In SEO, one of the awesome things that happens is you connect to users who come in with many different queries. As your site grows and matures, it becomes a good answer for more of these kind of things, and you see that incoming searches start connecting things in ways you may not have intended, but might be very valuable. The long tail is, and always was a pretty fat place to be, if you saw it the right way.
However, in the past year or so, it has become increasingly more difficult to get an accurate read on the long tail activity coming in from Google. A big part of it, is the (not provided) keyphrases inching up in the percentage it holds – to now, where I see it over 75% on some of the sites I track. In one site, 35% of my incoming organic leads were behind (not provided). This means, I can see what they did once in my site, but I have no true read on how they entered, or why. Makes it harder to replicate.
Or does it?
Many SEOs are talking about the Hummingbird update, or the latest roll-out dates for the critter updates. But the way people are searching and the way we are collecting the data is changing completely: which is bound to affect the way lots of people build and promote websites.
One thing that we are mid-thigh in, is a switch from the desktop to the handheld device. This is not anyone’s doing – it is a general move, as handheld get better, and more capable. But with this added mobility, and different presentation it might suggest, the queries people enter in are going to be smaller, and shorter. This is very significant to SEOs – for with less words to determine true meaning, Google is doing the thinking, and the connections for the user – they have to.
Hints of it were here years ago, as Google Suggest started offering to complete your idea for you. And as more data was collected, the ability to display things using a less direct keyword correlation grew. The long tail started to vanish, both from the analytic data we received and from the incoming queries themselves, as a larger and growing subsection of visits originate in a handheld.
So strategies in SEO of the past, to mine your analytics to see what people wanted, is going to be different than it was, because there is less data offered to sift.
What does this mean to you then, as you look to try to get ahead? Do you aim higher, and attempt to get into the bigger, more competitive areas?
I don’t think the answers should be necessarily clear yet, though your direction should be.
Contextual Depth FTW
The direction to take your content development is no different than it was for the last however many years you have been doing this. The unsupported page barfing was slowed by Panda, and the tiny site propped by links stalled by Penguin. So depth is not being measured in the old, blocky kind of ways – mechanical (algorithmic) things are not going to be as effective, certainly not long-term, more than not.
I was taught early on, write for the eyeballs, tweak it to the engines. I don’t see that has changed at all.
I was very adept at taking an analytics profile and mining it to find content ideas-and though it is a bit harder in most sites because of the increased obfuscation of data from the ‘Plex, it still works. However, I am much less likely to go there now for inspiration like I did before – -I am much more prone to go to outside sites, and develop ideas based on what I see in the interactions of potential audiences. As the data became harder to track in my own site, I allowed the source of it to go elsewhere to give me the same direction.
Contextual depth is going to include long tail combinations. It doesn’t matter what they tell you – they are there when a page is created the right way. So even if you can’t base the creation/edits on actual incoming keyphrase data, the contextual depth of something does not have anything to do with Google, so who cares what they are telling you? Or not?
I think the tail is still there, but it is different than it was, seen from any angle: searchers type in less, engines do more and offer less, and our own sites are trimmed more than they may have been in the past…at least created more intentionally aware of NOT stringing out thin stuff. It’s complicated, but it has some very basic principles behind it…bedrock ideas that have not changed no matter what is happening out there in La-La land.
The direction in the future, is people will be typing less to find things and Google will be filling in the blanks for them the best they can. How you become the landing pad for these queries, is the same as it ever was in many ways: you simply write for audience connection, search stability and visibility, and increased contextual depth. This is still a safe formula- it simply won’t return such a rich spread sheet to you when it is all said and done.