I just discovered a local blogger named Eric Hamilton. He recently wrote an article about The Long Tail of Search. Danny Sullivan has written about it before, and I've had account reps at Overture talk about it from time to time when they were trying to sell me on their paid inclusion service. (I believe they're calling it Search Submit now, but that could change next week).
Anyway, Eric's article takes the discussion of the search tail to a practical level and talks about how we can take advantage of the way people search by implementing a few basic principles that will help optimize our sites to show up better for a broader set of keywords.
Here's an excerpt from his article that summarizes what it takes to capture the long tail keywords:
Build more keyword-rich content, and get it indexed. In terms of over all search engine visibility, you want to concentrate on keyword placement, saturation, PageRank, and inbound links, in that order. Experienced SEOs might pitch a fit about that advice, because traditional SEO holds that linktext on inbound links is a key factor in ranking, and they would be right, but for tail terms, good keyword placement and over-all site-strength are generally enough to jump you to the top.
I have to agree with Eric on that, especially because when you're dealing with the tail keywords, you're usually not competing against other sites that have incoming links for the exact keyword that's being searched on. Those searches typically yield results that are "the closest thing the search engine can come up with", meaning there's not a lot of competition for the keywords in terms of pages with exact link text. The results tend to be more like the "old" search results (like way back in 1999 or 2000), which rely more on the on-page factors like content. So your best chance to show up for those keywords lies in acutally having the keywords on your site. A solid internal linking stucture within your site is also important so the search engines can find and index all the pages of your site.
It's a very insightful article, give it a read.