Monday, December 21, 2009

3 Steps to Getting Optimized on a Global Scale

I challenge you to a test.
  • Take a selection (maybe 10) of your most important SEO keywords
  • Identify the local language equivalent in your most important markets, outside of the US
  • Get someone in your local country office to type in each keyword in the local engine (one Google, one other), and record your SEO rank
  • Then also get them to record your competitors' rank.

If you are ranking well, then no need to read any further - congratulations for being awesome. If, however, your results are on the scary side, then join the club. Here are 3 basic steps for helping you get back on track:

Step 1: Set up Local Language Sites
So I sort of lied - I know that this is far from a basic step, especially if you are starting up from scratch. But if you are a global company, then it's close to impossible to rank well organically for important local language keywords without having a local language site.

One work around (or cheat) would be to sponsor local language keywords in order to show up on the PPC side, also translating your adcopy. Of course, when this person then gets taken to an English language site, they will likely be a little pissed about it, and rightly so. So you should not be surprised when you see significantly lower conversions when doing this.

Step 2: Build Your SEO Keyword List
If you haven't already, then make sure you have an SEO Keyword List in English. This should consist of your most important keywords (and Prefered Landing Pages [PLPs]) that you want to be appearing for in the SERP.

Then take these English keywords and ask your local country contacts to help translate them into the appropriate local language(s). Now because several different translations may exist for the same English keyword, you want to make sure that you have identified the best one – best in terms of both volume and quality.

i. Volume
Check for estimate search volumes using the Google Keyword Tool, and the "Country" and "Language" toggles. Generally speaking, the higher the keyword volume, the better as you don’t want to be spending lots of time optimizing for a keyword translation that no-one is searching on. However, with this you also want to take into account quality, as high volume keywords can sometimes be too broad.

ii. Quality
The best way to check for quality, is to look at your PPC results (in particular, some kind of quality score or conversion indicator) for that keyword. If you’re not sponsoring the keyword already, then test it out in PPC first (about two week's of data is usually sufficient).

In addition to simply translating your English keywords, you can also get other good ideas for SEO keywords from PPC, so remember to check out PPC keyword performance for each language. You may come across a keyword that doesn't work well in terms of an "English keyword translation", but works fantastically within that particular country.

Important note: It’s really important to get your keyword list right (as you will spend a lot of time optimizing your site for these words), so don’t skimp on the time/effort to put these lists together - it will save time in the long-term.

3. Optimize Your Local Pages
Once you have your keyword list in place for each language, optimize each local language PLP according to the keyword. At a minimum, make sure you optimize according to the HABIT checklist.

Then of course, continue to monitor, optimize and add keywords to improve your placement and presence over time.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Google gets Personal, Quick, and Snappy

...but have they also got sloppy? Last week, Google made three interesting announcements regarding search marketing. Here's a quick summary, and some thoughts around these:

1. Personalized Search
It seemed inevitable that search needed to evolve from a general to a more personalized level. Google's Personalized Search attempts to do just that by using past search history to serve up more relevant results for each individual. This is the case regardless of whether you are signed into Google or not, and it seems that Google have made the opt-out process quite difficult to figure out (not to mention that most searchers will likely be oblivious to it). This, of course, brings up the question of privacy, even more so since there has been talk of cookies being opt-in in Europe in 2011.

What does this mean for SEOs?
Results can now rank higher or lower based upon an individual's past click behaviour rather than just the search algorithm. This makes SEO harder to optimize for (even more so than before) and can make SEO measurement more complex; measures of success will need to move beyond a traditional rank metric.

To see more, watch Google's Personalized Search Video.

2. Real-Time Search
Relevance has always been a big factor in good search results, but with the continued rise of social media, recency is becoming more and more important.

Google's Real-Time Search results sit in the middle of the SERP and automatically flow as new information comes in, mainly from Twitter (though it also includes results from Google News, Google Blog Search, Friend Feed updates and others). Alternatively, you can also click on "Show options" and "Latest" to see a page just with real-time results. Here's what it looks like:

Example of Google Real-Time Search Results (Show Options > Latest)

Although the results are integrated into the SERP, execution doesn't seem to be the cleanest - which begs the question of whether Google launched real-time search as a knee jerk reaction to Bing. Many reviews I've read have also commented that the results are below par and can be easily influenced, though Google claim that only information that is highly relevant (and not spammy) are included... though actual results suggest otherwise.

Other questions also arise regarding Google's current implementation. For example, with the real-time search results appearing slap-bam in the middle of the SERP, will this mean more people investing in PPC in order to gain more control of their presence above the fold? And will it encourage people to spam more to try and influence real-time results?

What are the implications for search marketers?
Regardless of current execution (which will hopefully improve), search and social are becoming more and more intertwined. Quite simply, web marketers need to get their search marketing and social media strategies in order as the two continue to converge.

Read more about Real-Time Search.

3. Google Goggles
Google Goggles (launched in Google Labs) allows you to simply take a picture (with an Andorid phone) to search the web. It doesn't work for everything and a valuable business application right now is questionable. However, it is pretty neat in a geeky, experimental kind of way.

Some of the things you can do include:
  • Finding out what businesses are nearby
  • Identifying objects, places and landmarks
  • Identifying products through barcodes
See Google Goggles in action.

Monday, December 7, 2009

How to Achieve Success in PPC Reseller Programs

On more than a few occasions, I've been asked to take part in joint PPC programs with resellers. Sometimes the programs have worked really well, other times they have been less than inspiring.

