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The Long Tail of Blogging: Why Content is King

In this post Eric from Photography Bay examines the Long Tail as it applies to blogging.

Content is king. Yawn . . . right? You know this tired phrase is the gospel of blogging, but did you ever wonder why content is really king? You spend your time developing and massaging your posts to create the next bit of killer content. It’s the post that hits the front page of Digg, gets Stumbled to death or even Slashdotted. That’s why content is king, right? Wrong.

Content is King Because of the Long Tail of Blogging.

In 2004, Chris Anderson coined the term “The Long Tail” in a Wired Magazine article, which he followed up with a “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More” (Chris Anderson)“>book and a blog on the subject. If you’re not familiar with the phrase or its meaning, here’s a very brief summary from Chris himself:

The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of “hits” (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail.

long-tail-1.png
(Picture by Hay Kranen / PD – via Wikipedia)

Example – Amazon.com

One of the best examples is Amazon.com, which provides consumers with access to the latest and greatest hit products, books and more. Sales of the bestseller books, however, pale in comparison to sales of the many obscure books in Amazon’s catalog. Hence, the long tail of the book market is where the majority of sales are coming from – and it’s growing.

Hot Content vs. Archived Content

Apply these same principles to your blog. That killer super-dugg post is great . . . for a day or two. Granted, the super-dugg post is sometimes great for added readers, linkbacks and helping your blog grow. It’s the long tail, however, that keeps your blog alive and thriving. While that traffic spike is great, if you adhere to publishing solid content as ProBlogger encourages, then your old, quality content overshadows even that super-dugg masterpiece.

Eyes on Photography Bay Stats

For instance, have a gander at this recent Photography Bay post on a new patent from camera manufacturer Canon, which covers some crazy new iris scanner for a photographer’s eye. This post turned out to be extremely popular for a few days, producing 5,839 pageviews on Wednesday, Feb. 13 – thanks to being Slashdotted and coverage by several tech sites.

long-tail-2.jpg

The total page views that day were 14,721. The lesson here is that even though the killer post for that day was miles above any other traffic, the rest of the content on Photography Bay bettered the killer post.

long-tail-3.jpg

Some of these posts are several months old. If you look further down the list of traffic-generating posts (470 different pages this particular day), you would see that some posts are closer to a year in age. That’s pretty cool to me because Photography Bay is only about 15 months old now. Now, think about 2, 3, or 5 years down the road . . . the long tail gets much longer and becomes a lot more significant.

long-tail-4.jpg

The long tail matters because of Google, linkbacks, readers and other requisite traffic-generating resources. If it weren’t for that catalog of niche posts that we build everyday we blog, posts like the Canon iris patent post might never take off.

Caveat

Please note, however, that this theory may be more true for some blog niches than others. Tech blogs often need that fresh content coming in to keep reader interest, since new gadgets and technology are more interesting than older gadgets (e.g., Googling for HDMI cables versus S-VHS cables). On the other hand, a niche blog on the healthcare industry will still grab Google traffic for the search “medicare anti-kickback laws” regardless of the age of the post. The topic has been around for a couple of decades and isn’t going anywhere in the near future.

The Right Analogy for the Long Tail

Contrary to what Read Write Web may say, the long tail is where the money’s at. Rather than analyzing a given blog’s posts and income, Read Write Web applied the long tail analysis to the blogosphere as a whole. While the data conforms to the long tail, the analogy and, thus, the conclusion, are flawed. Applying the principals of the long tail in the same manner as the Amazon example above, the long tail analysis properly demonstrates that a blog requires a significant amount of niche content to fit the model. With the content in hand, the long tail will wag the blog.

Conclusion

Google regularly accounts for more than 50% of Photography Bay’s traffic, which is why I must strive to continue to make that long tail longer. Today’s killer post is part of next month’s long tail traffic – and I want a longer tail! Regular, quality posts ensure that there will be a long tail tomorrow and that, my friends, is why content is king.

What are your thoughts on the long tail of blogging? Have you seen the long tail wagging your blog? How can we leverage these principals to make our positions in our niches even stronger?

