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How to Find Your Business' Long Tail

How to Find Your Business’ Long Tail

by | Marketing

You’ve heard of the Long Tail? No? In 2004, Chris Anderson wrote an article for Wired and followed it up with a book called “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More” (affiliate link) that made the term Long Tail one of the essential principles of doing business online.

It is often cited as the secret behind the commercial success of Amazon and Google and is now the most frequently used buzz-word of social media smart-alecs (me included) since time began (the second most used is “engagement”).

WTF is a Long Tail?

The Long Tail concept is simple. The essence is the idea that sales of large quantities of low-value items can be more profitable than pursuing sales of high-value items. For example, Amazon will sell large quantities of the best-sellers like “The Da Vinci Code” but the combined income from all the lesser-known books will far outweigh the profits from that one best-seller. The trick is to target both bestsellers and long-tailers. Put the two together and you’re looking at fat profits.

How Does This Help Me?

That’s all very nice, but I can hear you asking how to apply this in the real world. The question for small business owners is how can we identify our own profitable long tails? This is your lucky day. Here are 3 ways to find yours:

Scratch the Surface

Don’t be obvious. Everybody and his dog is doing the obvious and the safe. Scratch the surface a little, push the boundaries and you’ll find some pure gold. For example, if you are an event planner, don’t simply think about what your objectives are, consider what your attendees might currently have on their minds. Even if your event is about the comparative safety issues behind choice of shoelaces, your delegates may have more exciting things on their mind such as how to get to the beach that’s right next to the venue. So why not offer event-branded shades or bikinis?

Look at Your Stats

The answer to every problem is usually at your fingertips. Mine your website statistical data. What you don’t have web traffic stats? Don’t read any more; just go away. Okay, if you’re still reading, this will mean something to you. Check your stats. Are some pages on your website unexpectedly popular? Are some blog posts more popular than others? Who are your main referrers? Where are visitors lingering? These are the clues you’re looking for. That’s it. No rocket science.

Be Trendy

Be clued into what people are talking about. Know the zeitgeist. As a designer, this has been my basic starting principle for years. Develop a feel for trends and fashions in a very general sense. By looking at the design of cars, toasters, TVs, video games, clothes and the million and one different objects that people in my society interact with, I’ve known how to design websites, corporate identities and brochures that have relevance. That’s what has kept me ahead of the game in the highly competitive web design world. Could you do the same? Could knowing what is trendy in other fields give you a fresh perspective on which of your products or services are likely to be popular? Any restaurants offering a Lady Gaga special steak sandwich?

The Next Step

I’m not going to labour the point but here’s a quick summary in case you need it. If you want to find your own long tail, scratch the surface, lay your bait where the fish swim and develop the ability to spot trends. Did I miss your favourite way to ID your long tail? Tell me all about it by adding your comments below. You may not win a prize, but you’ll win my respect if you come with a really good one.


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