Overall, I've seen mixed results. Here's a few thoughts on some of the lessons learned and what worked best:

Although having PPC placements by both you and your resellers mean less shelf-space available to your competitors, competing on bids with your resellers is not always the most efficient use of money, especially when budgets are tight. By pooling resources together you can work to improve placement and increase coverage throughout the day. Collaborating on day-parting can also work well to reduce bidding conflicts.

Probably the most important thing is to make sure your reseller has good site analytics in place. There's no point in driving your PPC traffic to the reseller site if they can't track what happens to these people once they hit their site. This may sound obvious, but shoddy, even non-existent, tracking has happened more times than I'd like to remember.

Resellers are exactly that; they are about selling. More often than not, the expectation is that resellers have e-commerce capabilities on their site. Therefore, targeting intent through specific "buy" phrases can work well to encourage online purchase (even more so if your own site lacks e-commerce). However, remember to make sure that your reseller's site can track your PPC investment through to online sale.

Dedicated Landing Page
Be prepared to drive traffic and key conversions for keywords away from your site to the reseller. This is ok, as long as they have tracking in place and searchers are being moved towards a sale. However, be sure that the reseller is landing searchers on a page focused just on your products (for example, a dedicated landing page or microsite). Remember that if the reseller also sells competitor products then you risk the visitor wandering towards competing products, from your paid ad.

Channel Conflict
If you have a number of resellers covering the same geographical areas and products, then you risk channel conflict issues, particularly if your PPC program is just with a selected few.

If this is the case, then sometimes it is best to make joint PPC programs a part of Reseller Certification. For example, companies with many resellers often organize their authorized resellers into different levels (such as Platinum, Gold, and Silver), depending on business requirements. The higher their level, the more support the partner receives. PPC Co-Op programs could be part of this support.

As an example, in order to benefit from joint PPC programs, the reseller has to:

  • Be a platinum-level partner
  • Have e-commerce capability
  • Have robust website analytics in place
  • Have a microsite dedicated to your products

Monday, November 30, 2009

Putting SEO Back in the Spotlight

When I look at SEO and PPC as part of the search marketing mix, I know how important the role of SEO is. I've heard what the experts have said and read the studies that tell me things like how searchers trust organic results more, and that searchers click on organic results more than paid.

Yet despite knowing this, when I look back at my past search marketing plans, 80% of the plan details were focused on PPC, whilst only 20% was on SEO; almost as if it were an after-thought. Maybe it was because it seemed easier to just throw money at paid search. Afterall, it requires less effort, is easier to control (you can turn it on or off in an instant), metrics are often easier to track, and since big media investments are being made then detailed targets and metrics have to be clearly set out up front.

But what about SEO?

The skewed PPC focus had been bothering me for a while. So with web tracking more in order than prior years, I was able to delve into comparative metrics.

When comparing SEO to PPC, I found that in the past year, SEO delivered:
  • 10% more clicks than PPC
  • 4X more key conversions

It was the conversion comparison that struck me most, since these were *big* numbers (a key conversion in this case was where the visitor provided information about themselves and indicated an intention to purchase). Yet this shouldn't have been a big surprise. I guess seeing data specific to your business helps to bring the message closer to home.

So the moral of the story:
  • Don't put SEO in the corner. Organic search delivers, so it should always be at the forefront of search marketing and your plans.

  • Yes, SEO is free where clicks are concerned but it doesn't mean that you don't invest in it. In order to flourish, it needs to be given the necessary time, resource, and commitment it so clearly deserves.

  • And last but not least, get your web tracking in order. It will provide you with the most valuable insight relevant to your business.
For me, at least, it is time to put SEO back into the spotlight.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Social Media 101: Q & A Essentials

On Thursday I took part in a Social Media 101 panel, held by Business Wire where I met lots of interesting people; some new to social media and some more experienced. There were many good questions asked by the audience. Here's a small selection of some of these.

Should businesses use Facebook or Twitter?
There is a view that you should just jump straight in, use the tools, and see where it leads. Personally, I disagree with this approach. The question shouldn't be about whether to use Facebook, or Twitter, or both. Rather, the questions should be:
  • What is it you want to achieve?
  • Can social media help you to achieve this?
  • Are your customers using social media?
  • And if so, what social media channels they are using?
This can help form the beginnings of your social media strategy, from which tactics can be derived. Maybe you do find that Twitter is more suited to your business than Facebook (or vice versa). But maybe you find that blogs and community forums are better at achieving your objectives. At least by approaching it this way, you aren't deep diving into tools or losing sight of what it is you are trying to achieve.

Also check out:
The "5 Knows" of Social Media
There is no Twitter Strategy.

Do you have any tips to get started?
I always recommend to read the book Groundswell, if you haven't already. The POST method (People, Objectives, Strategy and Technologies) in this book will really help to structure your thoughts for your social media strategy.

Also if you don't fully understand the workings of some of the tools, a good way to gain a practical understanding is to simply experiment and try them out personally in order to get familiar with the workings and nuances of them.

How do you separate work from personal?
For myself, it is very easy to keep work and personal separate in the social space. For business, I share content related to the company I work for, that helps solve our customer's challenges, and for personal I focus on my interest in search and social media. There is a very clear line.

However, the line is more blurred for someone who may be a consultant in the social media field. Adding in non-business related information helps to make them and their personal brand more human. But there are ways to make businesses more human also, including a person picture, using conversational language, and having a person update tweets rather than just using it as an RSS feed.

Also check out:
10 Tips for Using Twitter for Business.

