Search engine optimization (SEO), just like housework, is never done.
Just when you think you might be finished, it’s time to start all over again!
By the way if you do think SEO is something you only do once, or infrequently, for your web site you might need to rethink that idea.
SEO is a constantly moving target, and you need to be on the ball to try to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of search engine results.
This is a lot of work, so knowing what things are most important is vital in keeping the workload to a minimum.
What Is The Long Tail?
You can’t look at SEO for too long without encountering the concept of the long tail.
I’ve included my own (poor) attempt at a graphic here to illustrate the idea.
Basically, if we plot the volume of searches against keywords and phrases, we can see that a number of them have a higher search volume than others.
These are the mainstream keywords and it’s very difficult for us to optimize for them, simply because of their popularity.
Others have a much lower volume and aren’t searched for quite so often. This latter group forms what is known in SEO circles as the long tail.
Why Is The Long Tail Important?
Those new to SEO, particularly if they’re using AdWords and competing for keywords and phrases, often make the mistake of going for the most popular, and as many keywords as they can.
It isn’t long, though, before their advertising budget gets eaten up with hardly any clicks or return, and they give up with the conclusion that whatever they’re doing doesn’t work.
On the other hand, those people who work on optimizing for the long tail phrases can often reap significant rewards, so it’s worth taking the time to learn more about it.
For example, let’s say you’re a polar bear photographer in northern Canada and want more web site traffic.
Trying to optimize your website for “photographer” or “Canada” will be difficult, because there’s so much global competition for those words.
But what about “Canadian polar bear portraits” or “polar bear wedding photography in Canada”?
This is a lot more specific and you’re more likely to find your target audience, because someone searching for that phrase is quite obviously searching for something more than just a photographer.
If you take another look at that graph above, you can also see that the long tail has the potential to be as large in total volume as the main body of most popular searches. In fact, the long tail is probably infinite in size, although the phrases at the far end will obviously be a lot less useful.
How To Find Long Tail Phrases
There are several ways to discover useful long tail phrases that can be useful to your specific business, and you might be surprised at some of the phrases you find that you had otherwise missed.
Here’s a short list of methods that can work well:
- Simply brainstorm ideas…
- Use any of the keyword tools to be found on the web…
- Check out your competitors’ web pages…
- Look through your own Google Analytics data for keyword ideas…
What To Do With Long Tail Phrases?
Once you’ve identified phrases that you want to optimize for, you can start to add new content to your web site aimed at targeting specifically those phrases. You can add new pages to the site, write a blog article, post a YouTube video, or any one of a number of new ways to add content to the site.
As long as that content is able to be indexed by the search engines, and you have at least one text link to the content on the site, you should start to see it appear in the index when you search for that phrase. The length of time it takes for the search engines to add the content can vary wildly, from a few hours to several weeks, depending on how often the search engine robots crawl your site and update their index.
When we try to come up with appropriate keywords for our website, it’s relatively easy to identify the usual suspects:
- Family portrait
- Wedding photographer
- … and so on…
But there’s a big problem in trying to optimize or compete for these words in the search engines – they’re too commonly used and the competition is huge. For example, ranking high in the search engines for the word “photography” is extremely difficult, except perhaps over the very long term with the addition of a lot of unique and relevant content, but even then I’m very doubtful.
Likewise, other commonly used words and short phrases are also difficult to rank for. “Family portrait” and “wedding photographer” are so generic that they are likely to be found on the vast majority of photographer websites, again making ranking difficult.
A word of warning here – don’t think you can beat the system and rank high for these common words by simply using them over and over on your web pages. The search engine robots are very sophisticated and adept at sniffing out pages that try to artificially rank for keywords. They may even penalize your site as spam, causing you to lose ranking.
So what are we to do? How can we have our pages rank higher in the search engines if we can’t do it for the words we feel are most appropriate to what we do?
Follow The Long Tail
This is where you need to think more like your prospective clients than a photographer or web designer. What are they searching for in Google when they’re looking for a photographer? How do their minds work?
One way is to imagine you are searching for a plumber or electrician, both being local types of service professionals. Ask yourself how you might go about doing that?
It’s a fair bet that they probably won’t enter just the word “plumber” into the search box. That would produce too many results from all over the place, whereas you are looking for someone local.
So, it’s far more likely that they’ll enter something like “Chicago wedding photographer”. While still not strictly a long tail phrase, this is definitely more useful and within closer reach of your ranking strategy.
So, if your web page has the words “Chicago”, “wedding” & “photographer” within reasonable proximity to each other several times, and the page has some good links coming in to it from other sites, there is a good chance of ranking for the phrase “Chicago wedding photographer”.
Pay attention to what was said in the last paragraph, by the way.
I used the word “proximity” deliberately.
The Google and other search algorithms are intelligent enough to understand at least some rudimentary elements of context and keyword proximity is one way they do that.
It is not strictly necessary to have the exact phrase “Chicago wedding photographer” repeated throughout the text, except for one or two occurrences.
