A Marketing Tale of 2 Tails
Understanding Long & Short Tail Marketing

Don’t Cut-off your Tail to Elevate Your Pretty Face

One of my favorite radio commercials is an AT&T commercial that talks about Howard’s Rug. It’s a fictitious store that carries one rug and the owner doesn’t want to advertise his business because somebody might buy his rug, and then he would be out of business. I like the commercial because it is on the fringe of lunacy and no real business would really think that way. Right?

Well, not exactly.

As a technology provider and adviser to nearly a thousand businesses, our company occasionally comes across real life decisions by business owners that are fairly “narrow minded”. But now I can say we have experienced the granddaddy of all “narrow minded” decisions.

While our online bookings are growing at 50% per year and we continue to add new customers and new markets to our network, we occasionally encounter a customer who wants to terminate their service for one reason or another. Recently, we received a call requesting termination because our customer’s CampingFriend.com website (which we provide for free) was out performing their paid custom website managed by another provider. Yep – you heard that right – the free site was outperforming the custom site. Their CampingFriend website was coming up #1 on their Google Search while their paid custom site containing a virtual tour (which they also paid for) was coming up #7. Their logic was that by eliminating the CampingFriend website that would elevate their custom website and drive more traffic to their virtual tour……… Are You Kidding Me? That logic is wrong on so many fronts, I have to say it again…….. “Are you kidding me”?

Reason #1 – only a small percentage of online consumers will even sit through a virtual tour. One of my previous blogs discussed the large percentage of consumer who refuse to sit through a flash intro and will immediately leave any website that has one. Because the internet bombards all of us with so much information, online consumers have become very protective of their time and most will not commit the time to sit through a flash intro. The same hold true of Virtual Tours. It may be the most beautiful virtual tour ever made, but most won’t commit the time to view it. Some will, but the vast majority will not. If you want to test this behavior on your own, try not allowing your guests to check into your park until they sit through a 10 minute presentation. See how many you lose.

Reason #2 – a pretty or slick web design does not mean your website will drive traffic, It’s all about organic SEO and having powerful linking partners is critical. Some of our customers have stated that our free CampingFriend websites are not as pretty as custom designed websites. That is usually true but we do have some tricks to make it fairly attractive. However, since it is a template based website, it does not offer the same free-form design flexibility that a custom websites can offer so it will never compete with well-designed custom websites from a pure aesthetic standpoint. Then again, custom websites take a lot of work to elevate search positioning, and CampingFriend was designed to take advantage of hundreds and hundreds of customers using the same infrastructure to collectively boost search engine positioning through content volume and some focus on keywords. If you look at Craig’s List, it is one of the most “butt ugly” websites out there, but it gets lots and lots of traffic. Would you refuse to use Craig’s List just because you can make a custom website that is prettier? Of course not. You could never generate that volume of traffic on a custom website when the focus is on one hospitality location.

Reason #3 – the elimination of one website that does a good job of achieving search engine position will not necessarily help another under-performing website. OK, so it might raise it from position 7 to position 6. Whoopie do! How is that going to dramatically increase traffic if you are not already generating much traffic from position #7. Wouldn’t a better strategy be to try to own all 10 positions on the first page of the search engine results?

The real problem is that the owner obviously does not understand Long Tail and Short Tail Marketing. For others who may not be familiar with the terms, I’ll start with some basic definitions. The term “long tail” originated from long online search terms (more than 3 word phrases) and “short tail” originated from short search terms (generally 2 words or less). The search term “RV Parks in Orange County California” is a long tail search and the term “Campground” is a short tail search. The longer the search term, the more narrow the results because there is less competition for the term. When you optimize your website, it’s fairly easy to optimize for selected long tail search terms, but try to get to the #1 position on the term “campground”. It’s nearly impossible because there are too many competitors, including businesses offering different types of services, competing for the top position of the same short terms. The “short tail” term is too broad for the small business owner to effectively compete for position. So what do you do? If your marketing strategy only focuses on the “long tail” terms, you only reach consumers who are searching for very specific results and your website happens to fall into that narrow search. The problem with this “long tail” only strategy is there can be thousands of targeted terms that each have fairly low volume of individual searches, but collectively represent a huge volume of traffic. Be prepared to spend a lot of time optimizing for a large block of “long tail” terms. Alternatively, there are much larger groups of consumers searching for a small number of “short tail” terms, but competition makes it is very default to optimize a small business website for the “short tail”. So here is the marketing delimit: If you focus on one tail to the exclusion of the other tail, you will hurt your marketing efforts by isolating yourself from either one block of traffic or the other.

So the smart marketers develop a combined Long Tail / Short Tail strategy, which optimizes their own site for the long tail and maybe some two word short tails, but then they piggy packs on web sites and portals that are better prepared to compete for the short tail searches. A good Short Tail strategy is to be seen in as many Short Tail portals as possible, which attract larger numbers of short tail searchers and then allow them to narrow their focus on localized, special interest or targeted content. Another Short Tail strategy is to have consumer referral comments posted on as many social media websites as possible, where you can funnel traffic from very broad networks of social interaction back to your business. Creating a presence on as many websites as possible to compete for the short tail search is a critical component of good Long Tail / Short Tail marketing strategies.

In the case described above, the business owner didn’t like his campingfriend website competing for the long tail terms he was searching on. Rather than being happy that the business controlled two positions of the first page of his search results, the owner decided it was better to eliminate competition (reducing his total exposure), which was also promoting the same business. However, the owner forgot that campingfriend also has a short tail component that often competes better than his proprietary website for some of the shorter terms. Also, the CampingFriend content feeds Camping.com, Campground.com, Campgrounds.com, RVParks.com, GuestRated.com and others, all of which are definitely positioned to compete more effectively for consumer attention from “short tail” searches.

So in effect, the owners wanted to limit their exposure in as many places as possible (cutting off the short tail and part of their long tail) in order to drive the smaller population of long tail consumers to their virtual tour (their “pretty face”). Ultimately, such a strategy will end up producing fewer viewers and most of those will refuse to sit through the virtual tour anyway. At the conclusion of or conversation, we apologized for being more successful in marketing their business than their higher cost custom website and promised to not promote them as effectively again. The owner seemed satisfied with our apology…….. go figure.

To summarize the marketing moral of this story, Long Tail / Short Tail Marketing is the recognition that a small business cannot compete effectively on its own for Short Tail search viewership. It is the precise targeting of Long Tail terms by the business, and a strategy of partnering and participating in as many Short Tail channels as possible that achieves the widest possible reach for consumer acquisition.

You might create the most gorgeous website, or coolest video tour, but do you really want to “Cut Off your Tail to Elevate Your Pretty Face”?