How do you get lots of followers on Twitter?
One view to get lots of followers is to follow lots of people in the hope that they follow you back. However, sometimes it's all too easy to get wrapped up in number counting. What is more important is to focus upon quality of followers over quantity. As an example, you may get a high number of responses from a demand generation Email, but if those responses don't convert into a lead or a sale, then the number of responses you get is almost arbitrary.

A better approach is to provide interesting content and make use of popular keywords within your tweets so that you show up in searches. This way you attract followers who are interested in your content, rather than the "I'll follow you and you follow me" approach.

What are common mistakes in Social Media?
Probably the biggest mistake is thinking that you can't make a mistake. I think Charlene Li put it best by saying that at the end of the day, mistakes are inevitable because social media is about relationships, and no relationship is perfect. The key is to learn from your mistakes and learn from them quickly so that you don't do it again.

Another common mistake to make is to believe that you are in control of social media. Just because you have a plan in place doesn't mean that you are in control. People will always be having conversations about you, your brand, your products, your competitors. The best you can do is to ensure that you are listening to these conversations so that if anything negative does get said, then you can address the problem quickly and in a positive way.

Thanks again to Business Wire and @laurentoday for inviting me to take part in the event.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The "5 Knows" of Social Media

I love social media. I can say with complete confidence that I am one of the biggest supporters of social media in my company. But at the same time I am also one of its biggest critics.

When I think about social media, my head explodes with all of the possibilities it brings - being able to listen to our customers, engage with them, help them to solve problems, share solutions. But at the same time I have to face the harsh realities of working in a highly accountable, under-funded and under-staffed marketing organization, during one of the crappiest economies that most people have seen in their lifetime.

This is why, before jumping on the social media bandwagon, it is important to consider and understand the "5 Knows" of Social Media:

1. Know Your Audience
Are your audience using social media within the industry in which you operate? And if so, which social media tools are they using (for business, not pleasure)? If you are a global organization, then how does this differ by region and country?

If you don't know the answers to these questions, then you need to consider how to get this information. Forrester have a useful Social Technographics Tool that can provide general information by gender, age group, and country. Is this enough to provide you with what you need? Or do you need to get more customer-specific data, for example from:
  • Website or Email surveys
  • Customer focus group research
  • Third party research (such as industry magazines)

2. Know What You Want to Achieve
What is it exactly that you want to get out of social media? Do you want to lurk and listen to customers' conversations to gain a better understanding of their challenges and views? Do you want to engage and interact with them on a regular basis? Do you want to embrace their ideas and use these to drive product development? Do you simply want to support existing customers? What about branding vs. demand considerations? Different tools have different levels of reach when it comes to branding, demand and traffic.

Knowing what you want to achieve from the outset will help you best determine which social media tools (of which there are so many) will best accomplish your objectives. It will also help to keep you on the straight and narrow, so that you do things for the right reasons, not just because it's cool and everyone else is doing it.

3. Know What You Can (And Cannot) Track
Showing a direct link between social media and ROI is extremely difficult. So it is important to understand that in most cases, the metrics associated with social media will be softer measures, centered around engagement and awareness. For example:

  • The number of subscribers to your blog
  • The number of retweets and clicks on tweeted links
  • The number of active forum members

4. Know How to Integrate Social Media Within Your Marketing Mix
Social media may be relatively new, but in the grand scheme of things it is just another tool in the marketer's tool box.

More and more companies are finding opportunities to successfully leverage social media with other marketing communications tools. For example, BestBuy's Twelpforce (who provide technical advice to people on Twitter) was supported by a TV advertising campaign, Paid search ads and spawned a ton of PR coverage.

5. Know How Much Time and Resources are Needed
Social media requires a lot of time and commitment, and so to do it properly requires adequate budget and resources. Blogs can be updated daily. Tweets can be updated hourly, or by the minute. Posts on forums need to be continuously monitored and addressed.

In a way, social media is like a child. Once you have it, you can't just return it when it starts to scream and poop. You're stuck with it. Content and relationships need to be maintained on an ongoing basis, unlike a direct mailer or E-comm which you might send out once a month and not have to think about or work on again until the next time.

Once you and your content is out in the social universe for all to see, there is no undo button. There may be a "discontinue account" button, but it's at the risk of disappointing the fans and followers you do have (as an extreme, just think of the upheaval caused when Miley Cyrus gave up Twitter!). In which case, do you risk a potential back-lash from the people who are possibly your biggest advocates?

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Twitter List Low Down

Twitter Lists has been available to some lucky users in Beta for a while, but last week saw its full roll out to the rest of the Twitter universe.

What is Twitter Lists?
Twitter Lists is a feature in Twitter that allows you to categorize the people you follow. Right now, you can create up to 20 lists, and each list can have up to 500 users. You can make the lists public (for everyone to access) or private. Here's an example of what it looks like:

Twitter Lists Screenshot: Create your own lists and be added to others' lists

Why is Twitter Lists Useful?

1. Better Organization
Twitter Lists allow for better organization of your followers, particularly if you follow a lot of people. It also makes it easier to filter tweets from different groups of people which is helpful if you follow a bunch of Twitter addicts who like to tweet every minute, of every day!

For example, if you just want to see what is going on amongst your friends in "real life", you can create a list that just includes the people you personally know. You could also organize a list of people who tweet about social media and a list of people focused on search marketing, and then easily see what information is being talked about for each of these different areas.