In fact, doing so could harm the readability of the page for humans, and also risk triggering the Google spam filters.
However, you could have sentences that read something like, “… as a photographer serving Chicago, I love wedding photography more than anything else…”
The words for our key phrase are in close proximity and the search engines will recognize them.
Where Can We Find Long Tail Phrases?
Okay, so we’re not quite in the long tail just yet, so what other phrases can we use?
One very good solution is to use a long tail keyword tool, such as HitTail.
This is also where your Google Analytics and the search queries pages of the Webmaster Tools come in handy.
The Google Analytics reports show the keywords that drove actual traffic to your site. Some of them will send multiple visits, but most of them will be for just one or two visits per month.
These may be odd phrases, such as:
- Best wedding photographers in Boston
- Cheap wedding pictures Boston MA
- Affordable family portraits at the botanic gardens
These are longer phrases that are searched for less often BUT the people doing these searches are looking for something specific and might be more likely to hire you or be more serious in their search.
Having said that, you may not particularly want to rank highly for the word “cheap” or even “best”.
Saying you are cheap is just not good (unless you really are the cheapest), and blowing one’s horn too loudly with the word “best” might just put people off.
You could, however, have a sentence of advice on the web page that reads something like this: “…hiring a cheap photographer may not be to your best advantage…”
Here, you’ve made the statement that you aren’t cheap, you haven’t claimed to be the best, but you might rank for those words.
The third example in the list above might be just the thing we’re looking for though!
If you like to photograph at a well-known specific locality, then you would want to rank for that term in the search engines.
There’s a pretty easy way you can do that, provided the local competition isn’t too high (even if it is, I would still do it, since your site should slowly grow more authority over time, gently easing you up the rankings).
Create New Content
You can’t rank in the search engines without having good content, so this is the logical place to start. Let’s take our example above and say we want to rank higher for the phrase “Jackson Botanic Gardens family portrait”.
I would first create a new page on the web site called something like this:
Note that the keywords we’re aiming at are in the URL name, which is quite important.
I made them singular rather than plural because the search engines do tend to have knowledge of word variations and synonyms.
The page itself should have some photos taken at the botanic gardens, with appropriate captions and ALT text.
The copy on the page might describe how much you enjoy working there, some of the settings and locations, and links to how they can contact you for more information.
This is a great place to emphasize your expertise at using this location as well as testimonials from some of your clients you’ve photographed there.
Important note—you should ensure that there is at least one text-based link to this new page from another page on the site, preferably the home page.
Next, you might want to create a slideshow of images taken at the botanic gardens and post it to your YouTube channel. If you don’t have a YouTube channel, then get one. You can assign keywords to the video, making it searchable.
You can also post the video to other video-sharing sites, such as Vimeo.
Add an entry on your blog announcing your new page and also embedding the video you created. Make sure there’s a link to the page in the blog post, and maybe add another photo or two to make it interesting and engaging enough for people to read and perhaps link to.
You have now created a small web of content that is targeted specifically at the phrase you want, while still being informative, entertaining and useful.
Let It Rise
This is the hard part! If you’ve ever made bread you’ll know that one of the key parts of the process is allowing the bread to rise undisturbed through the action of the yeast.
The same applies here. It may take several days or weeks for your new content to be found and indexed, but you must be patient.
Rest assured that, unless you’ve hidden your content in a secret vault or blocked it somehow, Google will find it. If you mess with it and keep tinkering with the page too much, then you risk upsetting the process or being unable to measure your results properly.
Don’t be alarmed if the order of the rankings changes frequently, this is normal.
As you check the position of your page in the Google listings, you’ll notice that the other sites higher and lower than yours will usually be the same.
You can take a look at their pages to see if you can learn why they rank higher, but it may be hard to tell, since there are so many factors that contribute to the ranking positions, such as number of inbound links, popularity of the page, age of the domain, general authority of the site etc.
Uses Of Long Tail Phrases In AdWords
If you’re a Google’s AdWords user or other online advertising that relies on user search, then the long tail might provide a good reward. Since these are not common phrases, competition is lower, you can bid much lower cost per click, and when users do click on your ads they might find them more relevant to what they were looking for.
Just make sure that you have a specific landing page for each long tail phrase.
Don’t make the mistake of sending the clicks to your home page, as you risk losing valuable prospects.
For example, if your target phrase is “portraits of families with triplets at the Grand Canyon” your landing page for that ad should be specifically about that subject.
I hope that this has helped to give you a slightly better idea of how you can use the long tail of search to improve your own web ranking.
There are plenty of other resources out there that can help too, including the great guys at Moz. You can no doubt find more through web search.
Web site SEO is acknowledged to be a challenge for even the most seasoned experts, not least because the landscape in which it operates is constantly changing.
Techniques that worked yesterday won’t necessarily work tomorrow, and there are always new SEO opportunities coming along as Google and the other search engines make adjustments to their algorithms (Google makes about 500 updates per year, most of which are secret and unavailable to the rest of us).
Good luck in your SEO endeavors and I hope your photography business continues to grow and prosper 🙂