The long tail of digital content offers online publishers the potential to build an audience by creating content for niche interests. However, until recently, the long tail seemed like a dead end for many publishers.

Is the democratization of long tail content a false promise for the digital publishing industry? Or does the industry just need more time to adjust the business model to make niche and specialized content viable?

Though some commentators have proclaimed the death of the long tail, we are seeing signs of a rebirth of diverse and special interest content in the magazine industry.

1. Search is getting more personal

Until a few years ago, most companies and publishers tried to optimize their online content around short, specific search terms to attract search traffic from people who wanted information on that specific topic.

However, as a result of Google's 2013 Hummingbird updates to the search algorithm, Google is now better able to understand the user's specific intent with semantic search.

As more people treat Google as a person instead of as a search engine, searches feature questions in the style that people ask friends for advice: "How can I get rid of bed bugs?" or "What are the best family vacation destinations in Hawaii?"

Those longer, more detailed search terms have replaced short keyword phrases.

At the same time, Google appears to be rewarding long form content. According to recent studies, most of the websites that get listed on the first page of Google search results have 2,000 words or more. That is good news for magazine publishers!

More conversational search queries and more sophisticated search results tend to reward more natural-sounding content in various niches, which makes it easier to resurface long tail content.

2. Magazine publishers are opening digital archives

In the past two years, magazines such as Gramaphone, Vogue, and The New Yorker have made their archives available online.

By opening up the back catalog of past issues, magazine publishers are creating a treasure trove of older content. Rather than being useful only for research or historical purposes, more digital magazines will start creating evergreen content that is "future-proof" (i.e., still valuable in the future).
We're likely going to see more magazines operating as service organizations that help their audiences get advice and information on specific topics that won't go out of style.

3. Resurfacing content is becoming more important

Long-tail content is becoming a surprisingly big driver of traffic for online publications. For example, 50% of the monthly traffic that Forbes magazine receives comes from articles that are at least 30 days old. USA Today also recently announced a partnership with the TimeHop app to resurface iconic news headlines from the past and drive readers back to previous news articles that are relevant to recent events.

In the next evolution of digital media, magazines can serve as a beacon of content to attract readers for the long term—delivering relevant, detailed, personal content that is high quality and credible.

4. Digital magazines growth continues on mobile

Digital magazines now represent an $11 billion-dollar industry, and by 2016, online magazines are expected to make up 25% of all magazine circulation.

With the advance of mobile platforms and plug-and-play content-management technologies, publishing a mobile app has never been easier or more cost-effective. So, we're likely going to see more magazines titles available with this level playing field, with more mobile apps available.

As mobile news and entertainment consumption continues to grow, people will increasingly have access to tens of thousands of publications and millions of articles at their fingertips.

Several trends are aligning to make digital magazine content both more discoverable and relevant. People want credible, well-crafted content that answers their questions and serves their need for news and entertainment.

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The long tail is not dead. The long tail is just beginning to show new ways of how publishers can deliver value.

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Four Signs That Long-Tail Content Is Experiencing a Rebirth

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image of Beth Murphy

Beth Murphy is EVP of Product and CMO for Zinio, multiplatform distribution service for digital magazines, with more than 5,500 magazines from a wide range of publishers.

LinkedIn: Beth Murphy