There’s been a lot of talk in the SEO world of late about the idea of ‘content farms’- sites which exist principally to attract mid to long-tail search traffic through large scale content generation.
Several high profile SEO’s have been pretty critical of sites like ehow, mahalo and livestong who use these tactics. Personally, if sites earning that much cash through SEO I’d rather learn from it than criticize so for my first guest post here on Gab’s blog I want to take a closer look at long-tail tactics and share some practical tips for how pretty much any site can cash in on their markets long-tail potential.
Step 1: Long tail keyword research
Although essentially the concept of long-tail keywords implies that research isn’t necessary I would still recommend starting any long-tail campaign by researching keywords. This research will help to inform your decisions about what new content you can create and how you can best optimize existing pages for new keywords. It will also give you a better feel for how people search so if you’re producing content you’ll instinctively use the language of the searcher and drop in long-tail combinations without even thinking about it.
Personally I use Wordtracker here because despite the anomalies it throws up it makes it easy to identify low competition long tail keywords using its KEI3 scoring system. Start with a few seed keywords on a topic of your choice then sort the results by the KEI3 score and pick off all the keywords which you think you can use in your campaign.
If you’re already getting a fair bit of long-tail traffic you might want to try out Hittail– its come along quite a bit from when it was first released a few years back.
Step 2: Add content to existing pages
One of the best ways to start your long-tail campaign is to identify pages on your site which already rank and expand on their content to introduce more long-tail keyword combinations. Although to really max out on your long-tail potential you’re gonna need to be developing new content pages eventually at first what I like to do is to identify thin content pages on my site where I can add extra words and introduce more long-tail combinations. The good thing about this tactic is that if your sites newish and lacking trust you’re not diluting your PageRank by creating lots of new pages too soon.
To do this I start by getting into analytics and looking for a few pages to work on. Here I want to find pages with the most search traffic but fewest keywords- the logic being these pages are likely to be performing for short-tail keywords but not driving much via the long tail. I you’re using GA you can do something like this…
You can also use the top pages on domain tool (or just webmaster tools) to identify your most linked-to pages and then running a word count check on these pages to pinpoint where you’ve got strong pages with low content. The fact these pages are well linked to means you should be able to bulk out the content and they should start immediately ranking for a bunch of new keywords and driving more traffic.
It should probably go without saying that you need to apply some common sense when doing this. Fill a landing page with a load of copy and you run the risk of damaging conversion rates so tread carefully if you’re doing this with key sales pages and make sure you’re measuring your conversion rates so you can measure the profitability of this tactic.
Once you have these pages identified look at the keywords which are already sending them traffic and search for related terms.
Here’s a quick example…
Webmaster tools tell me these pages have a few links pointing to them:But right now those pages are pretty thin, let’s take the Playa Den Bossa page as an example….
Check out the entrance keywords for that page – only 51- that’s not many. If we double the content of this page it could easily double the number of referring keywords and the traffic it receives. Not to mention there’s an opportunity to turn that page into a better resource. On a crude level a page with 600 words is probably more likely to attract links than a page with 300.
So with that page identified all I need to do is to reshape the content of that page to include these extra combinations. This sort of work should be real bread and butter stuff for a decent copywriter. I’ll talk a bit more about some content strategies later.
Step 3: Optimise underperforming pages
Basically this is about flipping the process above and looking for pages on your site which should be driving long-tail traffic but aren’t. Usually this will either be a case of tweaking the keyword strategy or boosting the page up with a few links.
To find these pages again go to Analytics and export a list of pages which get low traffic from natural search (use your own judgment what ‘low’ is for your site).
There are 3 things you can do with these pages, ideally, do all 3.
- Tweak the copy to include new long-tail keywords from your keyword research.
- Increase internal links to the page – ideally link to it from a page with some decent PageRank like your homepage or a top-level category.
- Build external links – if it’s a case this page is in the supplemental index it should only take one decent link (or a handful of crap links!) to lift it out. I still fall back on article marketing in many cases to link to pages like this.
Step 4: Create new pages
Like I said before to really reach your sites full long-tail potential you’re gonna need to be injecting new content-rich pages into it. It’s best to approach this in a complementary manner to your other search activity so don’t just look at keywords but try and structure these new pages in a way that they have a decent chance if attracting organic links as well (link bait) and offer good value for returning visitors.
