Can I Make Money Only From Long Tail Traffic? The short answer to this question is, yes, you can make money from long tail traffic. I think a more important question, however, is “how much money can I make from long tail traffic?” Or, an even better question might be, “Do I have what it takes to make money from long tail traffic?” Mostly it takes patience, especially if you don’t have any money to begin. If you DO have some money, then you don’t need quite as much patience. The other key ingredient to making money from the long tail is moderation or a sense of when “enough is enough”. I think whomever is asking about making money from the long tail has probably recently felt the sting of too many search algorithm updates. A lot of short-cut I(nternet) M(arketer)s (and I use the expression only figuratively) have been complaining about major setbacks to their passive income schemes. Technically, passive income assets are not marketing assets. They are more like investments (low budget investments). But then if you talk about Websites as “assets” you get into a whole mix of fairy tales and nonsense. Websites are not assets. An asset has real value that doesn’t change because of what you do with it. You can move a table from one end of creation to the other and its hard value doesn’t change. You can invest in stocks and do nothing and the prices change but the stocks are shares of (some form of) ownership in a corporation that is (supposedly) valued on the basis of its (hard value) assets less its liabilities (debts). Stock price seldom reflects the real value of the equity behind the stock. A Website price may be based on a hypothetical value — one usually based on revenue — that is a “soft” value rather than a hard value. Revenue streams are now routinely treated like assets, which I think is why the economies of over 100 countries have suffered depression-like symptoms. Revenue is supposed to come from the use and/or sale of assets — but if the revenue IS the asset then what are you using or selling to earn revenue? The “revenue” you’re pursuing is a derivative value. So What is the Value of Website Traffic? We’re gradually expanding our sources of Website traffic. Now you should be tracking the traffic along these lines: Web search referrals Non-search Web referrals Direct-to-Website visits Mobile application-driven visits Each of these traffic segments can be broken down into smaller segments. For example, you can have Site Search and External Search and then External Search can be sub-divided according to language, region, source, trackability, etc. Non-search referrals can be sub-divided into Social Media, Blogs, and other types of Websites (such as directories, old school static sites, advertising, etc.). But what value is there in 1,000,000 visitors from any of these corners? One Website might derive value based on advertising it displays to visitors; another Website might derive value based on the information it disseminates to visitors; another Website might derive value from taking (or referring) orders from visitors for products and services; and so on. There is no clear-cut path to value in the traffic. And if there is no clear-cut path to value in the traffic then what is the intrinsic value that a Website (or a domain name) infuses into the receipt of that traffic? There is, in fact, no intrinsic value that a Website CAN infuse into the traffic. The value comes from what you add to the Website/domain. So I ask you again: What is the value of Website traffic? Some sites would not know what to do with 1,000,000 visitors. In fact, they would not be able to afford the cost of managing 1,000,000 visitors. Other Websites might make $1,000,000 off those 1,000,000 visitors. The Money Comes from Your Interaction with Visitors I was reading a forum recently where someone claimed to be making more than $1000.00 a day from fewer than 500 visitors; an incredulous respondent said he was receiving several thousand visitors a day and making less than $20.00. “What’s the secret?” The secret is that the first guy has to be attracting different visitors from the second guy AND the first guy has to be creating or offering greater value for his visitors than the second guy. Suppose you have two people selling used tires. One person sells used tires at $10 a piece. The other person only sells used tires in lots of 100 at $800 a lot. Our two tire sellers have to attract different customers, but to have similar total sales the first tire seller needs about 80 times as many customers as the second tire seller. They’re selling the same thing but they are creating different value with the base asset. It works the same way on the Web. You create your value and package it for the people you want to attract. So Who Searches on the Long Tail? It’s a lot like the Oscar Meyer Weiner song: “What kind of searchers buy the long tail? Fat searchers, skinny searchers, searchers on the clock! Big searchers, little searchers, even searchers under rocks!” You have to differentiate your value from the rest of the pack in some way. I’m not talking about the way your Website looks, or what you populate it with. I’m talking about the value you offer to visitors in exchange for their time and money. If you’re just looking for clicks on advertising you need to motivate your visitors to click on the ads (without crossing the lines that will get you banned and penalized). Everyone searches on the long tail but the long tail queries monetize differently in different ways. For example, take a query like “how do I get rid of fleas on my dog?” This is not the cheapest PPC query one might think of but not everyone who uses this query wants to buy flea powder, flea soap, etc. Many people just want the holistic information, the facts. Some of those people may be intrigued or compelled by the content they find to order or start looking for some anti-flea products but a lot of people won’t buy. If your goal is to make money off the long tail you have to practice winnowing the disinterested traffic from the interested traffic. In other words, you have to slice the long tail traffic