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Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Long Tail of Search, Paid Search, and Contextual

Now that Chris Anderson is gaining more notoriety with his steady volume of postings and speeches on the Long Tail concept, many are analyzing its application to their particular industry.

The Long Tail of search queries is of particular interest to ours. Indeed for smarter organic optimizers, it's become a sort of shorthand. "Most of how I approach it is long tail," one leading SEO told me recently.

When it comes to placing keyword buys (paid search), though, I tend to think we're still buzzing around the issue, and sometimes clouding it.

I've opined here in the past that most paid search campaigns should focus on the "middle of the tail," not the long part of (what Danny calls) "onesies and twosies" (odd search queries that might get one or two searches a year). No matter how long that tail, it's generally good business to focus on the 80% of the searchers that will come in through more frequently-searched queries. And that could be as high as 90-95%, if you're using matching options, such as broad match.

Confounding the matter is all the excitement emanating from the top folks at your Googles and Yahoos about their contextual ad programs. It's all very cool, theoretically, that the many niche sites out there can plug in Adsense or YPN, earn a few dollars, etc. without needing an advertising department.

But do advertisers really want, or understand, this inventory? Isn't the Long Tail part of the story also a way of diverting attention from the fact that these automated ad programs don't do very much to help advertisers get placed on larger sites? That they do little to "accredit" participating publishers, or to collect demographic information on them?

Advertisers are looking to tap the Long Tail after they get the low hanging fruit, sure. But the automated, just-trust-us inventory is not very Web 2.0-ish, in spite of the cachet of the Long Tailishness of the contextual programs. Persistent, savvy advertisers -- the type who understand the long tail concept in the first place -- are probably looking for a way of searching the advertiser base that includes more attributes about the participating websites. For example, quality publishers could voluntarily participate in a program that measures user paths and readership habits, so they could be distinguished from build-to-monetize "crap" sites who have virtually no real readership. It'll come, hopefully.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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