I just did a review of one weeks worth of search engine traffic. The importance of the long tail is painfully obvious.
For a recent week my local business/site had about 3500 visitors in total. Most come to the site direct, either through the home page, an internal page, or the log analyser can't identify the source (about 1/2 of all traffic). This totals over 75% of traffic.
About 750 visits came through search engines (slightly less than 20%) (fairly standard over the long term)
Of those 750 slightly more than 1/3 (about 280) represented searches for the generic business topic. (the site is well optimized for business terms with lots of 1st page results in the 3 major engines for the #1 term in the industry and secondary terms)
Similarly slightly more than 1/3 of the visits were for critical combinations of the main industry term and relevant geo terms. (over 260 visits).
My site optimizes for the main industry term, kword1kword2. We also optimize for a great variety of secondary terms. This is critical. In terms of capturing traffic we have seen about 40 variations on the #1 keyword phrase.
On the geo side we optimize for 2 states and a major city. We have extended to reference a 3rd state.
We optimize for the state names, the state initials, and variations on the city name. We also sprinkly town, county, smaller cities within the web site content to pick up traffic.
We also use ppc, both for terms where we are weaker and strong and monitor activity to adjust over time.
What kind of traffic do we get on the combination of industry terms/geo terms? Of the 260+ visits on the week there were over 210 variations according to our analyser. The number one geo term showed 9 visits (twice with two different states and the #1 industry term) After that it gets redicuously thin. We have lots of single visits for an industry term and a geo description.
What about conversions. They are similarly thin with little duplication. We have a huge variety of conversions that represent single variations on an industry term/geo description.
We also focus on local and topical links. They work best in terms of traffic and conversions. I'm always on the lookout for new opportunities in that regard.
Do we get links? You betcha. Y and MSN report between 1-2,000 for our local business. Honestly, many of them are spam links...but that is the nature of the industry these days. The more content the more spam backlinks.
Now that pales in comparison to major real estate agencies/sites...but for many many many local industries that is a lot. More than enough to get you high rankings for most relevant phrases. Of course if the competition was more fierce we would have to do more in that regard.
Do we use IYP (internet YP). yeah, but we don't rely on it. It scarcely delivers traffic. We have found that by some level of optimization and sprinkling town city names througout the site we outrank IYP in the engines in the vast majority of cases. We have found that IYP doesn't deliver bang for the buck.
Over time we have about tripled traffic to the site with the vast majority being potentially relevant traffic from the region. We have similarly tripled conversions. The web has moved from an incidental source of business to the prime source of leads and revenues.
Clearly, though, the biggest growth has been the result of optimizing for the long tail. It takes work and imagination to capture most of the long tail phrases and we still search for effective terms. We have found though, that the various keyword tools do an excellent job of describing what works and simply optimizing for relevant long tail phrases described in different keyword tools across the board does a great job of capturing traffic.
Love to hear your experiences.