I was at SMX Seattle and watching really really close to make sure I didn’t miss the “advanced” parts of the organic track. At one point an old time SEO speaker said something like “of course you want to go after the long tail, cause that’s where the money is” and I knew he was being sarcastic. In that particular context, the money terms were seriously profitable. I knew it because I had been there once. I knew he knew it, because of my insider’s bias, the tone of his voice, the movement of his eyes when he said it, and the combination of body language and other non-verbal cues. I’m a good reader that way.
But I suspect many in the audience understood him to say that the money was indeed in the long tail terms for that niche. I suppose it sucks to be them.
Often times the money is indeed in the long tail and not the big, generic single word search queries. But other times it is not. How is one to know?
Do your research. Stop listening to people who have good financial incentives to mislead and or not-be-entirely-truthful, and do your own research. Did you know that many (most?) SEO conference speakers are unpaid? They get a free pass in exchange for speaking. Some get free hotel, and some free travel. Some get free travel in exchange for participating in additional activities, and sometimes that whole negotiation is a back and forth this-for-that affair. The conference organizer wants a speaker to prepare and be “good”, but often doesn’t want to pay market value for that. The result? In the worst cases, a bunch of speakers who don’t prepare and whose main agenda is to plug their products and services to the audience as soon as possible and as much as possible. Watch for clues like when they say “I didn’t prepare because I wanted to see what everybody else was covering, and then cover what was overlooked”. Yeah, sure you did.
In the best cases, you get someone who has a fresh presentation for some other reason, and does a good job because they are relaxed and not under pressure to “monetize the speaking opportunity”. I didn’t see much of that this time.
So how do you know for certain if the particular market niche of interest converts solely on a few big, obvious, high-search-frequency “money terms”, or fails to convert of those because they are too broad? Build a landing page and buy some traffic on the generic terms and the long tail terms and track conversion. Spend $200 and see what you learn. Spend $200 more and see what else you learn. Act on your findings, and revisit the results as soon as it makes sense to do so. Soon enough you will have real world evidence that yes, the only terms that convert are the obvious “money terms”, or perhaps “no, the obvious terms are too generic to convert, and the specific 4 word long tail queries, although few in number, convert very well”. At that point, consider yourself an expert on that specific landing page / keyword combination. And keep testing.
Use some of the money you make from your long tail conversions to maintain the test with paid traffic. It might surprise you. At first, if the long tail converts, you will see nothing but wasted money on generic terms, and hard labor out of the nickels you’re putting into the long tail. Stop wasting money and work the long tail. But take some of what you make and pump it back into R&D by sending that unprofitable generic term traffic to a more customized landing page. Your knowledge of the long tail conversions and the failure of the generics to convert on your landing page will enable you to customize a better landing page for the generic traffic. All traffic converts. You just need to find the right landing page. If you can find it profitably (without spending more than it was worth), you’ll make money on the generic terms just as you make money on the long tail terms.
Sometimes it seems webmasters miss the most obvious stuff. Google is your competitor, Ask.com doesn’t matter, the only good use of PPC is to test in advance of organic campaigns, the bar at the SEO conference hotel is a public place and you don’t need a Conference Pass to sit there and buy drinks, etc.