Long Tail Content For SEO: The Now and Then

All things change over time.  Nothing stays the same.  There was an old way of doing SEO for the long tail.  For quite a long time, it worked, and there was a lot of money to be made by it.  But those days are long gone.

What was the old way?  Well, here are some examples:

  • Research a long list of long-tail keywords
  • Create a page for each long-tail term
  • Give each page a title tag with the key phrase at the very start of the title tag
  • Implement a header tag with the same key phrase at the start of it
  • Write some simple blather type text that repeats the key phrase once or twice and arguably adds some additional value
  • Focus the page on conversion

More often than not, you’d end up with a site that attempted to draw in traffic by using every imaginable related search phrase.

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This mode of long tail execution was pretty simple, but it didn’t give the user that much of a great experience.   Back then, it didn’t matter, because there was money to be made.

Because we are so used to doing the old ways of long tail, there are still a large number of publishers still utilizing the old ways in their SEO.  These people wonder why they aren’t like by Google.

The answer is this:

Compared to sites that offer authoritative information, sites using the above formula suck — and Google does not like to offer users sites that suck in their results!

 Despite the fact that the last statement is pretty obvious, there are people who created websites that “worked” and that made them good money.  But these individuals lost sight of the fact that these sites just aren’t very good.  What doesn’t work are the sites that offer ways to buy something fast, but don’t have any other value to the customer.  What DOES work are sites that offer other value beyond ease of conversion.

What Can You Do Now?

Because the old ways are done with and gone, what are some new things you can do?  Here’s the new approach:

1.        Take best and brightest and brainstorm.  Before getting to deep into your research, gather your team and come up with some pages/content you’d like to create.  Before you do anything else that may ruin the good ideas, get the best out of your internal knowledge first.  A person’s creativity will bring about ideas that research won’t.

2.       Brainstorm user needs.  What are the top 5 things you know users will want to know when they come to your page?  To find out, there a several ways to do it.  You can interview past users and poll prospective customers.  Also, doing online research within your niche will work wonders a well.  Take the time to go deeper than you will need to on the page itself.  It is usually better to have too much information than too little.

3.       Research complementary products and services.  After you find what people need from your product or service, what are some of the other things that people will want at the same time that you aren’t currently offering?  Is it a good idea to create content focused on those things?  If it makes sense, you can use the info to create a comprehensive solution guide that will help prospects with every facet of the dilemma they are trying to solve, not just the piece that you address directly.

4.       Research what the bulk of competitors are doing.  It’s pretty obvious that using your competitors as a baseline will help you make your site better than they are.  Don’t copy your competitor’s approach.  This is not a good strategy.  They might be able to get away with a bad site experience, but it’s a bad plan for you to do the same.  Plan for excellence, not for being a copycat.  This is the best way to help you make a sustainable long term strategy.

5.       Research what authoritative competitors are doing.  So, you’ve already looked at the competitor baseline.  Now, you want to look at what the top people in your area are doing differently than the rest.  This will allow you to get some additional clues.  But, it could be a good idea to delay this step because you don’t want to possibly destroy any of your creative in such an early stage of the game.  You can use this step to develop more fresh, new ideas.

6.       Do some quantitative research.  So, after researching, and taking a baseline look at your competitors, you now have the basic ideas.  Now, you can start doing some research into keyword volumes to help prioritize what is most important.  You want to focus on the importance of the user experience.  You may find a keyword that has twice as much search volume as another keyword, but it doesn’t make it a tertiary piece of information to a user.  One good idea is to treat keyword volume as a secondary factor to alter the balance in otherwise close calls.

7.       Create an initial design, and obtain feedback.  Now, with priorities in hand, begin developing one or more basice designs with the goal of trying to get some feedback.  It’s pretty easy AND cheap to get feedback on different mockups, especially if you use services like UserTesting.com or even Mechanical Turk.

8.       Gut check: does the page deserve to exist?  This particular step can be done at any point in the process.  One necessary part of this stage is to do it at least once every time you publish a page.  You want to make sure that there is a good reason for the page to even be around.  Does it add redeeming value to the web, or to your website?

Now a days, there is a definite shift towards a user-content-centric view of the world.  Yes, SEO isn’t dead and gone, not by a long shot.  What you need to remember is that you don’t want to focus on just SEO.  You want to put a good amount of focus to the user experience.  You can still create pages for the long tail.  You just have to think about what you’re doing while you’re doing it.  You need to invest more than  you would have had to three years ago.