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The long tail is the real target

One of the most successful pages on any website to which I contribute has the number one position – as a featured snippet – for its targeted search term. According to Google Search Console, the page has appeared in the results for that targeted search term 1866 times in three months, and has been clicked on 464 times. Its average position is 1.

Bingo, we can’t do better than that, right?

Well, maybe we can. All the research I did when putting the article together suggested that I was targeting the most frequently-used appropriate search term. That was then. Now I see in Search Console two other terms that are even more frequently used. I don’t think they were more popular when I first wrote the page, but they are now. The page only appears at an average position of 2.6 and 3.3 for those, so its clickthrough rate is lower. If it was number one for either of those instead, it’d get more clicks. If it was number one for all three of them, obviously that would be amazing.

So there’s a decision to be made on whether to target the other terms, or to try for all three.

But something even more important is happening. Remember that the page has been clicked on 464 times for its targeted search term? That’s nothing. Overall, Google is reporting the search terms for over nine thousand clicks. So the top search term – the targeted one – is only responsible for less than 5% of all clicks!

This of course is the ‘long tail’ of search in action. The top 20 search terms (which turn out to be the ones with more than 100 clicks) account for 45% of traffic. The remaining 55% comes from over 500 more search terms.

This alone should make us pause for thought. However, when we look at the terms being used (not just those being clicked), the long tail extends to even greater lengths. Search Console only reports on 1000 different searches: these seem to include any which got at least 1 click, no matter how few searches caused that, then it starts on those that had the most impressions without a click. In the example above, at position 1000, we’ve only reached terms that got 6 impressions. It’s pretty easy to see how the full list of terms, down to those getting just 1 impression, would extend out to 20,000 terms if we were given that information.

Of course, it’s impossible to target 20,000 search terms with a page; it’s hard enough to target half a dozen. We’ll never be told what most of the terms are anyway. What we can learn is that to target the long tail, we need substantial content, to increase our chances of our page containing those terms that might only be searched for once or twice ever. That long tail, in total, could easily account for far more traffic than the few headline terms at the top.