Definition of HitTailing

ML Jun 18, 2006

The practice of writing for the long tail of search now has a name: HitTailing. See? Getting hits in the tail! HitTailing. But it works on so many levels!

Consider the evolution of commerce: Bartering, Retailing, and Wholesaling. Each method of reaching the consumer has different advantages and disadvantages. Retail was traditionally many small outlets that reached the consumer where they lived. Walmart perfected the art. Wholesale wasn’t much of an option for the consumer until outlets like CostCo, BJ’s and Sam’s Place made it a feasible mainstream option for the consumer. You usually had to drive further and buy larger quantities to shop wholesale, but the cost savings made it worth it.

Yesterday, outlets like Amazon and eBay took it to the next level. Some call it eTailing. Delivery of goods is achieved through shipping services like UPS, FedEx, USPS and others. But there is theoretically no limit to the warehousing of goods or available shelf space. The only limit is you have to go through custom properties to search: Amazon and eBay, respectively. The fancy word “disintermediation” started getting thrown around, which is basically the cutting out of the middle man–between a well-known seller and a buyer who might be anywhere. Yes, even with eBay, you must consider it one seller, because the products are only served by one site’s search tool.

But we’ve ALREADY moved beyond that. We already see the change occurring with such services as ShopWiki, which takes ALL eStores into account when you do your search. You can therefore do some real long tail shopping and dig up obscure items that would never get listed anywhere else. Participation in eBay or Yahoo Stores not required. You can use osCommerce, or any other shopping cart software.

But the process doesn’t begin and end with eStores. Many of the people who have something to sell may be using Yahoo Stores, eBay, or even old-fashioned certified checks and money orders sent in the mail. They’re rather low-tech, and really shouldn’t have to buy into anything more than the most rudimentary Web publishing system to get the word out. You mustn’t be beholden to a particular eStore technology, a custom site’s search tool, or even a particular search engine to reach your customers. The days of walled gardens in online shopping are over. If you publish correctly, EVERY mainstream search tool becomes a means of finding you. Today, there are three big ones in the US market: Yahoo, Google and MSN. Ask makes a fourth. And internationally, you can’t ignore Baidu, the Chinese search engine that is perhaps as big as any of them. How do you appeal to ALL search engines simultaneously without burdensome and complex international keyword campaigns? Easy, the next generation of commerce: HitTailing!

HitTailing relies on the seller using some sort of Internet publishing system that follows best practices for search engine optimization. That’s not difficult. Once you’ve chosen Blogger, WordPress or Movable Type, you’ve pretty much accomplished this. They all use descriptive title tags that also appears in the URL, a headline element, and in a few links leading to your page from elsewhere on your site. The unspoken point here is that this is ALL you will ever need to do for the foreseeable future, because that’s all the wisdom of the crowd will ever be able to agree on.

This is a subtle and counter-intuitive, but true. Today’s mechanical best practices for SEO are going to be with us for a long time, and hold more sway than any new XML format or semantic Web trick or even taggnig. In fact, the semantic Web is already here. Use bold when it’s important. Use a headline when it’s the main topic. Use a blockquote when it’s a quote. See? The meaning is already there. Nothing has set back the semantic Web like the div and span tag. And unless tags are backed by a decentralized system like DNS which also accounts for reputation, then tags are just bricks to build more walled gardens. But I digress.

In HitTailing, we approach the theoretical ideal in commerce: if you sell it, they will come. From each according to their abilities to each according to their needs. Whoops, are we talking about Capitalism or Marxism here? Get it? The lines begin to blur with HitTailing. Extended to its theoretical limits, every person will be able to make a comfortable living by whatever they can provide for which there is demand. And the means of connecting providers with consumers is… general… search!

That’s right. HitTailing is about moving the magical product-finding search from inside the walled gardens of the eBay and Amazon in-site search to the general search of Google, Yahoo and MSN. And it’s about doing it with out without the consent of the search engines themselves–but in a way that doesn’t incur wrath, either. HitTailing is an emergent behavior that was invited by the massively more appealing nature of general search. Those who practice HitTailing are entering a graceful co-dependent relationship with natural search.

You can see this happening today in how so many of us end up on Wikipedia through a Google search. Why should such an exalted capability be reserved for mega-sites? Why can’t every single business partake in the bounty that is excellent natural search positioning? The answer is, you can. Most people just don’t know how. They don’t understand that where they’re ALMOST doing well in natural search is their most logical starting point. The HitTail site tries to instill that revelation.

But it’s difficult. It’s a flash of insight. A moment of revelation. Just as the emergent wisdom of the crowd is counter-intuitive, so is using where you almost do well in search as a starting point. You’re already found on that word, so why target it? You have to introduce a bit of strategic thinking. Just because you’ve landed on the beach in Normandy doesn’t mean you’ve liberated Paris, much less the rest of Europe. Your landing is only a beachhead. It’s a logical place to begin your assault, because you must start somewhere.

You’ve got a long battle ahead with HitTailing. Even though it is the next step in the evolution of commerce, writing for the long tail of search, and reaching your customer base through general search, is a long-term proposition. But just as building a business to last is worth it, so is building a strong natural search presence. Because remember, you’re not gaming Google. You’re building genuine reputation by leaving a breadcrumb trail of clues that all the search engines are going to have to acknowledge to for years to come, no matter how search evolves.

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