2. Provide Recommendations
If you have taken the time to create a list and add people to it, then that often implies a recommendation for those people, for the field you have categorized them into. Public-viewable lists also allow an easy way for users to find and follow people in lists that have been created.

There has been speculation that Twitter Lists could be the death of #FollowFriday. Personally, I think Follow Friday will continue to live on, since list creation is not something everyone will take the time to do. Rather, Twitter Lists and Follow Friday have the potential to complement each other. For example, rather than listing individual people in a Follow Friday, users can now just link to a Twitter List.

3. Identify Influencers
When a person has been added to many lists (and there is a similar categorization across those lists), you can start to gain an idea as to who the big players or influencers are in that field. This provides another way of judging big Twitter influencers, in addition to just looking at the number of followers a person has (particularly since there are ways to cheat the system where follower volume is concerned).

4. Positioning By Others
Twitter Lists provide interesting insight into how followers view you. This can be particularly eye-opening for companies on Twitter. How is your company's brand, positioning and values defined by your customers? And how does this differ to your corporate definition? As an example, @comcastcares is currently on 330 lists, ranging from various technology and service-related descriptions (such as tech and customersupport), to more emotional categorizations ranging from brandsirespect to punkassesandidiots.

Additional Twitter List Tools
  • Listorious provides a directory of public Twitter Lists
  • Listiti provides Twitter List Email Alerts

Monday, November 2, 2009

Search Goes Social

Last week was an eventful week for search and social marketing. First there was the announcement that Twitter had signed deals with both Bing and Google to give them access to its full feed of public tweets. How exactly the search engines intend to use this real-time information from Twitter remains a little fuzzy, though Bing does already utilize some of this in Bing Tweets.

On the same day Google announced a separate "Social Search" experiment in Google Labs. Google's Social Search displays links and updates based upon the searcher's own social network. The idea is to show personally relevant search results based upon your social connections. Why? Because people trust information more from people they know or are connected to.

The results (currently appearing at the bottom of the standard search results page) are based on various information sources, such as:
  • Gmail contacts
  • Google reader subscriptions
  • Social networking profiles on your Google profile
  • Friends on other services, including Flickr, FriendFeed, Digg, YouTube...
These search results also tell you how you are connected to that person; a nice touch.

There has been much talk about the growing convergence of search and social as well as predictions of their marriage in the future. But these are promising signs of the major engines taking serious steps forward where social media is concerned.

Learn More

To check out Google Social Search yourself, go to Google Labs and join the Social Search Experiment.

To understand How Google Social Search Works, watch the YouTube video by Matt Cutts.

Monday, October 26, 2009

How Search and Social Solved my Move

I'm doing the dreaded apartment move at the end of this month. But the move this time around has been a slightly different experience from the last. This time, I was more aware of how search and social could help make things easier, and I gained some key takeaways about how my own experience can help me to become a better search and social marketer.

The main problem when moving is trying to figure out how many boxes you need. I did a general search on "moving boxes" and although it wasn't the top organic result, U-Haul (the only brand I recognized in the top three organic positions) appeared, which was a bit of a surprise since I only know them for their vans, and not for boxes.

I clicked on the U-Haul link and got taken directly to a page with customized moving kits. Once on their site, U-Haul help you choose box types and quantities depending upon the size of your home (ranging from a dorm room up to a 2-bed house). So easy. They also allow you to customize the kit you choose. For example, if you didn't want a tape gun then you could just take it out and add another medium-sized box instead. Furthermore, if you overestimate on the box front, then no problem, as U-Haul buys back any unused boxes from you!

Key Takeaways:

  • Being in a top 3 organic position really is golden (above the fold, page 1, within the "golden triangle")
  • Scent from keyword, to SERP listing (copy), to landing page is key
  • Brand recognition plays an important role in click-thru (even if the brand is appearing for an area in which you don't normally associate that brand with)
  • Landing page guarantees help to reinforce trust and move people through the decision cycle
After my last DIY moving experience, I came to the wise decision of hiring movers to do it for me. However, finding movers is a slightly more complex task than finding boxes. It requires a higher investment, and there is a much bigger trust factor involved. Care is one concern, as is reliability (ie: not having someone drive off with my entire life's contents in the back of their van!).

Rather than do a standard Google search, I first went to Angie's List to get an idea of reliable movers in my area. Angie's List is specifically focused on ratings and reviews of home service providers. Due to the nature of this site, I associated a higher trust factor with the reviews on here, rather than from the web at large.

I also sent a message out on Twitter asking if anyone could provide a recommendation. This is what happened:

[imeldak] Can anyone recommend any good residential moving companies in Portland Oregon?

[movingpro] @imeldak i'm not in ur area but B sure 2 check reputation w/ BBB, yrs in biz, awards 4 service. Reputation saves u $

[imeldak] @movingpro Thanks. It's a shame I'm not in Cali, otherwise you guys would've been perfect

[movingpro] @imeldak I'm sorry to! but check out our site there r lots of helpful tips 4 ur move

Call me a push-over, but based on this interaction, along with the helpful information I found on their site, I would now recommend NorthStar Moving Corp (@movingpro) to friends and family I have in California, and anyone else who was looking for a recommendation. I even did a Follow Friday for them.

Key Takeaways:

  • Sometimes Google is not always the right search engine to use; it really does depend on the task
  • I trust recommendations based upon interactions with my Twitter contacts more than recommendations made on sites by complete strangers
  • Never underestimate the importance of listening to keywords on Twitter
  • Successful engagement on Twitter can earn brand advocates

Monday, October 19, 2009

There is no "Twitter Strategy"

When it comes to social media, the focus - by nature - should always be on people and relationships, not tools. This means that social media planning does not begin with a Twitter strategy.

