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The Long Tail of the Net – Just How Important is it
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The Long Tail of the Net – Just How Important is it

Charles Buchwalter, Senior Vice President, Research & Analytics

There has been much talk in the Internet industry around the importance of the “long tail” (niche content and service-oriented sites) and how consumers gravitate to it. The central concept is that people tend to be most engaged in content that is core to their specific interests, rather than more generalized content.

Looking at our newly expanded panel that includes more than 30,000 sites, we have found that short tail sites (those with a greater than 1 percent reach) remain the most engaging brands online.

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It seems that the differentiation between the long tail and short tail is important. Long tail sites tend to have lower engagement levels than short tail sites.

However, it would be reasonable to ask: “well, since not all short tail sites are the same, what happens to those numbers if you remove portals and large social networks?” The answer is interesting. When we look at the data in relation to the highest traffic sites on the Web (e.g., Google, Yahoo!, YouTube, MySpace, Wikipedia, Apple and Facebook) here’s what happens:

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Long tail sites tend to have lower engagement levels than short tail sites; however, the largest jump isn’t between long tail and short tail, it is really between everyone and the top 10 sites.

What does this amount to? As much as anyone thinks the future is in the long tail, it’s just not the case-at least not yet. In fact, consumers feel more comfortable on large, mass media sites. We know the Internet is changing. We know there are more blogs, boards, tweets and social networks than ever before. But what’s also clear is that while the Internet itself is fragmenting (like all other media), people continue to spend their time on the sites that offer them the most options and functionality.