Eric is the author of Photography Bay, which covers digital photography news, techniques and gear reviews. You can subscribe to Photography Bay’s feed here.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Robin says:

    Thanks for that – not only do I now finally understand what the long tail means, I also now feel more encouraged about my blog.

  2. Karen Zara says:

    I’ve seen the long tail making a difference for at least two blogs of mine. Some old posts do get hits from search engines from time to time. Funny thing is that I didn’t write those articles with search engines in mind. I just wrote as I’d normally do — because I simply wanted to keep my blogs updated and I thought my readers would like the pieces of info I could share with them. Later on I analysed the blogs’ stats and noticed that those casual posts not only pleased my regular readers but also attracted some new ones, thanks to long, specific phrases — the famous long tail keywords — that they typed on search engines.

  3. Shanel Yang says:

    If I’m understanding you correctly — and I might not be — you’re saying that the more little niche topics we cover in our blogs, the greater overall traffic we’ll get in the long run? If so, then I have to agree! On my blog, a lot of readers seem to like my old stuff as much as my new stuff. That’s why I usually spend at least a day on each post, often two days. I want them to be good enough to look back on years from now and still feel I did my best. That might be overkill for a blog, but I still don’t know how to do it any other way.

    On the other hand, a superstar performing post for me like http://shanelyang.com/2008/03/23/4-signs-that-a-marriage-will-end-in-divorce/
    still gets almost half the hits that my most recent posts get. So, I suppose great content is good for both strategies!

  4. Ryan Mac says:

    This post continued me to post a lot more, because even if I don’t hit the head ‘the bgi time’ now then years down the track people can still be viewing posts which I wrote 1-2 years ago.
    I run a financial blog and I believe that this long tail will help me become successful

  5. The Long Tail….This is true. Even a new blogger can see that older posts are getting read.

    So the longer the tail the more traffic.

    The Masked Millionaire

  6. Journeyer says:

    I’ve become aware of the long tail on my personal blog over the last couple of weeks (although the blog is very young, less than 3 months old, so I guess it’s a short long tail).

    I think it’s important for personal bloggers to keep “content is king” in mind as well. When it comes to building readership quality content is just as vital as for niches.

  7. Todd says:

    I completely agree. I’ve seen it as my blog has grown over the last year. Some of my biggest traffic comes from a string of old posts that keep getting hit on daily. The longer my list of content is the higher my traffic continues to go. I only hope I can keep this up!

  8. On one of my blogs I have a few of the top keyword phrases in the whole niche. They do well – a couple thousand people come to my site as a result of those few keywords. However, I have more than 80,000 coming to my site through Google using keywords. My long tail goes 23,000 keyword phrases. That’s amazing! The blog is 5 months old. The key to really getting the long-tail traffic is to write in a unique way. Google loves unique content. If you write in your own way using words that add to the content about what you’re talking about… and use them in novel combinations that make the blog easy to read and different from everyone elses – long tail will stretttttccchhhh. Great explanation of the benefit of long tail traffic!

  9. Allen Holman says:

    This is so true – this is why it’s important to find a balance between writing in-depth compelling content and staying on top of developments in a niche.

    I wrote an article that talks about many of these same points, and even talks about Pink Donuts – The Secret to the Search Engine Long Tail

  10. Nancy Nally says:

    This makes a lot of sense if you think of your blog as a library where each entry is a book. The search engine, such as Google, is the library catalog. The more books are in your library, the more likely that one of them will be what people in the catalog are searching for!

    Can you tell I’m the daughter of a librarian with that analogy?

  11. Andy Beard says:

    If you flatten your archives either using Custom Query String Reloaded, or a pagination plugin (I prefer CQS) then you might get more juice to the long tail.
    Often the reduced traffic is due to recuded rankings as pages go deeper in your archives, and the archives of people linking to you.

  12. Brian Clark says:

    Five years of work for relatively meager returns from advertising? And what if Google decides it doesn’t like you anymore? What then?

    You’d make more money packaging your content into a product or membership site and charging for it. And you could live without Google thanks to affiliates who sell for you.

