Apply That Ish to Content Strategy

Somewhat like the vastness of interstellar space, it’s hard for me to fathom just how much stuff there is for sale in the world — it’s staggering.

people research long tail marketing

Yet even with so many sellers already providing the most popular products, one strategy that still breaks through is to take advantage of the “long tail” in marketing, monetizing the realm of the deeply niche.

Similarly, there is a ton of value beyond popular content keywords, and savvy marketers know that the best optimization brings in the right customers — qualified leads primed for conversion.

Thoughtfully chosen long-tail keywords deliver choosy shoppers like me past the flashy and popular front-page products because we’re looking for something more precise. I know I’ll be excited to buy it immediately — when I find it.

Let’s dive into this strategy, look at some long tail marketing examples, and then explore how this idea applies beautifully to content marketing.

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The term “long tail” was coined by Chris Anderson to describe the graph below.

It illustrates the difference between selling a high volume of popular items (the head portion in the graph, in red) versus a low volume of many more items that aren’t as popular (the longer, mustard-colored tail of the graph.)

Graph of how the long-tail theory works.

According to Anderson’s long tail blog, this theory more specifically focuses on the tail portion of the graph over time, hence the tagline of his book: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More.

“The potential aggregate size of the many small markets in goods that don’t individually sell well enough for traditional retail and broadcast distribution may someday rival that of the existing large market in goods that cross that economic bar,” Anderson writes.

We’ve seen this theory play out and watched brick-and-mortar stores that relied on selling from a smaller, curated catalog closed up shop.

The only way through was to take their business online, seriously diversify their offerings, or team up with other brands to stay large enough to compete. (Man, do I miss those dELiA*s catalogs.)

Long Tail in Marketing Examples

Let’s take a look at some examples of successful long tail marketing.

Streaming Entertainment

While streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, and AppleTV carry and/or create popular shows and movies that attract us to subscribe, they also offer a wide variety of less popular titles to fill out their services each month.

The variety contributes to watch time and attracts niche visitors — like my mom. She will still watch anything if it has Steven Seagal in it, no matter how often she’s seen it. No matter how many times we’ve all seen it, Mom.

ICZOOM

This B2B e-commerce platform for electrical components has been making gains via long tail marketing this year. They recently released details about their accelerated growth and steady market expansion.

According to a press release from ICZoom, the purchase volume of small, medium, and micro enterprises is very disaggregated. These businesses rarely get support from large distributors, agents, and original equipment manufacturers.

“These same small, medium, and microelectronic companies, however, can form a long-tail market with a huge scale and broad prospects. Although the demand of a single small and micro company is extremely small when these companies are aggregated, an extremely large market is created,” the press release says.

Amazon and Etsy

Amazon sells more than 12 million products. When you add in their seller’s marketplace, where they allow others to sell wares for coins, that number jumps to over 350 million products.

That’s a very long tail that only grows longer each year.

We all know that on Cyber Monday, we’ll be wallowing in wide-screen TV deals above the fold, so most of Amazon’s marketplace sellers focus on less popular items further down the tail to make gains on the shopping holiday.

Meanwhile, I and millions of other shoppers will be on Etsy looking for that one strangely specific thing I know my mom-friends will understand immediately and embrace enthusiastically.

In 2022, there were nearly 7.5 million sellers on Etsy to serve over 96 million active Etsy shoppers.

Guess who’s not achieving first-page results on an Etsy search for “jewelry”? Basically, 7.5 million sellers — and many of Etsy’s first-page results for jewelry are paid ads, too.

Using long-tail keywords that set them apart from the fray is the way for sellers.

HubSpot’s Blog

HubSpot targets long-tail keywords to gain traffic and produces a lot of content throughout its portfolio of web assets to attract more unique visitors. This will continue to be true even as AI shakes up the scene!

“We know that HubSpot’s CRM and product can help organizations across sizes and industries,” says Kaitlin Milliken, a program manager on HubSpot’s Blog.

She explains, “Our blog posts need to serve this wide-reaching audience with helpful content and real-world, human insights.”

Applying the Long Tail Concept to Content Strategy

Having introduced the long tail concept in its natural retail habitat, let’s now apply it to content creation. Here are six ways you can see it in action, and I’ll explain how to leverage each for the benefit of your content strategy.

1. Optimize your site for many keywords, including long-tail phrases.

SEO is an essential part of any inbound marketing strategy. It’s a smart play to optimize your site for as many keywords and long-tail key phrases as you can, as long as they are all directly relevant to your product/service.

Remember, if your keywords are not relevant, they are irrelevant. Using keywords that are a poor match for your business, however popular the keyword, bags you useless traffic that bounces and degrades your trustworthiness.