If you've read any of my previous posts, you will be familiar with my disdain towards that popular question "What's your Twitter strategy?" *puke*. As we know, Twitter can be used to help achieve certain objectives and strategies, but should not be seen as a strategy in itself; it is a tool to get things done. Just like direct mail is one tactic that can be used to generate demand, Twitter is a tool that can be used to listen and engage with customers.

This is important for people within an organization to understand, and it is more than just about being a terminology snob. Why? As with all planning, if you start deep diving directly into tools and tactics without knowing exactly what it is you are trying to achieve and why, then there is risk of completely missing the point, and wasting time and money on executing the wrong things, for the wrong reasons.

This is why I've found it useful to use a matrix-like system to help organize thoughts and avoid the tactical deep dive approach. The headings (objective, strategy, tactics and tools) help provide focus for your ideas. You can then use this as a template to build out the details around your plan (not forgeting metrics, of course).

Here's an example:

Planning Matrix Example

Monday, October 12, 2009

Should you Pay-Per-Click When Your SEO is Strong?

You've optimized and optimized and you've finally managed to get that coveted SEO top spot. Time to turn off your PPC, right? Not so fast. One thing I've learned is that search marketing isn't always clear-cut.

I often get asked why we continue to sponsor some keywords when we are already ranking high on the SEO side. So here's a quick summary discussing the benefits of doing SEO-only versus keeping PPC running alongside SEO.

Approach 1: SEO-Only
Once you have gained a top SEO position, then one approach is not to continue sponsoring these keywords in PPC anymore. Why cannibalize your free click stream with clicks that you have to pay for? If your budget is stretched then you can use this money to better support keywords that aren't showing up organically. Afterall, searchers trust organic results and according to Marketing Sherpa, the Top 5 SEO rankings command 55% of clicks.

Approach 2: Combined PPC and SEO
There is nothing in the SEO-only approach that I don't agree with. However, I do believe that there is value in keeping PPC running alongside SEO, particularly for those golden keywords that convert well. Here's a few reasons why:

1. Reassurance to the Searcher
Having a presence in both SEO and PPC helps to reassure a searcher that you are relevant to the search they have carried out, and that you are the right next step to click on. Sure there will be some cannibalization along the way, but often the combined clicks are higher than just having a presence in SEO alone. However, these numbers are worth testing out for yourself.

2. Shelf Space
Searchers may trust SEO results, but almost 20% of them are still clicking on PPC ads (Marketing Sherpa). By appearing in both organic and paid search positions, you increase your visibility and in effect, double your shelf space in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). One more position that belongs to you, means one less that can be taken up by your competitors.

If you are interested, check out this article by Kevin Lee (ClickZ) which explains more about the concept of Search Marketing Shelf Space.

3. Control
Just because you are in a top SEO position today, isn't to say that you will stay there. SEO is very fluid and you have to constantly monitor and optimize in order to stay on top.

- Position
One benefit of PPC over SEO is that it is a lot more controllable. If having a top SEO and top PPC position is too much overkill, then look to achieve a balance. If you command a top SEO position then you can afford to bid slightly less for a lower PPC position - this way you are still providing reassurance to the searcher, maintaining that double shelf space, whilst not spending as much to achieve it.

- Preferred Landing Page (PLP)
Sometimes your SEO entry doesn't lead people to the preferred landing page you want people to see when they click through from the SERP. With PPC you can control/tailor both the adcopy and the PLP to better match the intent of the searcher, or guide the searcher towards a particular outcome/conversion of your choosing.

For example, if you do a search on the word "Google", "Google" appears in both the top SEO and PPC positions. The organic entry leads people to, but the paid ad encourages people to "Make Google Your Homepage" with a direct link to that page.

There are fors and againsts for both approaches, but it is worth not automatically ruling out PPC when your SEO is strong, especially for those high-converting keywords. What is important, is to continually monitor spend and performance to make sure that your PPC is providing enough return.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Q&A: Should Companies be Scared of Google Sidewiki?

What the Heck is Google Sidewiki?
On 23rd September, Google unveiled a new toolbar feature for web browsers that allow anyone to add comments and notes about web pages - including your web page - in a sidebar. Users can make comments about the page as a whole, or reference specific content on the page. Here's what it looks like:

Google Sidewiki - Allows Anyone to Comment on your Web Page

Why, Oh Why?
The social media beast continues to grow. Almost everywhere you look online, people are talking, commenting, interacting and rating companies and their products - be it through forums and blog posts; on Amazon, Twitter and Facebook; and now on your site too.

According to Google, Sidewiki will help people to:
  • More easily contribute to any web page and help others
  • Learn from others who have visited a page before you
Isn't that a bit "Pie in the Sky"?
Definitely. Sidewiki works on the basis that people are altruistic, and this is true to a certain extent. We see this all the time in forums - people like to help people and put their knowledge on stage. It makes contributors feel good and valued, despite there being no monetary gain.

However, with the good, also comes the bad. Sidewiki - as with most social media - opens things up to abusers who are not looking to add value, but rather to write insults, spread rumors and post spam. It also means competitors can go in and add comments, which could include tactics that tell visitors to go to their site and buy their products instead.

What Does This Mean?
Whether you like it or not, your web site just went social. Visitors can now voice their feedback on your pages using Sidewiki. Unlike before, feedback is now attached to your site, rather than just through some disparate blog or third-party site. This means that if you're not already, it's time to seriously start listening, participating in and embracing feedback and interaction.

