One of the hardest things for me now that I have been blogging consistently for a few months is coming up with new topics to blog about. After I got pretty caught up on my queue I decided that it was finally time to give HitTail a try. HitTail is a service that analyzes your long tail traffic and gives you suggestions on what topics you should be targeting / writing about to improve your organic search traffic. What’s long tail? In regard to search engine optimization and marketing, it’s the keywords that occur far from the central part of the keyword distribution. Basically where the graph tapers off, which usually consists of more specific keywords that contain 3 or more words.

Enough of the jargon, let’s talk about the service. Right out of the gate, I was quite skeptical for a number of reasons. Specifically, this blog’s traffic is on the low side of what HitTail considers to be the minimum amount of traffic necessary (1,000 unique visitors per month) to be successful with their platform. The other reason was just that I didn’t think the service could provide anything that I couldn’t figure out just by looking at my Google Analytics keywords. I was sort of right on both accounts but as it turns out the value lies in the simplicity of the system just as much as what it’s doing.

To touch on the traffic, I signed up for the $9.95 a month plan which supports up to 4,000 unique visitors per month. The plan lacks some of the more automated niceties but those things seem to be included during the free trial. The automated email alerts are well worth making the jump to the pro plan for $19.95. The other big thing not included in the personal plan are the custom articles. I haven’t taken advantage of them yet, but will be in the future. The custom articles are 400 word custom articles (2-3 day turn around) that target the requested keyword. Long story short, you can outsource your content generation based on the suggestions that you receive from HitTail.

Clarification: As per Andy from HitTail, the custom articles are available for $19 a pop regardless of what plan you are subscribed to.

Regarding the suggestions, as mentioned I was skeptical about them. For the most part, the suggestions are just a regurgitation of what I could find in Google Analytics, but the suggestions themselves are broken down into what would be considered long tail and what would be conisdered top 10 keywords. Turns out this was something that I couldn’t easily put together from my Google Analytics. That became more apparent as the keyword suggestions began piling up.

What I really liked about the keyword suggestions was the fact that they not only gave me new insight to my existing blog but gave me some ideas into expanding. A lot of the suggestions I receive are related to PHP which is great, but I didn’t want to dedicate my personal blog (which does contain some PHP posts) to being a PHP-only niche blog. Problem solved, I went ahead and started PHP Avenue as a niche blog dedicated to PHP. HitTail’s pricing plans are limited to the number of unique monthly visitors you receive per month, not the number of sites. Because of this, I was able to add in my new blog to my account and have already started to see new keyword suggestions come in!

Let’s talk about about the service itself a bit more. Once HitTail makes a suggestion, you can choose to add it to your “to do” list so you can work on it later. I don’t necessarily use the option (I have my own queues for that), but liked that it was there. The other thing that I really liked was the attention to detail on using the site itself. Any time I was confused or had a question there was something on the page to help guide me further. Whether it be a video tutorial or just a link to an FAQ article at the bottom of the page. The knowledge was available right at my finger tips and didn’t leave me searching, huge plus.

And of course, I’m pretty opinionated let’s go over what I didn’t like or thought could be improved upon. Right out of the gate, the lack of a responsive and/or mobile version of the website kind of sucked. Something like checking my keywords through the day is something that I predominately do from my phone. The site is managable on mobile (iPhone 4S) but I would have liked to have seen a mobile version of the site, especially since the site itself doesn’t consist of many pages, I feel like the effort to go responsive would be minimal.

My other pain point is that the service only truly starts when you sign up for the service. I would have loved to see an option to suck in my existing years worth of Google Analytics data. I understand that it wouldn’t really work with the pricing structure but I would have been willing to pay a premium to have that much more insight into my blog. Perhaps it’s not all that feasible since search engine ranking changes all the time, but even being able to analyze the last 30 days of data would help against the dreaded cold start when you start using the service.

Amendment: Also as per Andy, Google Analytics doesn’t provide all of the data points that they already use with their existing algorithm (which has been developed for over 6 years and over 1 billion keywords!) The functionality isn’t necessarily off the table for the future though, just going to take some time to rework to use that data.

Speaking of cold starts, mostly my fault on this one, I didn’t have Vim in paste-mode when I added the HitTail Javascript to my site. The result? The HTML comment looked fine and HitTail validated that I installed the code correctly. I found out a day later that I still wasn’t collecting any data (HitTail sent an email about, which was great). Just the geek in me talking, but there’s got to be a better way to validate the code snippet being added correctly.

Overall, I’m very pleased with HitTail even considering the short time I’ve been using it. The service itself has already spawned a handful of blog topics for this blog as well as opening my eyes to the potential topics for a PHP-specific blog. I plan on continuing to use HitTail for my blogs and will most likely venture into using it on some of my non-blog sites just to see if I could benefit from having some new content pages. In the next month I plan on giving the custom article a try (they are $19 a pop) on a few of the topics I’m not interesting in writing about just to see how those do.

It’s still too early to tell if HitTail has increased my organic search traffic (as they guarantee) but the service has helped keep me flush with topics to blog about!





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