Sometimes conference presentations are simply befuddling. At a recent show one of my colleagues heard a speaker claim that the "tail" was not important and that by focusing attention exclusively on the head, you can build a better program. This, of course, is nonsense. Certainly the high traffic KW demand the most attention, but cutting off the tail for want of proper management tools is somewhere between foolhardy and criminal negligence. How important is the tail? As with most pieces of the paid search game the answer is "it depends." The importance varies tremendously by the type of business, the number of products/services offered, and how people search for what the advertiser offers. DEFINITION: There are at least two different ways to define the head/tail demarcation.
- A fixed number of KW. We could make the case that the head is represented by the X highest traffic KWs, perhaps corresponding to the number of KW someone could manage by hand. We picked 250 as that number.
- The number of KW with more than X amount of traffic. One could make the case that any KW that generates X amount of click traffic in Y days is a head term. For our purposes we picked 500 clicks in 90 days.
- The importance of the tail varies tremendously. Of the client accounts studied the least important tail generated 8% of the client's competitive search sales during the period. The most important tail generated 83% of the sales -- the top 250 KW by search volume netted only 17% of its total sales! The median tail for the group generated 31% of the competitive search sales.
- People search differently for different types of services/products. The number of KW generating at least one impression over ninety days ranged from a mere 3,300 to almost 300,000. While this is somewhat related to the number of products on the site, that doesn't explain all the variance. In one case an advertiser with only ~1,000 products had more than 90,000 KW fire at least one impression. At the other end of the spectrum, a retailer with more than 20,000 products had fewer than 9,000 KW generate an impression.
- The importance of the tail does not depend on the size of the search spend. The advertisers with the most important and least important tails referenced in #1 each spend more than $250K per month on Google alone.
- The tail is most important for SKU-based commodity retailers. Not surprisingly, those who re-sell goods in a competitive marketplace find the most value from a well-managed tail.
- The tail is critically important for some advertisers. In the most extraordinary example, a client with 1,200 head terms (each generating more than 500 clicks during the evaluation period) nevertheless generated more than 71% of their revenue -- over $3.2 million -- from tail KWs.
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