The Long Tail
Why It Is Important for Small Businesses
An Interview With Chris Anderson

"The long tail" is a phrase coined by Chris Anderson, executive editor of WIRED magazine. His book, The Long Tail, is an "impact book".

If you understand The Long Tail, you understand the future of small business, how you fit in, and how to capitalize upon it.

So it's really important to understand it. If you skip understanding this concept, you do yourself and your small business a disservice. The capsule summary...

SBI! In the physical world, there isn't enough shelf space to carry everything for everyone. As a result, the industrial business era has been mostly about a small number of mass-produced-and-sold products, the "head of the long tail" (red part of the graph).

The digital era turns the tables on traditional thinking about supply and demand. We've moved into the (yellow) long tail of the curve. That is the world of infinite niches.

As a small business person, it is your world. You both live in it and you market to it. The Long Tail describes the "three driving forces" that you must understand to master it...

#1) Tools Of Production Hardware and software put product creation into the hands of everyone. For example, flip-cams and smart phones enable millions of budding Tarentinos. Software empowers people to share their knowledge in the form of Web sites and blogs. The result? An exponential explosion in niche products.

Of course, these tools don't guarantee quality. There is a lot of bad video out there. Nor do they put your high-value niche products into the hands of those who want it.

#2) The Internet Aggregators   Aggregators pull "products" together, one offer all in one spot. For example, iTunes aggregates music, one offer to consumers. Google AdSense pulls publishers together, on offer to advertisers -- in this case, the product is the Web site. Advertisers from General Motors to Stan's Local Body Shop can filter through Google's aggregation of publishers and place ads across a wide variety of sites related to what they want to sell.

#3) Filtering Software That Connects Supply And Demand   This enables consumers to find those high-quality, produced(#1)-and-aggregated(#2) niche products. For example, are you planning a vacation to Anguilla? Do a Google search to find great sites about Anguilla. See the ads on those sites? Click! Your interest earns income for both Google and the site-publisher.

What Does This Mean for You?

Use the three drivers to reach niche audiences that were invisible 15 years ago. Easy access to your globally dispersed "one-of" customers, together with free storage and near-free distribution, opens a world of opportunity. In the words of the author...


Long Tail marketing treats consumers as individuals with unique interests and needs.

The long tail (in yellow) indicates smaller and smaller volumes of each product sold (the y axis) for an ever increasing number of "nichier" products (as you move farther to the right).

Small business thrives in the long tail. You only need a few thousand people in the entire world to be interested in what you offer. Want to video-blog? NBC or Fox requires an audience of millions to be profitable. You, though, can profitably vlog to a passionate audience of "one-sies and two-sies" (to paraphrase Mr. Anderson).

So grab the stage. Compete! Markets are fragmenting into near-infinite niches. Even the niches have niches...

Yes, each niche has its own long tail... a "mini-tail," the author calls this, "each of which is its own little world." This has major implications for your small business. (More on this in the interview with Mr. Anderson below.)

In case this sounds like business nirvana, there is a catch. Neither the Internet nor the long tail suspends the basic laws of sound business practice. Consider these sample truisms...

  • Sell a great product
  • Conduct yourself ethically
  • Care

If anything, principles like these are amplified 1,000-fold. Why? Because customer power is amplified 1,000-fold. Conduct yourself badly and "Long Tail Driver #3" will filter you out... and fast.

While Driver #1 makes it easier than ever to create and produce, it is not enough. You must produce a high-quality product.

Once you achieve that, you must "convince" Driver #3 (the "filters") to send demand down that long tail to find you.

What about Driver #2? Get aggregated. For example, Google aggregates your passionate site about container gardening with others about gardens and plants (broader). It then offers your "product" (through AdSense Ads on your site) to gardening store advertisers.

But be more than an "aggregatee." Become an aggregator. Garden lovers find your site through thousands of search terms -- yes, thousands, each looking for a specific gardening related topic. They are your long tail.

When you become an aggregator, you own your business in powerful new ways.

Master all three "Long Tail Drivers" to succeed online...

Long Tail Marketing for Small Business

Let's return to your container gardening site for a moment. Google AdSense aggregates your site with others to sell Google Ads to garden store advertisers (Driver #2). But there's more...

If you, the container gardening site owner, deliver quality, original content, Google Search will know it. As an aggregator of good content, that is Google Search's role. So Google Search sends free and highly targeted visitors to your container gardening site, traffic that can be monetized in other ways.

And therein lies a fascinating part of The Long Tail. Within the long tail of all Web sites, within the long tail of Web sites about gardening, and even drilling down to the Web site about container gardening...

There lies a long tail within the long tail.

Your small business itself has a long tail, one for you to mine and monetize... "curves within curves within curves," as Mr. Anderson says in The Long Tail. "The Long Tail is made of many mini-tails, each of which is its own little world."

Your container gardening site aggregates its own long tail of visitors, from those seeking basic gardening information to those seeking container gardening videos about planting on a high rise rooftop (it takes all kinds, that's the point!). And here's the best news yet for small businesses of all kinds...

You have a strong advantage when it comes to competing in the "long tail within"...

The interview with Chris Anderson elaborates upon key areas in The Long Tail that are important to small businesses of all kinds...

  • Small businesses both have a long tail ("aggregator") and are in someone else's long tail ("aggregatee"). What is the difference and why is this important?
  • The long tail of keywords (the top 20 vs the next 8,000) that find a high-value content site. Why your traffic and money lie in the long tail, not in the "SEO'd" words.
  • What "classical SEO" does to the long tail of keywords -- why this has become more important over the years.
  • Understanding your clients as you slide down your keyword long tail. Why your personal knowledge and voice can market to your niche more effectively than big companies.
  • Starting out? Starting over? Where in the long tail should you compete (ex., tropical travel vs. Caribbean vacation vs. Anguilla living)? The tighter the niche, the greater the importance of "two way passion."
  • How do you use filters (from Google Search to Netflix filters) to push Demand down the long tail where it meets your site?
  • The future. Where are the next great long tail opportunities? What will the long tail look like in the coming years? What should you do to be there?

Listen to this rare opportunity (35 minutes) as one of the most important e-business thinkers today expounds upon the future of small business and how you can position yourself, not merely to meet what is coming, but to defeat multi-nationals by mastering your particular niche.

If you prefer to read, here is the written transcript of the interview.

During this half-hour conversation, Mr. Anderson states...

  • Every one of us -- no matter how mainstream we might think we are -- actually goes super-niche in some part of our lives... we let our enthusiasm take us deep. And...
  • You can find everything in the long tail.

Combine those thoughts to understand the opportunities of your niche business.

A few of "everyone" are interested in you. Understand Long Tail Marketing to understand how to turn that into a passion-driven, niche-fueled small business.

Understand that The Top 10 searches at Google account for only a small minority of its 100 billion monthly searches.

Out of that massive long tail of search, the "tail within a tail" will find you. And once you aggregate your own stream of mini-long tail visitors who connect with you in more ways than one, you are ready to use Driver #3 to monetize.

Build a long-term, passion-driven business with equity online. Become a Long Tail winner. Don't merely "be aggregated"...

Aggregate your own Long Tail of customers and own your own business.

It's all in the long tail.