Category: Digital Marketing | 4 min read

A few months back I was at a Google hosted Fintech event. At the event Google dropped a pretty cool statistic:

Over the past two years, searches for local places without the qualifier "near me" have grown 150%.

That was quite the surprise for a lot of us marketers at the event. They then went on to their usual talk about micro-moments.

This quote got me thinking about how people search in general. I thought about my paid search campaigns and how I had noticed that my long tail keywords had been dropping in traffic while the generic terms had grown exponentially.

Being a data focused guy, I decided to explore this idea a bit: "do people need to use long tail less these days?"

My theory was that Google had gotten so good at search that people simply trust that Google will give them the right answer, even without explicitly saying what they are looking for.

First, some data

I work in the insurance and finance industry so lets use an example from there. The terms "cheap auto insurance", "auto insurance quotes" and "compare auto insurance" are far from long tail but they are a lot longer than "auto insurance" and also give far more insight into the searchers intent.

The issue is this chart:

The data is specific to Canada and taken from Google Insights. As you can see, both terms have been dropping pretty heavily. If you look at a snapshot of this year, here is what just "auto insurance" looks like:

I can tell you from experience that this is not a simple seasonality chart. Now for "cheap auto insurance" again, something with more intent information.

I think you're probably getting the point by now. People just aren't using the keywords that even in recent years SEO companies would be telling you to use.

The classic lesson they teach in SEO, and one I still teach to this day to university students is the importance of intent. What people type into Google can help you make sure you are getting those with buy intent or at least know where in the buying cycle a customer is.

When customers now just use "auto insurance" it doesn't really tell you anything.

This all matches what I am seeing in my paid search campaigns as well.

Okay, but why?

I think my theory above is correct. First of all, Google is getting better at figuring out the intent for you. With "near me" the intent is clearly looking for something nearby, Google has gotten to the point that if you type in Italian restaurant, it will auto use your location to find some.

It started with stuff like nearby and the power of Google's LSI algorithm. These days though they have moved on and are using machine learning and AI to guess the intent of the searcher. This can be based on data you don't even realize. Knitters for example. I was shown by a Google employee an example where someone they knew was a knitter would have a counting app suggested to them. Something a normal person who wasn't a knitter would not be able to intuit. Eventually it was realized this is because those who knit need something to keep track of the rows and knits they were making and the app was super helpful for that.  

People are also doing far more searches on mobile devices. While mobile devices are pretty easy to type in these days, they are still more challenging to type in than an old fashioned keyboard. People want to type less because it's annoying and since Google gets it right most of the time anyway, they get the excuse to not type as much.

What do I do?

You have to change your overall game plan.

In terms of paid search the good news is that with automated bidding you don't need as much intent information. Google figures that out for you, it's more important to get better data to Google so it can do that for you.

SEO? Well, that's a tougher nut to crack. In the past long tail was the place you could build a whole business. Combine the lack of long tail with Rand's data here about no click searches and you have a serious problem for entire business models.

I would suggest taking a look at my other article that talks about clicks in general here.

The focus of digital marketing needs to switch to be more about brand and being top of mind. If you look at the data here, it shows that people are FAR more willing to click a search result if they already know the brand.

That can get expensive though. It becomes a question of how do you target your top of funnel brand advertising in a way that is cost effective? I don't think anyone has answered that just yet. Combine that with recent failures by large companies such as Google at proper attribution tracking and the ad fraud issues that are rampant in the programmatic landscape and you have brand new challenges that need to be taken on.

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