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Think small to make it big

Clare LancasterTrying to get to number one? You’re wasting your time. I learned the hard way that you’re better off targeting specific customers looking for particular things.

In 2001 I was working for an online marketing agency whose clients traded in a highly competitive and lucrative online market. I was in charge of driving organic search traffic to our clients’ websites.

Competition was tough but I set my sights on the big one – the generic keyword that represented our service – ‘online casino’. Well, I got to the top only to find my efforts were completely wasted. The resulting traffic from that number-one spot was much lower than expected and the quality of visitors wasn’t great – they might have clicked, but they were less likely to sign up or buy anything.

It was time to change tactics. I focused on the specific games we offered. Suddenly we were receiving high-quality visitors who weren’t afraid to spend. My reports at the end of the month revealed the mighty ‘long tail’.

The long tail, first described by Chris Anderson in Wired magazine in October 2004, shows us that selling specific products to small groups of people will collectively give you more sales than selling generic products in a highly competitive marketplace.

Some of the internet’s largest businesses (think Amazon and eBay) use this model to great success but it’s not bound by the size of your budget. In fact, long-tail marketing is one of the cheapest and most effective ways of getting your products or services in front of the people who want to buy them.
It’s the enemy of the mass market and mass marketing. You don’t need a big audience – you just need the right audience.

Using this approach means choosing specific keywords (generally three words or more) for search engine optimisation. Competition will be much lower while the visitors you receive will have specific intent – making them more likely to buy. You’re more likely to receive organic traffic and if you choose to use paid search advertising, your price per click will be much lower but more targeted.

It’s time to stop wasting your dollars and resources on trying to get to number one for a generic keyword that broadly describes what you do. While it seems counter-intuitive, you need to think small to attract the right audience and sell big.

Practically speaking, the best way to start attracting long-tail dollars is to have a website with a descriptive page for each product or service that you sell – no matter how insignificant you think that product or service may be.

Targeting the long tail is not only profitable when it comes to search engines. Focus your efforts on the people who want to buy your specific products and services (or your products and services for a specific purpose) and you can tap into existing communities that surround them.

Again, it’s a case of bigger not necessarily being better – while these communities may not involve thousands of people, they will be made up of passionate individuals, who, if treated right, can act as referrers to you and help you increase your sales.

Throw in a touch of social media and allow these passionate visitors to write product reviews on your website. You’ll gain quality user-generated content and it will help build the trust you need for potential customers to purchase.

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