Is the Long Tail Short on Proof?
By Frank Reed.
An article in today’s Wall Street Journal by Lee Gomes the Long Tail theory popularized by Chris Anderson’s book “The Long Tail” in 2006 there is now a pretty prominent player saying “Wait a minute now…..is this for real?” The Harvard Business Review has published a study that questions whether this theory actually holds water. Anita Elberse, is a marketing professor at Harvard Business School and in her writing she doesn’t seem as comfortable with handing the mantle of all future economic models to the long tail theory.
Elberse simply states that when looking at online buying patterns of people renting movies and purchasing music are the same as those who buy offline. What?! How are we going to survive as search marketers if the long tail is a myth? Well, hold on just minute before the baby AND the bath water gets tossed here. Elberse goes on to talk about how even in our buying patterns we are social people who like to do what others do for the reason of common interests. There is also a sheep mentality amongst consumers because we like to be led to what to buy by others who have had a good experience. This keeps the experimentation low and the “group think” theory high.
Gomes uses the blogosphere to further prove the point. While there are many, many, many blogs out there most still go unread and the vast majority of the traffic goes to only the top blogs. Considering the traffic on my personal blog I can certainly attest to that theory! Gomes also takes a funny swipe at Wired magazine in his description of the Long Tail phenomenon that took place following a 2004 for article (which led to the book) saying that “In retrospect, “The Long tail “ seems to have followed the template of many Wired articles: take a partly true, modestly interesting, tech-friendly idea and puff it up to Second Coming proportions”. Ouch.
Chris Anderson’s response which I have not fully read was described by Gomes as being “generous in praising the article and he (Anderson) welcomed the sort of rigorous scrutiny the theory was getting”. To his credit, it appears as if Anderson is keeping his cool.
As for us search marketers, I still firmly believe that the long tail exists but in search it is very different and actually more real. We want to find those people who have more clearly defined what they are looking for. Just because they have been more defined in their search (3, 4, 5 word phrases rather than one word generalities) doesn’t mean they aren’t one of the masses. It just means they are further along in the buying cycle, which means they are closer to the time of purchase this making them most valuable to a lot of marketers. I will pursue search’s version of the theory because it makes sense.
At any rate, a theory is a theory is a theory. There are pieces that we can all apply and use and then there are parts that may simply not work. It is up to us as marketing consumers to use our own experience and discernment to make the right choice for our business. Each case will be different so avoiding blanket statements might just be the “best practice” of the future.
About Frank Reed
Frank Reed is a partner at bnr marketing in Raleigh, NC. bnr provides SEO, PPC and blog marketing services. In addition, bnr produces SEO tools like SEMCheck for the search marketing industry. Frank’s blog on internet marketing is at www.frankthinking.com.