So Should Companies be Scared?
This depends on a number of things, including:

1. Audience Uptake
Sidewiki comments are stored on Google's servers and only visible to those who have actually downloaded the tool and are aware of its function. So if your audience are early adopters of social tools, then they are more likely to be users compared to late adopters and laggards. Of these people, an even fewer amount will actually use the tool to make comments.

2. Brand Promoters
If you're brand is popular then your promoters will likely stand up against the detractors when it comes to negative comments and insults. If you don't have a lot of promoters, then it's time to gain them through listening and addressing concerns.

3. Abuse and Spam Issues
It seems that you get system abusers wherever you go these days. But how do you address this? There's a couple of options available, but nothing fool proof:

a. Report abuse to Google - Abusers can be "identified" since users have to be logged in as a Google users. However, there is likely to be a time lag between Google addressing any abuse, plus anyone can sign up for an account or fake account.

b. Usefulness Ratings - In Sidewiki, comments can be rated as a thumbs up or thumbs down. From the few sites I've found so far (mostly B2C), it looks like Sidewiki puts comments in order of usefulness rating (as opposed to recency), where comments with the highest number of thumbs up appear at the top of the Sidewiki list, thus pushing the not so useful comments (such as spam) to the bottom.

c. Address Issues With Your Own Comments - Monitor the posts and conversations, listen and address issues, encourage brand promoters.

Check it out Yourself
The best way to learn more about Sidewiki, see it in action, and of course keep a check on whether people are adding to your website, is to download Sidewiki yourself.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Focus Your Search Efforts on Your Customers, Not Competitors

Whilst awareness of search marketing is on the increase within organizations, general understanding is still often limited to someone within the organization typing in words or phrases into Google and seeing whether the company is showing up or not.

Not too long ago, someone (quite possibly in sales) was going through this very exercise, which led to "one of those" questions coming my way. It went along the lines of:

"How come we're not showing up for our competitors' product models? If someone does a search on them, we need to be there so we can take away their business"

I'm sure this isn't the only time that this question has been asked. So if you ever find yourself in this situation, I've got your back. Here's three reasons to help you fight for the greater cause.

1. Volume
Keyword volume on product models and nomenclatures (EG: Z2300), are typically very low, especially when compared to volumes of searches carried out at a higher category level (EG: color inkjet printer). This is even more true for companies operating in the B2B space.

Use the Google AdWords Keyword Tool to show people the volume numbers. In most cases, the nomenclature result will come back as "not enough data" (ie: too small a number for Google to bother counting).

2. Intent
Someone typing in a product model or nomenclature has carried out a very specific search and are on a very specific mission. Chances are they have either:

a. Already gone through a lengthy decision process to purchase that specific product
In which case, how persuasive can 95 characters of adcopy be in changing their minds completely? And how come we (as an organization) didn't do a better job in persuading them to buy our product earlier on in this process?

b. [Most likely] Looking for some kind of customer service and support for that product
In which case, sending them to a page about a completely different product is not much use to anyone.

3. Relevance
A best practice in search marketing - and marketing as a whole - is to deliver relevance to our audience (ie: our external audience, not our internal staff members). This keeps our customers happy, and provides us with the best path to conversion.

Something that is talked about a lot in search is the concept of "scent". Having good scent (or connection) that bridges the gap between the keyword, to the adcopy, through to the landing page always deliver the best results. Sponsoring competitors' model numbers is not an example of a good scent trail, more like a lingering bad smell.

In addition, nomenclatures are not often unique to a company or industry. For example, "Z2300" is not only a printer by Lexmark, but it is also a speaker by Logitech. Similarly, "DM" doesn't just stand for Dr. Martens shoes, but also Depeche Mode, Diabetes Mellitus and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Do your own search and see what else is appearing in the search result. Chances are, not many will be related.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Use Search Marketing to Speak the Voice of the Customer

There are times when internal opinion can often cloud good judgement, especially when it comes to product messaging.

Customer focus groups are a good way to help inform companies when it comes to overall messaging and identifying important customer benefits (not just features that "we" think are cool). But this takes a lot of time and resource, and although rich in qualitative data, it is often limited when it comes to the issue of sample size and statistical significance. On top of this it can be very expensive, even more-so during times when there is barely enough budget to cover basic marketing costs.

Although not a substitute for focus groups, keyword testing is a good way to help inform messaging. It can help validate whether the right words are being used to describe or even categorize a type of product/resource in the language that your customers are using (as opposed to internal jargon or opinion).

A few benefits of doing keyword testing, include:

  • High reach, with actionable quantitative results
  • Simple to set up and quick to perform
  • Easy monitoring (and tweaking if needed)
  • Quick, reliable results (two weeks of data is often more than adequate)
  • Much less investment compared to full blown customer research (tests I've done have added zero to little additional cost to the overall search program)
Here are a couple of keyword testing scenarios at work:

Scenario 1: "We should change this product category name from x to y because that is what our competitors are calling it"

1. Sponsor both keyword variations in your PPC program. Even better, throw in some additional variations to test also.

2. Monitor the search volume that is being generated on each variation. This will tell you which variation people search on most when thinking about that product category.

3. Check the click-through rate (CTR) and click volume on each variation. The higher the CTR and volume, the more that keyword is resonating with the voice of the customer.

