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The Problem with Long Tail Keywords


Long tail schmong tail.  I'm sick of the long tail! 

It's one of those industry concepts that comes out of nowhere one day and

  • Everyone gets excited, and
  • Seth Godin writes a book about it, and then
  • Everyone says it all the time, and
  • Yadda yadda yadda.

Yeah, long tail is cool and it's valid.  Yes, it's key to niche marketing and it's great for SEO.

But let me tell you where I think the long tail can get you into trouble... where we need to snip that long tail off:

Pay Per Click.

That's right, long tail can really mess up your pay per click marketing.

Now, don't go telling me that you need long tail keywords for your niche searches and that by segmenting adgroups and providing different ad messages to people, you can reach more people and get more conversions...

I know. That's true, to an extent.

But the dirty little secret of PPC is that 95% of your conversions come from 5% of your keywords.


The others keywords either

  • Don't perform (100 clicks and no conversions), or
  • The clicks roll in so slowly that you won't have the statistical confidence to delete them until the year 2112 (yay, Rush!).

So what percentage of your clicks are long tail clicks that haven't converting, aren't providing ROI?  What percentage of your money is leaking down that long tail?  (Yuck, that sounds gross!)

(And by the way, what is this animal in the analogy for a long tail?  We had quite a debate about that here at Fuel... is it a rat?  A cat? An armadillo?  A whale?  We discovered that giraffes have the longest tails in nature, but their long necks totally mess up the analogy.  If it has to be a big head and a long tail... well I don't know, what do you think?)

If you're not careful, you could spend 30% or more of your click money on these unproven long tail keywords.  That drags down your overall ROAS.

I'm not saying STOP doing ALL longtail.  What I suggest is simply

  1. Measure the % of your spend that's going to long tail keywords,
  2. Compare that to your account's overall current profitability, and
  3. Evaluate whether that ratio makes sense.

In other words, make a conscious decision what % of your PPC spend you want to go to unproven long tail keywords.

And if you need to really maximize ROI in the short-term you can pause these long tail terms completely.

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