How important is the long tail to your business?

Warning: this content is older than 365 days. It may be out of date and no longer relevant.

The long tail is something of a legend when it comes to content marketing. Lots of people talk about it, but few people ever really go looking for it. How real is the long tail? How relevant is it to your business?

Luckily, our stalwart friend Google Analytics can help us to understand that. If you’ve taken my advice in years past about keeping a date-based URL structure for your blog and website, this will be a very easy thing to see. Fire up Google Analytics, then navigate down to the Behavior section. Locate and dig into Site Content, Content Drilldown, then set the timeframe to the year to date. (if you’re doing this in the early months of the year, use the last 365 days instead):


Next, switch the table visualization to bar graph mode, and you should see each calendar year broken out nicely:


Now take a look at the results. That’s the long tail in action. I’ve been blogging daily since 2007, and I managed to blog daily almost every business day of 2014, yet that daily blogging was only responsible for 28% of the site’s traffic. 2011 and 2012 combined are responsible for the same amount of traffic as 2014. Why? What would cause that?

Bear in mind, that doesn’t necessarily mean that 2014 was a wash as a year – it just means that there’s content in the long tail that is still incredibly popular, years later. If we dig into the sources of traffic per year in Acquisition, what do we find?


There’s the answer right there about where the long tail’s power is coming from: organic search. Even though it’s two or three years later, the content I wrote in 2011 and 2012 is still being found, far more than the content I’ve written in the past couple of years.

If this blog were my full-time business, what would I do next? I’d dig into those years and see what content is still cranking out the audience, then write some spin-off pieces to leverage similar content keywords.

What if this showed that my website didn’t have any strength in the long tail? That would be an indicator that maybe I needed to write more search-worthy content, content that’s more evergreen and less real-time. Some marketing strategies can become overly reliant on real-time newsjacking, and the consequence of that is that no one searches for your news-related items once the news is gone.

Try this with your own data if you’ve got a supporting URL structure. If you don’t, you’ll need to use Google Analytics’ Content Grouping feature and apply tags to the pages of your website by year. It’s possible to do for any website; some websites will simply take a little more work than others.

You might also enjoy:

Want to read more like this from Christopher Penn? Get updates here:

subscribe to my newsletter here

AI for Marketers Book
Take my Generative AI for Marketers course!

Analytics for Marketers Discussion Group
Join my Analytics for Marketers Slack Group!


One response to “How important is the long tail to your business?”

  1. crackerjackscribe Avatar

    Thanks Christopher for this quick and easy, yet very useful tutorial on how to dig into your content throughout the years via Google Analytics to see what has been driving traffic the most. Very helpful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This