Is Quora A Next Generation Long Tail Play?

Quora has started to catch quite the buzz lately thanks to posts from smart people like Louis Gray and the early adopter crowd. I’ve been an observer for awhile but not a participant other than creating a page to test-drive the app. Why? Same reason I don’t edit sites like wikiHow. Because I already contribute content (for free, purely to help others) in self-hosted communities I’ve built for years.

And a contributing factor of most vertical-specific site success is the long tail of search. I share very specific ideas that a small subset of the population are interested in. I’m sure your company or blog is similar: some of the most valuable traffic is via very specific queries in the tail.

That’s Quora’s game except to be horizontal, and if you’re answering or asking questions there you’re helping them win it. That’s basically how sites like Mahalo, Yahoo Answers and eHow function – they become (maybe) useful hubs of information on the cheap and dominate the tail (and sometimes the head) of search.

Quora is a nicer packaged version of this and has an smart community using them thanks to a good user experience. I’m not saying it’s not an interesting service and of course has alot of good content. It is, and it does – but let’s not turn a blind eye to their play to acquire content and links and win SERPs. Let’s look at some of their initial equity racked up:

link data: unfiltered links via Majestic SEO, page data via Yahoo Site Explorer

Not bad at all for a relatively new site. Quora does have a long way to go to catch their competitors but they’re already starting to win SERPs, i.e.:

How does all this translate into traffic?  They’re beginning to get some good traction:

Data via Compete

However this is just a fraction of their less buzz-worthy competitors. Despite some people yelling “the sky is falling” on search – the answer factories continue to trend up by providing content to feed the tail. So long as they prove useful to consumers the engines aren’t going to stop ranking them. This is a (sample) of the real market they are playing in and provides some context:

Data via Compete

But what’s the takeaway for the rest of us? I.E. – those of us with our own vertical-specific sites and blogs (pretty much all of you)?

With my consumer hat on, Quora is super interesting. With my marketing hat on – just like any other outpost – I would caution companies about building out authority pages on Quora ahead of their own sites to answer specific questions. Remember that Quora is specifically designed to win SERPs – likely at the expense of your own high value, vertical-specific pages which make more sense to get found in search ahead of behemoth Q&A sites.

As part of a spoke of efforts Quora has marketing potential. But most companies don’t even fund their own inbound marketing programs enough yet to justify a focus away from their own blogs and sites. Nearly every company already spends way too much time external of their own web properties vs. taking advantage of the opportunity staring them in the face. Thus sites like Quora (they’re certainly not alone in this space) will eat a free lunch on every topic, because no one bothers to answer consumer and market demand on their own properties.

While Quora in particular is a neat service and certainly does have interesting social potential think carefully about your efforts here (and the search/social juice your company throws this type of site). One of their core tactics is obviously search and it feels like, coupled with social signal generated as part of the design, a next generation play to win the tail.