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July 20, 2007

The Longest Tail of Search because word–order counts.

Writing about web page http://longtail.typepad.com/

I have blogged before about how my OU MSc project found Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail” distribution throughout my results. I have also found ‘long tails’ within ‘long tails’, as predicted by Chris, when I filtered the overall visitors to www.wmccm.co.uk to record the visitors to company showcases and profiles.

The Long Tail, Anderson (2006)

I noted before that the last 30,000 visitors to www.wmccm.co.uk referred by search engines used just over 20,000 different search terms. The most popular search terms are used by hundreds of visitors resulting in over 15,000 terms being used uniquely by only one visitor.

These unique terms were captured raw from our server-log and the diversity of unique terms were generated in two ways;
  • The permutations of words; caused by search refinement, sorting and the flexibility of the English language.
  • Extraneous characters, commas, brackets, etc., probably as a result of copying.

The extra random characters will be ignored by the search engines but does the order of words matter? I was finding really competitive ‘short head’ terms in our results for companies that could not compete with the top global sites. Where variations of popular ‘short head’ terms appearing in the ‘long tail’ because of word order?

Search on Google for “bookshops online” and “online bookshops” and you will find that the order of the top 10 results changes with a couple of new entries. Research using Google’s Adwords proves that closely matching the searchers search term generates better Click-Through-Rates, CTRs. So if the search engines are using CTR as a small factor in producing their results pages then word order will make a difference. I am convinced that the searchers ‘votes’ count with Google and can demonstrate that word order also varies results with Yahoo!.

The visitors using these ‘long tail’ terms found our pages because they addressed the human audience and used natural, varied, English. This “long tail” of unique search terms cannot be addressed by mechanical key term stuffing and explains why all the search engines recommends good copy in the human voice.

Chris Anderson has explored many significant long tails. His expertise from the music arena and the media has taken him from tracks to books, TV episodes and films. His long tails were all of physical goods or downloadable entities with one correct title.

I have found that searching on the web has created the longest tail, of natural language, because the word order counts.


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