    The long tail benefits sellers of niche information (and really aggregators)… not free info producers. I get what you’re saying, but the long tail is not about giving content away. Anderson’s whole book is about selling stuff.

  13. Lenin Nair says:

    Hi Eric, thanks for the post. For us Blogspotters, the traffic is somewhat gifted from Google. I guess being Google’s Blogspot gets some love in their search results. My long tail right now is just about 40 per cent. Hope it will increase in coming days.

    Darren is brilliant so he saves a lot of time by allowing others to post as guests in his blog; he gets content and the other guy gets exposure, both are happy!

    I have also started a similar strategy in my blog. If you get time, check it out.

    Lenin

  14. Neil Duckett says:

    I am constantly amazed at the continual growing of traffic due to organic means …. keywords are givers for ever and it just keeps growing and growing. Like you, i look forward to a few years down the track to see how things can grow.

  15. Evan says:

    I wonder about whether the long tail is more applicable to blogs that get most of their traffic from search engines. Most of my traffic is either direct (10% or so) or from referring sites (StumbleUpon etc around 80%).

    My blog is in the health niche (emphasis on psychology and relationships). And I’m not selling products at the moment.

    I do see the long tail (Feedburner stats on hits on articles are good for this too). And I do think it is very important. I just wonder whether it is more important for those who get their traffic from search engines.

    Is content king? Well, maybe part of ruling class – populated by other rulers like marketing – a dual reign?

  16. Panzer says:

    Now I realise why my old blog that was in blogger still rakes in some cents now and then for my adsense although I don’t update it and only have a RSS feed that takes content from the current blog that is a dot.com

    Long tail rocks! ;-)

  17. Hendry Lee says:

    In the book, Chris doesn’t say that the majority of sales comes from long tail.. but the search term for long tail keywords are indeed the majority.

    For blogs, long tail is important because most of us get traffic from search engines. Unless there is magic, no one can possibly rank on the top of the search for competitive keywords quickly.

    Thanks for showing us your stats. The category page even gets 15 views. :-)

  18. babyberto says:

    Nice quote again darren.
    you amaze me with your God given talent.

    My blog is still young, just a few week old, just getting few traffic but I’m looking forward if this “long tail” will truly affect my blog.

    Tnx again darren, I’m a fan..

  19. I have to agree. The two most popular post on my blog (which isnt that popular at all) are about stuff that get picked up by people who use the google search engine.

    The challenge is to have enough interesting content to make these people stay…

  20. Billy says:

    As someone who is new to blogging but not to professional writing, the power of the long tail is welcome news. It seems to me that the long tail would also apply to blogs that rely on indirect methods of revenue. For example, if writing gigs and consultancy are your game, the long tail gives you the strong selling point of credibility. And regardless of income stream, it stands to reason that a content rich Web site is going to keep more of the readers it attracts. It’s a matter of more signal, less noise.

    If anyone else out there is new to professional blogging and looking to connect with others in the same boat, check out my blog. It chronicles steps taken to develop a standalone niche blog. I just wrote yesterday about Darren Rowse’s Thursday night Webcast.

  21. Philip Rudy says:

    I totally agree with this statement. It requires a lot of work, however, to develop a “long tail.” Hiring content writing services is definitely the best way to develop this long tail.

  22. Thanks for explaining what is meant by the long tail, Darren.

    My blog will be affected by this phenomenon. It is a travel blog, and while some posts will be more relevant at the time of posting than later, such as latest holiday offers, chaos at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, etc, some articles will retain their relevance for years to come, eg: sights of Paris, best cities for seeing Renaissance art, and so on.

    My mathematician’s eye has spotted something though – you have displayed a graph without labelling its axes, shock, horror. ;-) I assume that the vertical axis is sales/hits, and that the horizontal is mainstream – non-mainstream?

  23. Slevi says:

    It’s definitely an interesting thing to see, especially in the long run it just keeps on stacking up more and more. The latest entries just do not reach what other parts of your blog reach combined in quite some time.

    Truly gives to show that older content is definitely not something dusting away in your archives but still material which is actively being read by people.