even more thinly than your research suggests you expect it to be. Do the Math, Weigh the Pros and Cons Let’s suppose you can only reasonably project a 1% conversion on long tail traffic. The more long tail traffic you get, the bigger your 1% becomes in terms of revenue. Since you’re optimizing for the long tail you should not even be looking at traffic estimates but I’ll humor you and say that you limit your queries to having NO MORE THAN 10 visitors per month. At 10 visitors per month you’ll get 1 click or sale every 10 months per query. If you only earn $1 per click or sale and your goal is to gross $100,000 per year then you need to find 10,000,000 visitors. That’s 100,000+ max-10-visitor-per-month queries you have to target in order to earn your $100,000 gross. That’s pretty simple, isn’t it? To hit 100,000+ queries you need content that is relevant to 100,000+ unique expressions. Let’s assume a lot of those expressions are similar to each other. Let’s assume you can fold your 100,000+ expressions into about 10,000 articles. What will it cost you to create and serve 10,000+ articles? Let’s assume you are only going to use articles that search engines (and users) will like. Hence, there is no spinning, no Mechanical Turk or Fiverr or other low-budget freelance copywriting. You have to produce 10,000+ well-written useful articles. How much will that cost you? The hosting is probably cheap. Most $3-10/month hosting plans will probably handle 10,000,000 visitors in a year. If not, then hit the $25-50/month plans and you should be okay. Web design may play into conversion. I can’t say all you need is a cheap or free template. But let’s assume you start out with a free template and make changes as you watch the numbers. You expect 1% conversions. If you don’t get them you have to change something, either the temple, the content, or both. Do you need to get links? Nope. If you’re creating good quality content the links will come naturally. After all, you’re only chasing extremely low volume queries. They get so little traffic the search engines probably won’t even bother placing advertising on those queries. How Many Queries Do People Use Each Month? I have never seen complete, comprehensive query set data from any search engine. My guess is that users probably hit Google up with 50,000,000 to 100,000,000 distinctive queries each month. Some of those queries are used over and over again. Some of those queries are just flashes in the pan. Still, if we assume there are only about 50,000,000 targetable long-tail queries your task is to pick the 1-in-500 targetable long tail queries that you need in order to generate your $100,000 gross annual income. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? But stick to the plan. You’re going to write 10,000+ articles. If you can turn out 2 articles per day, 5 days a week it will take you about 1,000 weeks to get your content up to where you need it to be. That’s not even 20 years of your life, so don’t feel so bad. It’s doable. So Who Would Want to Chase the Long Tail? This is a very simple long tail scenario and all you have to do is plug in the numbers. If you don’t like the way the scenario plays out, change the numbers. For example, suppose you go after long tail queries with a maximum of 20 visitors per month? Maybe now you only need 5 months per query to get to your desired goal of $100,000 gross annual income. Still too hard? Not to worry. Let’s go out and hire some people to help us write articles. Better yet, let’s crack the whip and demand that they write 4 articles a day. So now there are you and 4 freelancers each turning out 4 articles per day — that’s 100 articles per week. It will take you less than 2 years to reach your goal of achieving $100,000 gross annual income. Still sound terrible? You can raise the expected conversion rate. Suppose you only accept the most sure-fire copy for your Website. That should double your conversion rate to 2%. Now you need less than a year to hit your $100,000 gross annual income. But what will that cost you? It’s one thing to farm out 20 articles to 3-5 freelancers, but to get back the kind of timeless copy that will be bring in traffic consistently — that takes some really strong keyword research (you have to ignore all event-driven, seasonal, and brand-related queries for sure). And you have to have iron-clad control on the copy. And then the Website design MIGHT play a part in this. You could easily spend $50,000 developing a $100,000 Website — but if you have the tools and learn the lesson you can do this without links. The links will come. You just need to invest a whole lot of your time in analyzing your site’s performance. If you want to make money from the long tail there is no question that you can do it. The problem is that people take short-cuts and these short-cuts inevitably derail their progress. When you get caught up in search algorithmic events you destroy the value you thought you were adding to your Website. In the end you’re left with just a Website. It’s not worth a dime without an executable business plan that works. Even if you buy someone else’s Website because they are already making $100,000 a year (gross) you’re going to pay a premium for that person’s hard work. At that point you have to ask yourself: Do I want to mess with success or do I want to just keep it going until it stops? There are risks in both choices, but you probably paid anywhere from $500,000 to $1,000,000 for that Website. You need to recoup your investment sooner rather than later, especially if you failed to do your due diligence and you don’t know if or when the hammer will fall. Can You Make Only From Long Tail Traffic? Sure — anyone can make money ONLY from long tail traffic. But how much money they make and how long they make it depends on what they do to make it. The sad truth of passive income marketing is that it’s not nearly as passive as people pretend it is — and just like in other areas of producing revenue the people who are best make the most money and most of the people who are mediocre or worse make relatively little money. Or none.