Don’t Forget the Long Tail: It Can Deliver Value

Feb 13, 2015

Top tasks matter. Visitors come to your website with specific goals in mind. Using a top-task methodology can be particularly useful when redesigning your homepage. But, top tasks aren’t the whole story.

Our government websites also have a large range of tiny tasks that, when managed carefully, have the potential to deliver value.

In The Stranger’s Long Neck, Gerry McGovern explains how, when visitors come to your website, they have a small set of top tasks they want to complete quickly and easily. He calls these tasks the “long neck.” They’re also sometimes referred to as the “short head.”

Graph showing long neck, body, and tail; from Gerry McGovern's The Strangers' Long Neck

According to McGovern, the breakdown is:

  • 5% of content accounts for 25% of the demand (the long neck);
  • 35% of content accounts for 55% of the demand (the body);
  • 60% of content accounts for 20% of the demand (the long tail).

Amazon and other businesses have realized great success by focusing on the long tail. A former Amazon employee once explained why they focus on the long tail instead of bestsellers by saying, “We sold more books today that didn’t sell at all yesterday than we sold today of all the books that did sell yesterday.”

While a tongue twister, it drives home how a search box (with good, relevant content behind it) can meet the demands of the long tail.

At DigitalGov Search, we power the search box on 1,500 government websites and, like Amazon, we’ve found that we got more searches on terms today that didn’t get searched yesterday than we got searches today on all the terms that got searched yesterday—by quite a bit!

Number of searches on terms today that didn’t get any searches yesterday: 50,713.

Number of searches today on all the terms that got searched on yesterday: 31,215.

Do your search analytics tell the same story? Look at them, and use them to deliver value and help your site’s visitors complete their long tail tasks.