It’s a big ol’ waste of resources.

Other benefits of long-tail key phrases are that they won’t have nearly as much competition as keywords at the head, and visitors to your site from long-tail key phrases tend to be better leads because they’re searching for something very specific.

Long tail keywords accumulate to a lot of traffic for a blog.

Long-tail key phrases may drive a low volume of traffic individually, but as you can see in the graph above, the combined traffic of all the keywords in the tail portion adds up to be significant.

Avinash Kaushik, one of the OG analytics gurus,  recommends that you use SEO to tackle keywords in the head of your long-tail graph and use PPC to drive traffic for long-tail keywords. Here’s a low-tech but lovely article he wrote on this topic.

2. Create a lot of content.

More often than not, sites with the most content — original, authoritative, and valuable content, to be specific — also attract the most visitors.

Reddit and Quora are solid examples of sites with a huge variety of content, helping them attract millions of visitors daily.

long tail in marketing, page popularity for HubSpot blog posts.

Above is a snapshot of popular pages from the HubSpot blog. The blog home page and some articles that made it to the Digg and Reddit home pages continue to drive many visitors.

But when we add up how many page views we get for all the other pages over time, it’s evident that these lower-volume traffic drivers create a significant impact when considered collectively.

Even towards the far end of the long tail, the last 20 or so content sources drove more than 1,000 page views.

3. Grow your following on social.

One way to bring in traffic is through social media channels, which is best for capturing audiences that access the internet via mobile. Let’s consider the long-tail nature of retweets:

long tail in marketing, graph of retweets per engaged follower.

Image Source

Here, you see a graph reflecting the distribution curbs of reposting on X, which ran in Applied Sciences. Over time, the sum of the retweets by people who only retweet occasionally adds up to be significant, pulling in meaningful traffic.

Please remember that the key to gaining followers and getting these retweets is sharing valuable content and engaging with the audience.

Like any content, you want it to be authentic, authoritative, and insightful — humor typically gains followers on social, too.

4. Next, invest in a link-building strategy.

Please understand — I am not suggesting that you should pay a bunch of people to link to your site.

In my experience, the best way to build up link juice is to publish great content that provides real value so that other creators will want to link to your site or content.

Integrity and authenticity just work better, for longer, with a higher ROI. Though I learned this in the ancient days from my early mentor in this industry, it still holds true.

long tail in marketing, graph of backlinks to HubSpot sites.

The graph above shows that some sites, like big search engines and industry-specific search sites, will naturally drive a lot of traffic to you. But as we saw before, scores of sites that drive a low traffic volume to you are still valuable.

If you notice from your data that some of those sites bring in quality leads, take note. You should invest time and energy into building a relationship with them to grow that funnel.

5. Spread your content around.

The first graph below shows a snapshot of the traffic HubSpot used to get from all the social media sites where we actively shared or uploaded content.

If we hadn’t shared content on all the sites in the tail, our site stats would have been lighter by at least a few thousand visitors.

Long tail in marketing, graph showing social media sites HubSpot shares content on.

Taking that a step further, check out the leads we generated from those same sources in the following graph:

Long tail in marketing, graph showing HubSpot's leads from content sharing.

Once you get your content out there in various ways, you can determine with concrete data which sources are worth leaning into going forward — and maybe even why those audiences are your top lead generators.

Knowing more could help you customize your content by platform to increase growth further.

6. Maximize your website’s footprint.

HubSpot offers many free tools to help you grow your website in several ways, increasing traffic to the main site over time. Take a peek at how this HubSpot portfolio of web properties grew:

Long tail in marketing, graph showing HubSpot web assets.

Grader.com and website.grader.com brought in the most visitors, creating opportunities to link their traffic to the main HubSpot site.

Depending on the size of your business and its digital marketing budget, it could be challenging to build tools and manage multiple sites immediately.

If you have to start small, you can’t go wrong by investing in a blog. It’s a low-risk and flexible way to open a door to more traffic, no matter your industry.

What you stand to earn from these investments is demonstrated in the graph below.

Each time you increase your digital footprint on the internet by adding another site, you use them to drive qualified traffic and leads back to your central hub.

Don’t sweat it if your main hub isn’t what brings in the most traffic. Lean into whatever is working best for you.

Long tail in marketing, graph of visitors to hubspot.com

Make long-tail marketing part of your content strategy.

Leveraging the long tail in marketing isn’t just a strategy for retail — apply it to your content strategy! Diversify your keywords, content, and web asset portfolios to catch and guide more traffic.

Maximize your opportunities by writing content for niche areas using long-tail key phrases. And whatever great content you create, share that stuff all over the place.

“Fight. Win!” Edna Mode, The Incredibles

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in May 2009 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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