About two weeks ago I wrote a blog post about long tail search and how it has been in decline. The key points of the post focused on how Google, with things like Google Instant and other changes, is eliminating long tail search. Wait just a minute! Not according to a new study from Conductor! A recent article from Search Engine Watch analyzed the findings of the study.
The focus of Conductor’s study was the success of on-page optimization, which is one of the major factors of search engine optimization. The other major factor is off-page, which is largely about links that lead to your page, the anchor text of those links and context in which those links are located. While many SEOs are quick to disparage the importance of on-page optimization, the findings of this study showed otherwise. The research was extensive, involving thousands of keywords studied over a period of nine months. The keywords were grouped into three segments: keywords with shrinking on-page issues (being resolved by SEO), keywords with growing on-page issues (not being resolved by SEO) and keywords with no on-page issues.
The long-tail keywords being resolved by SEO moved up an average of 11 spots in search engine rankings, while the keywords with issues and no SEO dropped about 2.5 spots. On page SEO resulted in a change of 13.5 spots! Conductor ran the same experiment on simpler high-volume, which they call “head,” keywords. The head keywords with on-page optimization rose about 5.28 spots while the ones without dropped about 3.57. These findings make sense since the keywords are more competitive, meaning that SEO efforts will only help you so much, but neglecting it will hurt you more than for long-tail keywords.
Obviously long-tail keywords are easier to rank for than more popular keywords, but that doesn’t mean anything if the long-tail keywords are not bringing you quality traffic. One hypothesis about long-tail keywords is that they bring in more quality traffic, because the user is more likely to find relevant content, which leads to higher conversion rates. The study supported that theory, as well. In looking at conversion rates from over 7 million visits to three major retailers, they found that head term searches led to 10.6% conversion while long-tail searches led to 26.07% conversion, a difference of 16.6%!
One thing that the study did not mention, at least in this article, was the level of traffic that each search query brought in. Obviously this varies greatly depending on the long-tail keyword, but I would guess that long-tail search traffic is declining, going back to my previous blog entry on the long-tail’s decline. However, the effectiveness of the long-tail is apparently not in decline, according to the study. Again, this is further proof that SEO is constantly changing and while one can speculate about it as much as they like, the best way to get real findings is by conducting experiments with real results.