The biggest challenge here is pumping this new content into your site without damaging conversion rates or diluting the PageRank distribution of your existing pages to a point where it disrupts your rankings. Where those big ‘how-to’ sites do well is by using a really efficient publishing structure so they can add hundreds or thousands of new articles a day and they all get indexed quickly and get enough exposure on the site and internal link juice for them to rank very quickly. If you look at most traditional publishers like newspapers and magazines, many of whom churn content at a similar pace, where they let themselves down in many cases is by having a poorly optimized structure so old content gets pushed down the archives and eventually drops out of the rankings.
When you’re planning your content campaign think about how new content can be integrated into your website structure. A blog is probably the simplest option although you should think about the type of content you’re going to be adding and whether it lends itself to the blog format. Q & A’s, FAQs, tutorials and glossaries all work really well too.
Once you have the ability to publish on your site in a scalable way you can pull together your content plan. Turn your keyword list into a list of article titles, then write a brief synopsis of what each article will contain. If you know the subject turning keywords into titles should be pretty easy, failing that ezine article has a pretty cool little title suggestion tool which I use a lot. Some of the suggestions it gives you are pretty mental but you usually get a few good ones as well…
At this stage, you can either get busy creating this new content or you can just outsource it. I’ve used services like textbroker, content customs, content now and a few others in the past. The results are mixed but what I can say for certain is having very tightly focused titles and detailed article synopsis’ greatly improves the quality of work you’ll receive from this type of service.
Nowadays I prefer to hire a writer directly who actually knows the subject and can work off their own initiative. If you’re an affiliate or a business with a lack of internal resources for this type of thing I reckon this will probably be your most cost-effective option.
Step 5: Dynamic content creation
This is where we get a bit more clever and take the campaign into overdrive. You’ve probably heard stories about AdSense millionaires who’ve made their money with auto-generated sites? You’ve got to be pretty hardcore to make a go of this sort of thing and it doesn’t work as well as it used to, but there’s a lot you can learn from it. Here are a few techniques that might work for your site…
Tagging & dynamic page generation
By converting your long-tail keyword research into tags and gathering all the information you’ve got on your site for that keyword you can quickly create lots and lots of new pages.
Boilerplate or macro content
I’ve talked about this before in my post on e-commerce product page optimization. Basically you take a paragraph of text and a database, like a product database and use database values to fill in blanks in the paragraph, this lets you create lots of semi-unique pages.
Spinning & rewriting
Gab’s talked about this one before. It’s a bit dodgy but if you think about most of the articles demand media churn out they’re basically just rewritten from other places (actually most of the information in the world is if you think about it!). Spinning multiple versions of the same article onto your own site might not be great for user experience but it will help you target more long-tail keyword variations. Why else do you think ehow would have 6 articles on cooking a damn turkey!
These days if you try to fill a new website with duplicate content of a feed you probably won’t get very far but established sites with strong domains still make a killing off copying other people’s content and pulling together feeds from different sources.
This page on mahalo – http://www.mahalo.com/stub/rye-bread is a nice example, a hundred words of copy rewritten from Wikipedia then Google images, Youtube videos, Amazon products feeds, Twitter search results and a whole lot of ads. If you can’t beat em, join em!
Transcription of video and audio content can be a really cost-effective way to boost your long tail. Just look at how much content SEOmoz gets out of one of their Whiteboard Friday videos. Although you need a real person to do proper transcription you can also do it with software.
Plenty of people have talked about UGC before. Reviews, comments, forum threads, answers, anything where you get other people to write stuff for you is going to boost your long-tail massively.
Dynamic keyword insertion
Nothing too sophisticated about this one. Basically you take all the keyword variations you want a page to rank for and spit them out on the page under the guise of something like ‘Searches used to find this page’ like this one:
I hope this post has given you something to think about and take away. In my opinion, exploiting the long tail is the biggest opportunity in natural search at the moment (and has been for a while actually) so if you can get your head around streamlining the process of long-tail optimization you’re onto a winner. Please leave me a comment to let me know if this was useful, or to share your own tips.