Scenario 2: "Our customer literature descriptions are all over the place - sometimes we call them reports, sometimes guides, sometimes white papers... but they are all the same thing. I vote for just calling everything reports from now on"

1. This scenario screams A/B copy testing. Try taking a PPC campaign focused in the "Learn" phase to test something like this out. For example, one that already calls out a specific call-to-action in the adcopy.

2. Simply swap out the different variations, whilst keeping the rest of the keywords and adcopy the same. For example, "Download your free report" vs. "Download your free guide" vs. "Download your free white paper".

3. See which adcopy version Google serves up the most to learn which version resonates with customers, paying attention to impression and CTR numbers.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Real-time Search Wars: Google vs. Bing

In a previous post, Why Should Search Care About Social, I talked about search engines needing to better incorporate social and real-time search results as part of their Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

Since then, there have been a few developments by both Google and Bing. Here is a very preliminary review of progress so far:

Once the SERP shows in Google, you can expand out a "Show More Options" link to provide you with time-specific results by "Recent Results", "Past 24 Hours", Past Week", "Past Year", or a "Specific Date".

However, "Recent Results" are not very recent, at least for the real-time searcher's needs. Searches I've tested can vary from 3 hours, to 9 hours to 3 days ago, which is a lifetime in the social world (maybe this is the reason why they keep it relatively hidden).

Search Engine Land recently revealed a Hidden Google Feature to find out what's new in the last minute or second. However, there are still kinks to work out, as revealed the day after the VMA awards:

@adamvonwillis RT @dannysullivan: still how "real time" is google's search w only 4 matches on kanye west in past min - How pathetic!

We need to cut Google some slack though. Since it's a hidden feature, it will be work in progress, and I'm sure this will be much improved once it is officially revealed to the public at large.

Bing have a Beta site called Bing Tweets which claim to "Fuse Twitter Trends with Bing Insights".

Bing Tweets provide a way to learn more about what trending topics are about on Twitter, by showing Twitter Trend topics side-by-side with Bing search results on those topics. It's a nice step forward, but mostly comes across as separate Twitter-specific and Bing-specific elements, lumped together on one page. Here's a breakdown of each element:

Bing Tweets Screenshot

The top left of the page displays the trending topics on Twitter, along with an RSS feed showing tweets mentioning a highlighted trending topic down the left side. A nice touch is being able to view topics by either "Popular Now" (all topics), "People", "Places" and "Products".

The majority of the Bing Tweets page is taken up with the standard Bing Search Results, using the highlighted trending topic as the keyword. The results, or course, include universal results such as video.

Search Bing and Twitter
The "Search Bing and Twitter" function on the top right of the page allows you to conduct your own keyword search so that you are not limited to just the top trending topics. This is nice as you can do searches on your own company and products, for example.

Share This Result
Bing pre-populates a message within "Share This Result", leading people back to the Bing results page. They also cleverly utilize a #bing hashtag, helping to increase their Twitter exposure.

Probably the nicest part about the "Share this Result" feature is allowing you to easily share the page via Twitter or via other popular social media vehicles (including Digg, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, and others).

So overall, some nice, positive steps forward, but there is still a long way to go to winning the real-time search war.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

10 Tips for Using Twitter for Business

eMarketer just reported that Twitter usage will reach 26 million US adults in 2010 - a 200% increase over last year. And in a recent study by MarketingProfs, 83% of participants said that they expected their company's use of Twitter to increase in the next six months.

If you're just getting a business account started up on Twitter, here are 10 tips to help you on your way.

1. Use a Person Picture, not a Logo
People like talking to people, not a faceless corporate logo, so upload a person shot as your user image. It can even be a picture of someone using one of your products , but nothing too stock photo-like. If you want to apply branding, corporate colors, logos and the like, then you can always incorporate this as part of your Twitter background.

2. Have Company and Individual Accounts
I haven't come across anything that says you should use a Twitter account linked to a company vs. an individual (or vice-versa). There are fors and againsts of using both, which is why I think having both types of account can't be a bad thing. If resources are low, think about starting up with a company account first, and then individual accounts can always follow.

Company: A well known company name can provide instant recognition from users and instill trust as an information source (EG: BestBuy), but it can come across as less personable.

Individual: If you take the individual option, then make it clear that this person is linked to your company, either through the Twitter Account Name (EG: "BestBuyJim" or "Jim_at_BestBuy") and/or in the Bio (EG: Tweeting for Best Buy). The risk, of course, is that if this person leaves your company, they could end up taking all of your followers with them.

3. Be Human, Not a Robot
Regardless of whether you choose to take the company or individual route, make your Tweets human. Use conversational language; language you would use when talking to people face-to-face, as opposed to very formal language you would use in a business report.

4. Listen
Twitter is a great listening tool to see what people are saying about your industry, company and products. As an example, just type your company name into the search box to see the conversations happening. Save this search so you can regularly check in to see what people are saying about you. Look for ways to address anything negative (in a helpful, non-argumentative way), and acknowledge promoters of your brand.

5. Share, Don't Sell
If anything, Twitter is about information sharing and increasing communication. Try to share news that is informative and provide links to interesting, educational content on your website. Don't be sell, sell, sell all the time. Rather strive to be the expert in your domain, and the sell will follow.

There are exceptions of course. Some companies (particularly larger organizations) have multiple Twitter accounts, focused on different business areas. For example, Dell have @DellOutlet to promote up-to-date availability of refurbished products. It works well since it is a timely, reliable information source and one that shares discount codes to followers for online purchasing. If you decide to follow this approach, then make sure you set the "sell" expectation up front, through your Account Name and/or Bio.

