long tail
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The Long Tail and Why You Shouldn’t Worry About It

This is a continuation of my last post on creating magnificent content. If you’ll remember, we talked about how the Internet is going through a rough patch, with content farms are springing up and creating one-off bits of Internet scrap that rank highly for dinky keywords. It’s a game of quantity versus quality.

This is called the relying on the “Long Tail“, or getting all those shoddy pages to rank highly for non-competitive keywords.

The Long Tail

For those of you who don’t know what this mythical Long Tail is, it’s a term coined by Chris Anderson of Wired. Anderson’s book The Long Tail was meant to show that businesses like Amazon were making tons of money selling tiny amounts of tons of products. Smart people have already pointed out that the long tail might be a good strategy for massive websites, but not so much for bloggers and content producers like you and I.

Quality wins every time.

The Long Tail is GOOD

I’ve made the Long Tail approach look like an awful strategy for writers and content producers, but in truth it’s a great way to get some extra search traffic. We just need to view it differently.

There’s a lot of traffic to be gotten with the Long Tail. Ranking highly for hundreds or even thousands of non-competitive keywords could be a major traffic bump for your site. We shouldn’t just throw the baby out wit the bath water.

A Primer on SEO (the Good Kind)

When you’re creating awesome things, people will want to link to you. Twitter, Digg, Delicious, niche social news sites, blogs, Google Reader, comments… people will link because they want to share what you’ve created. You’ve clearly taken the time to craft something worth sharing, and the Web is a great platform for it.

For those of you needing a quick primer on SEO, here is how the bulk of rankings are determined in search engines:

  1. inbound links to the exact page and domain in general
  2. on-page factors (title tags, headings, keywords in urls, content)
  3. age, strength and reputation of the domain

(There are tons of other ranking factors, but these are the most important.)

So when you create amazing content that resonates with people, you’ll get a) inbound links and b) your domain becomes stronger. This paves the path for your site winning at the Long Tail.

Stay with me. This is going to change how you view your writing, SEO and marketing forever.

Make the Long Tail Come to You

As we said earlier, pages rank highly in Google because they have lots of inbound links pointing towards great content. The crazy thing is, you might rank for keywords you’ve never imagined within your flagship content. With all of those real, high-quality inbound links coming to your site, it means that you might rank highly for phrases that are simply a part of your article body.

Crazy, huh?

How the Long Tail Works for LifeDev

Need proof as to whether this really works or not? Look no further than this site. I rank for some of the most bizarre keywords. Lots of ‘em. And it wasn’t on purpose either. But my referrer logs tell me that people are coming to my site from all sorts of different searches.

In the past 30 days, Google Analytics tells me that 4,255 people have come to my site from 1,899 different keywords. That’s 2.24 searches per keyword on average.

This site is benefiting like crazy from the Long Tail. In just a month, over 4,000 unique people have found LifeDev. Those people do things like share articles, leave comments or even subscribe to the site.

Has this changed anything in terms of the types of content that I’ll create here? Not a bit. You see, I don’t really care about the Long Tail.

Why I don’t Care About the Long Tail

So far we’ve covered that long tail keywords can be easy to rank highly for, if you’re willing to create content specifically for them.

But it’s a shortsighted game. What if Google suddenly decides it doesn’t like those content farms that generate pages specifically for the Long Tail? They’re hosed. Nobody is going to naturally link to a dinky spam page. What’s the point?

The problem with betting the farm on Long Tail search is that you’re placing all of your eggs in one basket. If Google decides it doesn’t like you one day, *poof!* the traffic is gone. And you’ve got no other leg to stand on.

But the even bigger problem for you and I is that it sucks to create content for machines. There’s no community. There’s no feedback, or even human aspect.

There’s no love, man.

Do you want to write for people? Or do you want to write for machines? I’d rather write for smart people who think like me. Oh, and if you don’t think you can make money creating stellar content, you’re crazy.

So, to conclude:

Don’t worry about the Long Tail.

If you’re creating stellar, unbelievably creative content, the Long Tail will find you. And then some. So fahget about it!