I recently did a long tail experiment to catch a few different search phrases.
See my introduction to the long tail, The New Long Tail of SEO, if you don’t know what I mean by that term.
Okay. Here’s the story.
For ages, I’ve been thinking that Squidoo doesn’t pay enough for me to live on, but it pays enough for a student to live on. Unfortunately, it’s restricted to age 18 and up (I think?), so that means college student. Yes, they have loans which are going to cream them, but at least Squidoo could pay for their books and (maybe) day-to-day expenses. So, I should write an introduction for them! And add other options besides Squidoo, since they shouldn’t put all their eggs in one basket.
As usual, my lens idea came first, then I poked around with the Google keywords tool to find some good long-tail searches that matched it (as “making money online”) is super-saturated. I did the keyword research, grabbed the URL, wrote the introduction and got stuck. By the time I got back to it, I’d forgotten what words I’d picked out for the main keyword phrase, and I didn’t care. I just wrote the blinking lens. I actually changed the title NOT for SEO purposes at all, but to get it to fit on one line. So here’s the lens:
How to Make Money in College Using the Web
The url is: how-to-make-money-in-college-online
What happens if I Google it?
Obviously, nobody’s going to type in that long tail search and add the word “Squidoo,” so if that’s the only long tail phrase the lens ranks for, it’s doomed. But that’s not the point. Notice what search phrase I typed in: “How to make money in college using the web.” Google’s search highlighted the lens title but also, it highlighted the synonym, “using the internet.” It treated that phrase as identical to “using the web.”
This is very important to remember when doing keyword research. So you’ve found a perfect phrase which doesn’t have much competition and gets great traffic. But that’s just the exact phrase match. If Google treats a different search as synonymous with the phrase you’re trying to rank for, and that other phrase has lots of competition, you may be fighting for a much more competitive query space than you realize.
This problem first started happening some years ago: my “How to Build a Pyramid Kite” lens used to ace “how to build a kite” and get 1000-1500 visits a week. Now its traffic is down to 500-600 a week. Why? “How to Make a Kite” now dominates search results for the query “how to build a kite.” My long tail phrase got snipped.
This effect should be even more pronounced in the wake of Google’s new Penguin Update, which is trying to minimize the advantage for people using artificial, manipulative SEO practices to outrank good content. Exact phrase matching and long tail matching are artificial, slightly manipulative practices done by people who understand how search engines work. Well, now they work differently: they are becoming ever more sophisticated at guessing user intent in looking up a phrase, as opposed to blindly matching the exact words the user typed into the search box. Search engines will be looking for synonyms, what kinds of things the page links to , all kinds of content-focused details.
That means that the best approach is to study your traffic data and figure out user intent for yourself. What are your visitors looking for? What do they really want out of your page? Give it to them.
The second-best approach is to keep synonyms in mind. I used “the web” and “online” and “the internet” all right near the top of my introduction, and in a few other places on the page. Do Google searches for yourself, click the “related” tool in the sidebar if Google’s showing it or notice what related searches it’s showing, or notice what synonyms the Google keyword tool recognizes. But be careful of using them too artificially, or you may get the over-optimization penalty. Just keep them in mind like a writing prompt.
And when you’re checking out the competition, be sure to pay attention to close synonyms. Do a search WITHOUT quotes, WITHOUT “allinurl,” to see what the real competition is. Eyeball the top search results on page one of Google to see h0w well they match the query, and how good their quality is — can you beat them?
Also, you probably want to target search queries with more traffic than I do. I use SEO as an assist, but I’m not aggressive about it: I’m going to write on X and Y topic, and I’ll do some keyword research to try to help it rank, but I’m not going to spend lots and LOTS of time finding the absolute best keyword with the best traffic / competition ratio. If it doesn’t get traffic, oh well, I learned something. Onto the next article.
Mining your traffic data is now more difficult, since G now doesn’t give you the search terms used by searchers who are logged in to G. For me, that’s a lot of my visitors, and quite likely, some of my major search terms… that I now don’t know what they are
Squidoo’s 90-day records of search terms help a bit, although they can’t report on the search queries Google’s hiding. Squidoo stats also report queries from Bing and other search engines.
On the one hand, that muddies the waters a bit, since we don’t know which search queries came from which search engine, but on the other…thank goodness we’ve got a little more data than Google is giving us!
I hear you about the “not reported” problem, though. My Google analytics board shows that as by far and away the greatest number of searches.