You have probably all read much about The Long Tail lately. The term was coined back in October, and it has spawned many articles since then. One of the best is from SEW, called Search's Long Tail. In that article, Danny sums up the long tail in terms of SEO as getting the onesies and twosies, the queries that might only happen once or twice in a month. Maybe they don't seem important because of the low volume individually, but tap into lots of onesies and twosies, and you can be doing well. Of course, forum threads have long recommended going after these terms, and although the term long tail might be new, the concept really is not.
So what have I personally experienced in regards to the long tail? For a long time, not much. Many of my sites are in extreme niches. So extreme, in fact, that there really are only a handful of phrases that would ever be used to search for the topic. I did not choose these niches because they were extreme, but simply because they were where my interests lie. On the other hand, I do have a collection of sites that are much more general in nature, and I have noticed over the last year, that many of my visitors were arriving via the long tail of searches. I noticed, but I didn't really stop to think about it much.
A month ago, however, I created a new site that is the type to draw in lots of long tail searches. Of course, being so new, Google is ignoring it completely, but it is ranking very well in Yahoo! and MSN for tons of specific phrases, as well as the main targeted phrases. After analyzing the log files, it is very clear that the long tail is worth aiming for. 49% of all visitors are arriving via the long tail, despite the fact that the main phrases rank very well. Without these onesies and twosies, I would lose nearly half of all my traffic to the site.
The really good news is that I have had to put almost no effort into optimizing for the long tail, and in many cases, neither would you. Because these types of phrases are generally not optimized for, the competition is often non-existant. So if you throw in the usual on-page optimization, and your internal linking uses the proper anchor text, that alone may be enough to shower you with long tail visits.
My point is that even if you know that you should be thinking about the long tail, it makes sense to remind you to think about it again. With the threat of losing rankings with every search engine update always looming, it is vital to make sure you receive traffic from as many avenues as possible. The long tail is an avenue that can be lucrative now matter what changes a search engine makes to its algorithm. Think about it, and then think about it again. It could make a big difference.