Chapter 2. The Theory of Long Tail Search


  • What is Long Tail search?

  • Long Tail vs. Broad Head

  • Working from the bottom up

  • Tying it all together

The counterpart to understanding how a search engine works is understanding how searching works. How do users find the products and information they are looking for when they go to a search engine? A lot of research has gone into answering that question, but it looks as if it always comes back to the same principles that are used in so many other areas—economics, science, mathematics, and even chaos theory.

As with everything in the universe, searching happens in patterns. Finding happens in patterns, too. Your job, as you optimize your web site, is to recognize and tap into those patterns. Fortunately, many have come before you and left behind information that makes your job much easier.

Let's define a few principles that explain how users search:

  • Zipf's Law: Developed by the linguist George Kingsley Zipf, this essentially states that the specificity of any word is inversely proportional to its rank on a frequency table. In other words, a word used often is likely to be a broad, common word, whereas a word used less often is likely to be a narrower, more specific word.

  • Pareto's Principal: Also known as the 80/20 Rule, this principle holds that for any given event, 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the activity. For example, if you subscribe to Pareto's Principle, then you probably believe that 80 percent of the work ...

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