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inboundMed Blog

Once upon a time, there was a very long tail

Jul 30, 2016 12:00:00 AM / by inboundMed

dog with a long tail marketing concept

... and it was ignored for the most part until somebody recognized it was made of gold. 

That is the basic story behind the idea of using long tail keywords as part of your inbound medical marketing strategy. 

Here's a quick review of what that statistical model is all about and why it has become so useful for small medical practices engaged in inbound marketing.

The story of the long tail

An economic analyst named Chris Anderson coined the term, "long tail," in reference to a "newfangled" statistical marketing model he proposed in 2004.

He argued that there will always be blockbuster businesses who capture the majority of any market segment (in fact, he uses the movie rental chain, Blockbuster Video, as one of his prime examples).

original long tail statistical modelThese behemoth corporations exist to serve the interests of small groups of consumers who buy their products and use their services repeatedly (the "top" of the tail, as shown in the diagram here). 

(In the world of healthcare, hospital chains represent the blockbusters.)

However, Anderson argued that consumers (and in our case, patients) are not comprised only of people who are rabid consumers of products and services of broad appeal.

He (correctly) identified consumers who had specific needs that remained unfulfilled by these blockbuster businesses. Statistically speaking, their needs were considered by these major chains as being too "special interest," their sales volumes too low to be sustainable in the blockbuster space. 

(Some examples of these "special interest" businesses in today's healthcare environment: sleep labs, pain management clinics, physical therapists.) 

Anderson argued that these smaller "niche" businesses were poised to collectively "own" the rest of the tail and could meaningfully compete with the blockbusters if they found effective, affordable distribution channels to help consumers locate and enjoy what they offered. 

Did you notice: If you measure the "long tail" portion of the curve in the diagram and compare it against the size of the higher consumption numbers at the top of the graph, you'll discover both are equal in volume. 

The long tail in 2016

We've come a long way since 2004 (Blockbuster Video went defunct in 2013, for one thing). The distribution channels Anderson spotlighted have become American cultural mainstays: digital downloads, satellite and cable television, smartphones, handheld notepads, and the like. Amazon is perhaps the strongest evidence of the power of the long tail.

Once these channels were adopted, it became impossible for big business—and consumers—to ignore the presence of niche interests and their clever new inbound marketing strategy.content marketing_innovation

Media expanded to serve the long tail as well (and continues to do so). "The Long Tail of content, of digital content ... (has) ended up influencing digital culture," Chris Anderson said in an interview in EconTalk in 2012.

Working through these channels, small niche businesses gravitated to new (and affordable) forms of content marketing as a way to "be found" by their customers.

You know them now as social networks (especially Facebook pages and Twitter language), free media distributors (YouTube), blogging, email newsletters, image distribution via Pinterest and Instagram... the bread and butter of inbound marketing. 

Innovation continues to use the strategy of the long tail in micro-finance, user-driven applications like e-books, social media extensions into crowdsourcing, peer-to-peer networking, and viral marketing.

Introducing the keyword

The "long tail" in content marketing now refers less to Anderson's initial marketing strategy, and more to certain refinements of this 3-way intersection between media, marketing, the Internet, using protocols established by search engine optimization (SEO).

Enter the world of search engine marketing (SEM) and the power of the keyword

Content generated for marketing purposes to spark attention from search engines like Google. 

Google catalogs this cokeywords_chalkboardntent by way of popularly entered words or phrases; the more these user-entered words or phrases match your content on the Internet, the more likely your content will rise in Google searchability ranks because of keyword ranking.

The idea behind practicing good SEO is to "be found" by potential customers (or, in our case, patients). By using keywords that have the potential to rank your content on the first page of a search engine, you can more effectively "be found." 

There are two basic types of keywords:

Short-tail keywords

These are words (usually 1 or 2) you use in your headlines, headers (identified as H2, H3, and so forth) , alternative text for images (photo tags), and the like. They are usually obvious words that probably won't rank your blog entry on page 1 in Google because of enormous competition for those same interests. "Dentist" is a short-tail keyword, in example.

Short-tail suggests the immediate conversion of interested people into paying customers (or patients) and has nothing to do with the brevity of the keywords. In medical practice market niche, "short tail" is probably not going to be a useful marketing approach. Patients generally need education and motivation before seeking services; healthcare, after all, is not something purchased on impulse.

Pros of using short-tail keywords: 

  • they are general enough to reach the most people
  • they can convert readers into patients just like long-tail keywords

Cons of using short-tail keywords:

  • they aren't uniquely targeted
  • they cost more money when used in advertising
  • other marketing efforts are also using them, so ranking competition is high

Long-tail keywords

These are words (between 3 and 5 words) and phrases you use in your content at every level. They are "long-tail," not because they have more words, but because they may be über-specific ("best TMJ dentist"), technical ("temporomandibular joint disorder"), regional ("Orlando dentist"), or abbreviated ("TMJ").

While these keywords aren't likely to be used with the same volume as short-tail keywords, they are more likely to result in higher ranking results in search engines from potential patients because they are targeted.  

Pros of using long-tail keywords: 

  • they are more likely to reach your target market
  • they can convert readers into patients just like short-tail keywords
  • they cost less money when used in advertising

Cons of using long-tail keywords:

  • they are less likely to rank high in Google
  • they are less likely to be used in search engine searches

Based on these factors, distinguishing between types of keywords is extremely useful. Marketing budget is a practical concern. Keywords are typically paid for in search advertising or come into existence "organically." Obviously, you want to pay for the use of those which will land you the best outcome (more patients), but organic traffic to your website is free and often more targeted. 

Ultimately, any medical marketing effort that puts keywords into play (advertising, blogging, social networking, etc.) must make full use of both kinds of keywords.turning_to_gold.png

Consider, as Chris Anderson did: for niche businesses such as specialized medical clinics, keeping your eyes on the prize (a wider patient base) is not going to materialize as instant gratification from a single marketing effort; instead, it will require a long-term, "long-tail" effort that's sustained and targeted.

The moral of the story of the very long tail? There's gold in it for those who are willing to pay proper attention to the special needs of their market and who are patient enough to follow the tail all the way to its shiny tip.    

Want to learn more about inbound marketing to attract new patients? Check out our free e-book below for more in-depth coverage of these medical content marketing efforts and much more. 

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Library of Economics and Liberty
The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More. ©2008, Chris Anderson
Vertical Response


Read Chris Anderson's original essay, "The Long Tail," in Wired here

Topics: Inbound Marketing


Written by inboundMed

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