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The Long Tail: What It Means for Your Content

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The least popular posts on my blog are the most important.

Sounds like I’ve made a mistake in typing that sentence, doesn’t it? But when it comes to reaching an audience, the top 10 posts in any month on my blog typically only account for between a quarter and third of the total traffic.

In other words, it’s not the most popular posts that make or break reaching a good sized audience – it’s the collective effort of the least popular. In my experience, many blogs have a similar pattern. It’s an application of Chris Anderson’s long tail idea. It also raises two questions. If this isn’t the pattern on your blog, are you missing out on something? And if it is the pattern, how can you make the most of it?

If your pattern is different, it’s worth asking yourself whether there is a good reason for that. A blog that regularly picks up large influxes of traffic from external sources, such as Digg, could expect the most popular posts to be a much higher proportion overall. But do think carefully about whether or not there really is a good reason for you not having a long tail effect. If you do, please do share your experience in the comments. If you don’t, then there is an opportunity for you to grasp.

Whether it’s creating your long tail, or improving on one that you already have, there are some similar steps to think through.

First, you need a steady supply of good content on your site. It’s not just that search engines like sites with a solid record of quality content, it’s also that your (potential) audience is not all made up of identikit people. More content does not just please search engines, it means you are more likely to have a post that suits what one of your audience is looking for.

Moreover, it’s quite common for people who are interested in the same information to be interested in it at different times. The bigger the archive of content you build up, the more likely it is that what interested you at some point in time is what someone in your audience is interested in right now.

Second, keep your old content updated. Many posts will happily stand the test of time, but where events or your knowledge have moved on, go back and update your posts.

Third, cross-link between posts. If people are still interested in your older content, it makes sense to make it easier for them to find it. Software solutions such as the “Yet Another Related Posts” plugin for WordPress are a handy way of generating automated links to similar content at the bottom of your posts. Tags and categories are another way of getting links through to other posts.

However, you usually get much better click-through rates from links in the body of the post than you get from a list of other content below or to the side of the post. So work in references and links to your older posts as you write new ones.

Fourth, keep an eye on your blog statistics. Amongst the long tail there may be some surprisingly popular posts. That gives you a clue as to what topics may be good to return to or write about more often than you were planning to.

In my own case, for example, I have found that my occasional historical posts often pick up a low but steady trickle of traffic. When I look back over a period of several months, posts that seemed to get very little traffic at the time of publishing suddenly look much more successful. In my case, this traffic does not appear to be from the core audiences I would like my blog to reach, so it has not resulted in me significantly upping the historical content. However, your experience may well be different.

Mark Pack is Associate Director, Digital at Mandate Communications


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