SEO News
Search

Marketing in the Search Tail: Is the Pain Worth the Gain?

hursh
by , Comments

Popular search terms tend to dominate the headlines, but there are literally millions of unique searches conducted every day, and savvy search marketers are taking advantage of the opportunities in the "search tail."

A longer version of this story for Search Engine Watch members explains how to use search engine matching technologies to play in the search tail, how to find search tail keywords, how to benchmark and analyze the effectiveness of various keyword combinations, and more. Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

In fact, Google estimates that nearly 50 percent of all searches are one-of-a-kind. That's more than 100 million unique searches per day on Google alone.

These people aren't entering words like "travel" or "books." These are searchers who know what they want. These folks are searching for things like "virgin island bare boat charter company" or "Grohe plumbing supplies Aspen Colorado" It's hard to imagine all the variations people might enter into a search engine, and it's this incredible diversity that offers a significant opportunity for marketers.

You'll often hear this phenomenon described as the "search tail." If you're not sure what people are referring to, try visualizing a graph. Plot all search queries along the horizontal axis and plot the frequency of each query along the vertical axis. Place the most popular searches at the far left, followed by the somewhat popular searches, followed by less frequent searches, and finally the one-of-a-kind searches on the far right.

Here's what you'll find. There are only a few queries that have a very high frequency (yes, a lot of people search for Britney Spears, iPod and MP3). But the graph quickly flattens out into an extremely long "tail" that contains millions of less popular and unique searches. This tail is significant because cumulatively, it outnumbers the more popular searches at the head of the graph. In fact, if any marketer plots all searches conducted for a company, or a product, or a topic, a similar result will appear.

Worth the Marketing Effort?

Search marketers are asking themselves, should I be advertising on all these extremely relevant but hard-to-identify phrases? What is the best way to pursue the queries found in the tail and, most importantly, is the time and effort worth the gain? In essence, should I be chasing the long tail of search?

This very question was explored at the recent Search Engine Strategies conference in Chicago, Illinois. Pay-per-click (PPC) experts Harrison Magun, vice-president of Avenue A | Razorfish Search, and Kevin Lee, executive chairman and co-founder, of Did-It.com discussed the implications of advertising in the search tail.

First, Lee explained that the search graph described above also corresponds to a sales funnel, or buying cycle. People at the very beginning of their buying process are usually in the head of the search graph. They enter very general, one- and two-word searches. Typically, these folks are in basic research or fact-finding mode. As they become clearer on what they are looking for, they tend to enter longer, more specific search queries and move toward the right of the graph.

When they are absolutely certain about what they want to do or buy, they enter very specific, longer, often unique search queries—which fall in the tail of the graph. This fact is significant for marketers, because it means that the phrases found in the search tail are generally entered by people who are the most ready to purchase or take action.

Match Technology to the Rescue!

Advertisers can quickly become overwhelmed just thinking about finding all of these unique phrases, let alone managing ad copy, landing pages and bids for all of these keywords. For this reason, search engines developed broad matching technology (called Advanced Match at Yahoo) to help marketers easily advertise across keyword variations.

For example, if you broad match on the keyword "weight loss," your ad is eligible to be displayed for a search on, of course, weight loss. But your ad may also be displayed for a search on weight loss program, fast weight loss, weight loss supplement, weight loss surgery, and Paris Hilton weight loss. Problem solved? Well, maybe.

Kevin Lee reminded advertisers that they also must understand how each engine positions ads based on these match types. There are significant differences.

  • Yahoo rewards advertisers who expand their keyword lists to include the plethora of phrases found in the search tail. This is because Yahoo ALWAYS positions an ad that is an exact match with a search query above an ad that is a broad match—regardless of bid amount.
  • Google and MSN do not use match type as a factor when determining ad position. All ads compete against each other regardless of whether the advertiser selects exact, phrase or broad match. Ad position is determined by bid amount, popularity and quality/relevance.

Finally, both Lee and Magun stressed that keywords (whether in the search head or tail) are only ONE of many variables marketers should be testing, analyzing and improving. Pay-per-click advertising is a multi-faceted discipline, and marketers should not become obsessed with chasing keywords at the expense of improving ad copy, landing pages or developing a sound bidding strategy.

Bottom line: The long, long tail of search not only is where things get difficult, but also interesting and profitable. Advertising in the tail will differentiate you from your competition and allow you to find conversions at a great value. But savvy search marketers realize that chasing the tail requires time, effort, money, solid analytics and, yes... patience!

Patricia Hursh is president and founder of SmartSearch Marketing a full-service search engine marketing agency serving clients in consumer and b-to-b markets.

A longer version of this story for Search Engine Watch members explains how to use search engine matching technologies to play in the search tail, how to find search tail keywords, how to benchmark and analyze the effectiveness of various keyword combinations, and more. Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Search Headlines

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

FAQ: What does the Google subpoena mean?...
CNET News.com Jan 24 2006 12:04AM GMT
Google: The World's Most Influential Brand...
brandchannel.com Jan 24 2006 12:03AM GMT
Private Searches Versus Personally Identifiable Searches...
Search Engine Watch Jan 24 2006 12:00AM GMT
How to Foil Search Engine Snoops...
Wired News Jan 23 2006 11:59PM GMT
Changing a Cultural Icon: The Academic Library as a Virtual Destination...
EDUCAUSE Review Jan 23 2006 11:56PM GMT
Yahoo extends research efforts to Europe, Latin America...
InfoWorld Jan 23 2006 11:52PM GMT
Bye Bye Beta: Google News is a Beta No More...
Search Engine Watch Jan 23 2006 11:50PM GMT
Yahoo's Social Circle...
Business Week Jan 23 2006 11:48PM GMT
Streaming Video UK: MSN brings video streaming portal to UK...
Netimperative Jan 23 2006 11:45PM GMT
Online Exclusive: Which Boxer Is Your Search Like?...
dmnews.com Jan 23 2006 11:43PM GMT
Google Video: Trash Mixed With Treasure...
New York Times Jan 23 2006 11:42PM GMT
Men and Women and Search - Part 2...
Search Engine Guide Jan 23 2006 11:41PM GMT
Why Viral Marketing Is Essential To Low-Cost Search Marketing...
Search Engine Guide Jan 23 2006 11:39PM GMT
Podcast: Chris Sherman Talks Search and Privacy on Open Source Radio Program...
RadioOpenSource.org Jan 23 2006 11:38PM GMT
Living a Cached Life...
Gigaom Jan 22 2006 10:39PM GMT


ClickZ Live New York What's New for 2015?
You spoke, we listened! ClickZ Live New York (Mar 30-Apr 1) is back with a brand new streamlined agenda. Don't miss the latest digital marketing tips, tricks and tools that will make you re-think your strategy and revolutionize your marketing campaigns. Super Saver Rates are available now. Register today!

Recommend this story

comments powered by Disqus