Long Tail of some distributions of numbers is the portion of the distribution having a large number of occurrences far from the “head” or central part of the distribution.
Long tail keywords are the cheapest and most cost efficient way advertise — cheapest due to reduced competition and most cost efficient if used in conjunction with landing pages tailored for the specificity of the keywords.
A mature, properly managed ppc account has many negative and long tail keywords. The “head” and “shoulder” terms typically comprise 20% of the overall number of keywords and the long tail the remaining 80%. However, from a clicks and conversions standpoint, those numbers are often flipped, with the long tail keywords generating a much smaller number of conversions proportionately than you may expect.
To understand this situation, you must first understand how paid search relates to the customer purchase cycle.
PPC Advertising Customer Purchase Cycle
One of the great aspects of paid search advertising is it’s ability to influence the three stages of the customer purchase cycle, from Awareness to Purchase, via the use of display ads, search network, branded, and non-branded keywords.
Non-branded keywords, especially those terms that are generic or only tangentially related to the product or service offered, tend to be the first interaction in the chain of interactions that lead to a purchase. Example: “fun things to do”
Conversely, branded keywords tend to be the last interaction just prior to purchase, after the potential customer has researched the product, compared alternatives, and has become comfortable with the brand. Example: “samsung”
If every customer could be perfectly tracked from first interaction to last, you would see that long tail keywords provide “assisted conversions” while branded keywords tend to get the majority of the final interaction “conversions.” This situation would allow us to exactly quantify the affect the long tail keywords have on revenue and leads. Unfortunately, it is difficult to properly track the customer from first click to last given today’s multi-device, multi-location world.
It’s a multi-device, multi-location world out there…
Google recently published a study titled “The New Multi-screen World: Understanding Cross-Platform Consumer Behavior.” This study highlights that 90% of consumers use multiple devices (screens) to perform tasks, both simultaneously and sequentially.
The practical application of these findings as related to paid search are:
- Work + Home — Consumers may start the search for a product on one device at work (i.e. long tail, generic keyword like “smartphone for business people”), then finish at home using a different device (using a branded term like “samsung smartphone”). In this scenario, the generic keyword “smartphone for business people” will show a click, but no conversion, while the branded keyword “samsung smartphone” will show both a click and conversion. Note: the generic long tail keyword “smartphone for business people” won’t even show an assisted conversion since multiple devices were used.
- Paid + Organic, Multi-device — Consumers may begin their search via a paid search click for “board games” on a mobile phone, but may finish later on their tablet via a organic search click via the keyword “monopoly”. In this scenario, the paid search keyword “board games” gets a click, but no conversion while the organic term “monopoly” will show both a click and a conversion. Note: Again, there is no assisted conversion for the paid search term since multiple devices were used.
Google’s Adwords Team is working on it
If users are logged into their Google account at work and at home, Google *should* be able to consolidate data points acquired across multiple devices and networks into a single transaction stream.
Even if Google is able to pull off this data consolidation, there is no guarantee that your customers will be logged into their Google account on their work computer, home computer, cell, and tablet at all times.
Where are all the long tail conversions?
The long tail keywords primarily assist your branded conversions.
If prospective customers don’t find your website in the early part of their purchase decision process, your product/service will not be in their final consideration set. Put another way, if not for the long tail keywords, the branded keywords may not have captured the conversion at all.