[Editor Note: Dave Collins, noted UK micro-ISV marketing expert, is sharing his considerable expertise on marketing, SEO, Google AdWords and more on Fridays at MyMicroISV. Thanks Dave!]

By Dave Collins
Founder, Shareware Promotions

It’s not an unusual scenario. We take on a new client, and at the beginning of the SEO process, we start discussing keywords. The client is adamant – his main keyword is “funky software”, and that’s what he wants to rank for. Number one on Google, that’s his goal. Every page on his site is already set up for “funky software”. Identical page titles on each page proclaim that this is indeed the home of the coolest “funky software” on the web, and if you’re interested in “funky software”, this is the place to be.

There’s only one problem. There are approximately 1.2 million other sites trying to sell “funky software”, and at the moment, this particular client is ranking squarely at #52. To be honest, with an average to low number of incoming links and a PageRank of 3, ranking in the top ten isn’t going to happen any time soon. As for #1 – well, forget it. With a lot of hard work, yes, we could definitely increase the rankings, but it’s going to take time – and this client wants to see results next week. Tomorrow, preferably. But here’s the unfortunate truth: ranking at number one for one single phrase, no matter how good it is, is no definite recipe for success and high sales. In fact, focusing too much on a single keyword is never, ever a good idea. Even two or three different terms aren’t going to bring you happiness and early retirement.

So what do we tell our clients? Diversify, diversify, diversify. Forget about that one term you’ve got your heart set on. Do your keyword research, and use as wide a variety of different terms as possible. In itself, this is a great thing – but it’s what happens afterwards that’s really interesting. You see, when your site is properly optimised for a multitude of different phrases, you’ll start seeing visitors for terms that you’d never even dreamed of. Maybe it’s just one or two visitors per phrase, but there are literally hundreds of those small, narrow, perfectly targeted phrases. In addition to this, you’ll almost certainly find that these visits convert to sales more often than those “funky software” searchers you were so desperate for.

This is what people are talking about when they mention the “long tail”. This is something of a buzzword nowadays, but it’s what we’ve been preaching to our clients for years. It’s nothing new, and it’s something that all the big online sellers have known for a long time. As an example, did you know that Amazon makes 57% of its sales outside the obvious, big and popular search terms? Well, they do – and so should you.

We see this with our clients, too, especially once we’ve worked with them to improve and optimise their sites. When we look at the traffic they receive from the search engines, the top ten or fifteen predictable, popular phrases are always at the top, bringing in large numbers of visitors. It would be easy to say “See! I knew they were our best keywords!” and leave it at that. But then you scroll down the list…and further down…and even further. Hundreds and hundreds of phrases that only one person searched for – and when you add them up, you usually find that they actually bring in as much, or more, traffic than all the obvious phrases put together.

Why does this work? Because people are individuals, and you can’t predict all their actions. You might think all your customers search for “photo editing software”, but your next potential customer will search for “software to make photos smaller for email”. You think you’re selling “organizer software”, but what people are looking for is “tool to help me control my time better”. The great thing is that as long as your site is set up for a wide variety of terms, chances are you’ll rank very highly for these narrow, extremely targeted phrases. All you need to do, as always, is think about your target audience. What do they want, and how do they really use your software? Start there, and build your keyword research around that principle. The long tail sales will follow on from there.

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Dave Collins is the CEO of SharewarePromotions http://www.sharewarepromotions.com, a well established UK-based software marketing company. Dave specialises in Google AdWords, Log Analysis, Online Marketing and Delegation.

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