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Explaining the Concept of the Long Tail

Updated on October 23, 2012
The Long Tail
The Long Tail

Understanding the concept of The Long Tail

As a writer, musician, or web publisher you have no doubt heard of the concept of the long tail. Most famously attributed to the Chris Anderson book The Long Tail. Having heard of the notion of the long tail, you may be asking yourself what does this mean, and more importantly, why do I care. The answer is fairly simply, if you intend to compete in the new economy, the notion of the long tail is imperative if you plan to develop your offering via niche markets.

More often than not, you have probably heard of the long tail in the context of keyword analysis. While it absolutely does apply to finding keyword niches in the internet domain, it is certainly applicable to other areas as well. The idea of the long tail is simply this: In an age of nearly free delivery of content, (i.e. digital delivery) consumers are able to delve much deeper into their interests than would have been possible before the digital age. As a result of the free delivery system, markets that were previously cost prohibitive are now open and readily available. The long tail is simply the nomenclature to describe the depth of niches that now exist as a result of the internet. The tail amounts to little more than the outside edges of a normalized “Bell Curve” the edges of which represent ever smaller markets. The beauty of the Long Tail is that while the edges of the tail represent fewer customers, it also represents customers with a greater and more specific need or interest. Further, the edges of the tail create numerous small opportunities where competition is sparse.

For purposes of example, let’s walk through the theory of the long tail as it relates to key words. As a web publisher you need to draw traffic to your site. One of the primary tools you will likely use are keyword searches via search engines. No doubt, you have some great key words that will perfectly fit the main subject of your site. However, as you begin to research your keywords, you find that the completion amount those words are incredibly daunting. Clearly your site will get lost in the shuffle if you try and compete on this playing field so you need to find another approach to building traffic. This is where the long tail comes into play. Let's say you are selling fresh peppermint on your site. Having discovered that “peppermint” and “fresh peppermint” are already incredibly competitive, you will start to work your way through the long tail of appropriate key words to find niche words that still represent your site, but with far less competition. As you drill into the long tail of applicable keywords you find that “fresh peppermint in Dayton” and “fresh peppermint stores” both have reasonable traffic with far less competition.

Having drilled down into the long tail, you now have some keywords that you can exploit with minimal competition. This is the power of the long tail for search results. You are able to find niches that are perfectly applicable to your site, but with much lower competitive pressures. Ultimately, by working your way into the long tail, you have found opportunities to build your business through a more unique niche set.

Obviously this quick primer cannot take the place of the masterful work written by Anderson, but it does provide some context to begin to understand the concept of the long tail, and hopefully, will move you in the direction of learning more.

The Long Tail

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    • T. R. Brown profile image

      T. R. Brown 5 years ago from Nashville, TN

      Thanks very much Jenny!

    • Jenny Calender profile image

      Jenny Calender 5 years ago

      Targeted shoppers, yep, that's key - -good info :)

    • T. R. Brown profile image

      T. R. Brown 5 years ago from Nashville, TN


      Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • charmike4 profile image

      Michael Kromwyk 5 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      Totally agree with you concept of the long tail and using SEM key words to reduce competition for your sales t-r-brown. Another way to increase your longtail is to place all of your suppliers stock on your website whether you carry it instore or not. If someone buys it you then ship it direct from the supplier - so no need to carry the item but you do create a long tail at no cost of inventory. Thanks for sharing, Cheers Michael