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Long tail or short tail for organic keywords? -- My dilemma

Id appreciate any advice and guidance

3:11 pm on Jun 5, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Hi all,
I'm a long time casual guest reader who's really appreciated your discussions and ideas over the years. Hope you guys can provide some good insight and ideas that can help me with my problem.

I've always followed the general consensus that long tail keywords are the best to organically optimize for since they are easier to be ranked on the first page. For the high search volume broad/short tail keywords, I've always used PPC to compliment the exposure.

For the most part, this has worked very well. Organic traffic continues to increase quarter over quarter and I rank on page 1 on most of my 30 or so "priority keywords" that Ive established. My PPC efforts also do a decent job generating leads (atleast I think.. I mean do you ever really know?! :) ) despite only getting traffic from the fraction of people willing to click a PPC ad.

In my keyword space, broad terms like "blue widgets" are theoretical terms with many different types of competiting websites, while long tail keywords like "blue widgets device" is the product I sell so that you can apply the theory.

My problem occurs when I start looking at data of the big picture. By an overwhelming number, my broad keywords leads were the ones that generated the opportunities that end up being sales. I was absolutely shocked by this.

So now I am faced with the dilemma. Do I invest major resources to organically improve my ranking on the high traffic broad keywords or do I continue to try and refine my ranking for the niche specific keywords?

Has anyone out there experienced this? What did you do and did it work? Am I too narrowly looking at the data (e.g. PPC will obviously generate more sales since it draws more commercially intended searchers)?

Many thanks everyone!

[edited by: Receptional_Andy at 7:09 pm (utc) on June 5, 2008]
[edit reason] See sticky [/edit]

7:08 pm on June 5, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Hi rambatz, and welcome to (posting on) webmasterworld :)

My PPC efforts also do a decent job generating leads (atleast I think.. I mean do you ever really know?!)

Woah there! If you're running PPC listings, you should have an analytics system that separates out the free and paid visitors, and tells you exactly what leads are generated. One of the key advantages of PPC is very accurate measurability and ROI calculations.

despite only getting traffic from the fraction of people willing to click a PPC ad.

A fraction it may be, but it's a pretty big fraction these days ;)

It sounds to me like you may have had too narrow a focus in your keyword optimisation efforts. Maybe it will be helpful to outline a strategy I use, and you can see if that's any use.

I won't to promote widgets, I buy www.widgets.tld. I then categorise the site based on the various important characteristics of my widgets, in a priority order based on keyword/market research and consumer knowledge. I might end up with something like this:

Widgets >> Sticky >> Green >> With knobs on

Or as a URL:


Of course, I'd end up with many categories of widgets, for fuzzy, orange, etc.

In the short term with a new site, I'd expect to perform well for the niche keywords, of which there will be many hundreds. Phrases like "Sticky green widgets with knobs on". As time goes on, ongoing promotion improves the overall performance of the site, and then I start to perform for less niche and more competitive phrases: "Sticky green widgets". Again, ongoing promotion results in improved performance: "Sticky widgets". Final target: "widgets".

2:27 pm on June 6, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Thanks for the response Andy. I appreciate it.

What I meant when I said "Do you ever really know" is that you're never really sure if your missing that "golden nugget" of a keyword. I've used all the keyword tools out there, but I'm still not 100% satisfied that I'm not missing any strong words in my campaigns :).

In addition, how do I know that my PPC efforts are performing at max efficiency? I've read a bunch of "studies" claiming avg. CTR and conversion rates for PPC campaigns. I don't believe them since every industry is unqiue and a conversion in my space could be a heck of a lot more difficult than in another. I'd like to compare apples to apples. The only way I'll really know is if I call my competitors and ask for their numbers! :)

I try my best to content theme my site like you suggest. But in my industry it's tough. For example, one of the products I sell can be said atleast 4 days ways... e.g. a widget, a box, a component... and they all mean the exact same thing. The kicker of them all, WTV numbers for them all are relatively equal. Craziness! In PPC, it's not so bad since I can get coverage on them all. The nightmare happens in SEO. To maintain some sort of professionalism in my site, I can't make 4 different product pages that sells the exact same thing to cover all those keywords.

I've tried optimizing my product pages for 2 of the 4 keywords. With the other 2 keywords being optmized in other areas, but google is smart. I do really well on the 2 keywords that are optimized on the product page, the other two not so well. Grr!

10:12 pm on June 8, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Thanks for the clarification, rambatz.

Based on what you've said, I'd say the first task is to make sure that the 2 of the 4 you've chosen are the most effective ones. I would base this on revenue/profit and not number of searches (unless one converts much better than another for reasons that you can fix!).

It's possible to target several highly competitive keyphrases with a single page or single body of content, but it isn't easy and doesn't always work. You clearly already appreciate that your site needs consistency in order to work for users.

It might be worthwhile trying to figure out what the difference is between the audiences and why they tend to use different words to describe the product/service. This could give you some insight into a long term strategy, even if that involves making a different type of content to get as much coverage as possible. As you are already using and seem pretty well versed with PPC, I recommend playing with your PPC traffic to get some additional insight.

A pure SEO consideration is whether or not search engines are able to make the connection between the word variations. If they are, you're job is a whole lot easier :)