6. Don't Just Push, Engage
Twitter is a great two-way communications tool (which is how marketing should be). Don't just push information out, but engage in conversations. There's nothing worse than a Twitter Account that is being used as an RSS feeder (remember Be Human, Not a Robot) or a user that is "All about me, all of the time".

As an extreme example, celebrity Sean (P. Diddy) Combs was criticised for using Twitter to simply push out information about himself and his clothing line, whilst ignoring conversations with his followers. This led to a Twitter onslaught, that became a top trending topic, encouraging followers to unfollow him!

7. Track Your Clicks
When you send out a tweet that includes a link to information, it is good to know if people are clicking on it. is a handy tool that not only shortens URLs (to help keep your tweets within that 140 character limit), but also allows you to track how many people click on these links. This can help provide insight into what kinds of content interests your followers. Twitter is also working on more substantial Twitter measurement tools for business use, but this will come at a price.

8. Use Hashtags
Hashtags are a way of tagging your tweets so that people who are interested in specific topics can find and read about them. In a business context it can be used when talking about an industry (EG: #hitech), or company (#AT&T), or product (EG: #iphone).

Another popular use is at events or conferences (EG: #NIWeek) which can help you raise visibility and gain followers from attendees who are potential prospects. With the growing popularity of Twitter, it is becoming more common for event organizers to encourage people to use an "official hashtag" so that attendee tweets can be more easily seen and managed.

9. Add Yourself to a Directory
There are a number of Twitter Directories which you can join to help people find you. Two good directories I recommend are:

Twellow: The equivalent of the Twitter Yellow Pages. Twellow groups Twitter users into categories (EG: Education, Real Estate, Small Businesses...) which you can add yourself to. There are hundreds of categories to choose from. It is also a good way to easily see and follow other Twitter users within categories of interest. WeFollow allows you to tag your Twitter Account for keywords you want to be associated with. For example, a dentist may want to be associated with #dentist #teeth #healthcare. You can have up to five tags and see how many others are tagged under certain keywords. My recommendation is to tag yourself for keywords with higher volumes.

10. Manage Your Twitter Account
There are a number of tools that help you to more effectively manage your Twitter Account. The one I use is TweetDeck which can be accessed directly from your desktop and/or mobile phone.

A few reasons why I like TweetDeck:
  • You can more easily see mentions, replies, and direct messages so you don't miss out on any engagement opportunities.
  • You can easily add columns to include certain topics, keywords, and hashtags. For example, you can set up a column with mentions of your company and another column for mentions of your competitor.

  • You can manage multiple Twitter accounts in one place. For example, if you have a company account and an individual company account.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Swatting up on SEO: 3 Useful Articles to Help Your Understanding of Organic Search

Search Engine Optimization is such a rich subject. I am by no means an SEO expert, though I strive towards this close-to-impossible goal!

Over the past few weeks, I've been trawling through a lot of good (and not so good) articles on organic search. To help save you time, I'd like to share three choice picks with you.

SEO Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow's classical hierarchy of needs has been pulled into the 21st Century and applied to SEO. The framework lays out the building blocks a website needs in order to secure a good search engine rank - a journey which begins with Keywords and Content (the most basic need) all the way through to Link Development (the point of self- or rather website-actualization).

What is key throughout this journey is ensuring effective Analytics and Web Intelligence in order to understand your site and measure your level of success.

Read the Full Article: SEO Hierarchy of Needs

SEO Guide for Web Designers
Damn these web designers with their Flash Splash Pages and Click Here anchor text! I was absolutely mortified to read that:

  • 1 in 10 web designers don't think SEO is mandatory
  • 24% of web designers don't even know what SEO is
This article provides basic, but essential, "don'ts" for web designers. I guarantee that you will come across something on the "don't" list that is happening on your site right now. Make sure you print this one out and glue a copy to every monitor belonging to a web developer.

Read the full article: SEO Guide for Web Designers

17 Ways Search Engines Judge the Value of a Link
This one comes courtesy of those smart people at SEOmoz, who do a great job explaining the most important factors that search engines consider when judging the value of a link. It certainly helped to answer a lot of questions I had when it comes to link value.

Most interesting take-aways included:

  • The concept of TrustRank (you want to be linked as close to a trusted site as possible)
  • Getting inbound links from diverse sources is more powerful than lots of links from the same source
  • Link value differs with page location. For example, a link included within your page content is more valuable than a link within the top navigation, which is more valuable than a link in the side bar, or in the footer
  • Earning links from a particular region will help you perform better in searches made within that region
Read the Full Article: 17 Ways Search Engines Judge the Value of a Link

If you have come across any interesting articles on SEO, please feel free to share.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why Should Search Care About Social?

As Search Marketers, we have an amazing amount of insight into metrics and are able to link every dollar spent back to ROI, or to a Key Performance Indicator (KPI). The same can not be said about social media.

So why, as Search Marketers, should we care about social media?

1. Link Building
The obvious reason to care about social media is for link bait to your site. A few examples may include getting people to Digg or StumbleUpon your content, sharing links to your site via Twitter, or through your Facebook fan page. However, the link between search and social goes much deeper than link juice.

2. Customer Support
Product support-related searches on Google will often include Forum results - people discussing you, your company, your products, your customer care. A search on "ipod forum" brings up 139 million results. Whilst "pc help" brings up 240 million. These may be extreme examples, but wouldn't it be nice for your own company-hosted forum to appear in the top rank when someone typed in a support-related query for your company or products?

3. