If we've convinced you that optimizing your content for the long tail is what will bring you traffic and sales, the question remains on how to accomplish that.
Optimizing for the long tail involves narrowing down the details of the keyword phrases you're hoping to attract. The plural, here, is important. You're identifying niches of the market, each of which your business serves. One long-tail keyword may bring only a few hits, but those are hits that you have a good chance of converting into sales. To bring up your volume of online business, you optimize for several long-tail keyword phrases.
Content and Context
You don't have to include all those keyword phrases you're trying to attract on one page. In fact, it probably hurts you if you do as it becomes obvious to readers and Google's Algorithms that you're keyword packing. The same is true if you overuse a keyword phrase too often on a page, decreasing readability and making keyword packing obvious. That drops your credibility in the eyes of people who come to your site, and drops your ranking by those pesky Google algos.
Using long-tail keyword phrases that appear as a natural part of a site's content works strongly to your advantage, both with people and the algos. Visitors will stay on your site longer, and return to it, if you show you're a credible source for what they want. You do that by having content that's engaging.
Google has been trying to smarten up its algos to recognize the context of keyword phrases rather than search out use of the individual words. The algos recognize when a keyword phrase on a page is relevant to the page's content. Using a long tail keyword phrase on a page dedicated to a product or service that the phrase describes gains importance in ranking. That connection of keyword phrase to context shortens the distance between a person's search and a decision to buy.
Longer phrase, narrower focus
A long-tail keyword phrase actually begins with a head keyword. Let's say you make pipes. Using just pipe in a search comes up with 110 million results. Of the hits on the first page, one is for an online merchant for tobacco pipes, one is for Amazon selling pipe fittings for hydraulics and plumping, one uses pipe as a name for an internet feed aggregator to mash up news feeds, and one is for Private Investment in Public Equity (PIPE), a stock investment term. Wikipedia's entry for pipe, ranked second on the above search, lists more than 30 descriptions that the term could refer to, from musical instruments to volcanoes. No one really wants to work or pay to be ranked number one for the keyword pipe and find he's been beat out in ranking by a volcano.
If you sell pipes, the obvious question is what kind of pipe: pipe for plumbing and hydraulics? If so, that begins narrowing the focus, but you have to go further. Do you sell wholesale to plumbers, or are you selling pipes as part of a retail operation? Maybe you run a steel mill and manufacture pipes, filling only truck-sized orders. Just searching for hydraulic pipe cuts down the return from 110 million to 13.2 million, but you just improved your chances of being found by 87 percent. That's a start.
You can narrow it down further by targeting hydraulics for industrial use or for residential plumbing. Where time for delivery is important, such as when a homeowner needs a pipe for an urgent repair, location is vital. Searching for hydraulic pipe Kalamazoo narrows it down to 43,700 results. More importantly, all the hits are in Kalamazoo or nearby, and Google puts up a map showing where the local sources for hydraulic pipes are located.
The more you can define within a phrase the product or service you offer, and tie it in with content including your location and other factors that refines your market, the more your chances improve for having a motivated buyer find you with a wallet already out of his pocket.
image source: moz.com