  24. A well-written guest post indeed, Eric. This is the reason why we should make every post a masterpiece.

    However, let us not forget also the search engines. Keyword density also helps our posts make a long tail in blogging.

    As I am checking my visitors through http://www.e-referrer.com I notice that some of my posts are landing on top of the 1st page of Google Search.

  25. Ohmygod – it’s a guest post! Sorry, I should be saying, thank you, Eric …

    Thanks, Eric! :-)

  26. Moira says:

    Thanks, Eric! You totally made my day. I recently worked for months making a web video, Dogs in Art, that I hoped would result in a huge traffic spike on my blog Dog Art Today. Well, I got some great comments and many links, but not the massive “hit” I was looking for.

    But analyzing my stats, I see that some of my favorite posts, like one about Frank Lloyd Wright’s Doghouse, are still bringing in great traffic.

    So my web video goes in my long tail file to keep bringing me traffic (and working it’s way up YouTube as well). And it also got me a gallery showing of my artwork, which is something I’ve been dreaming of for a long time. So you never know what your king content might bring you.

    I just needed a new way to look at what I thought was a disappointment. Now, I see it as a solid investment in my blog and my future.

  27. Phil Baumann says:

    Glad to see the Long Tail re-emphasized for blogging.

    Essentially, the Long Tail is what you might call the open field of perfect competition. That is, more and more things (e.g. information) is becoming freer (a lot of blog content that is free today would have been paid for five or ten years ago).

    So the real interesting thing about the Long Tail is that in order to be profitable or to stand out, whatever you offer has to be, as Seth Godin rightly points out, *remarkable*. Being the best isn’t good enough.

    And the Long Tail is also about Democracy. It means that the little gal (or guy) can have a voice to be heard–if it’s remarkable.

    I once remarked that Twitter is the sound of the Long Tail wagging.

    Twitter is an instance of the reach of the Long Tail. Before Twitter, it would have cost a lot of time and effort to reach someone like Eric or Darren or Guy Kawasaki for instance. today, it’s possible to be hear by these A-Listers (assuming they follow you).

    Then again, FriendFeed is another beast with a Long Tail. And when that creature starts to really thrash about, look out!

    Well-thought out and informative post, Eric.

  28. bugsy says:

    Very well stated Eric! I couldn’t agree more.

    With each new post the trailing tail gets a little bit longer.

  29. Dan says:

    I completely agree with all of the kudos. Forget the get rich quick; sit back, write something you’re proud of, and enjoy the ride.

  30. Thanks, Darren! BTW, last night I was looking for blogging books at my local bookstore, and lo and behold, I found yours! I liked the title even before I read the authors’ names, lol. I will be studying it for the next week. I can certainly relate to Darren’s story of starting out as a general blogger and having to move into several different niches. Anyway, I just finished reading your chapter on blog content, and this post dovetails nicely with that what you said in the book.

  31. Yin Teing says:

    Thanks for this great article. Yes, the long tail effect indeed is real. Till today, my top articles were the ones I’ve writen in 07- where visitors found the page via search engine.

  32. This is absolutely true … 50% of my daily traffic daily is generated from long tail posts. My current hot post has been showing up #1 for searches for Thomas the Tank engine under Google Images for weeks now. Crazy because I wrote the post months ago but it just recently popped up on top.

    This and two other posts bring in about 800 page views a day just on Google image searches. It’s very, very important to label your images with SEO in mind.

    Here’s the link to the post if you guys want to explore how I SEO ‘d it.

    http://mssinglemama.wordpress.com/2008/02/07/thomas-would-kick-mickey-mouses-ass-elmo-would-watch/

  33. Indeed long tail matters a lot. It should be taken seriously

  34. Denise says:

    Writing huge content can give you lil gems in the form of long tails. You should be able to find them though.

  35. thanks a lot , I’m grateful to you because this is an excellent article .

  36. When the competition in the market place become harder for popular keywords, then the real benefit from the long tail key words become more relevant.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] me explain upfront that I’m taking liberties with the term long tail. Eric from Photography Bay touched on the subject on Problogger back in June. when he looked at posts over time, as well as targeting long tail niche topic [...]