These articles end up drawing the majority of my organic search traffic.

  • Fatin Pauzi

    I just see what is my mistake in blogging all this while. It’s not about giving people temporary information, but it’s about giving people something that makes them keeps searching for it.

    However it is, cross-link between post maybe could help me to overcome the mistake.

  • Eric

    I notice that some of my recent stuff gets noticed and searched for although I have not been blogging for a long period of time.

    Most people overlook the small things in life and I guess you could say blogging is no different. Sometimes people go for the big picture and forget the small stuff so even though you have a great little article that isn’t all that “great”, you might not get much traffic now or even at all and it could actually be an article definitely worth reading.

  • if i only commented for traffic…

    Crafting content for long tail keywords may not produce immediate results, but yeah, as you said, they deffinetely provide great value in large numbers and over time.

    I’ve found that the longtail posts on my site ar much, much more consistent in bringing traffic every month than my popular posts.

    All too often my popular posts will drop ranking and produce less in the long run – mostly because they are targeted to competetive keywords.

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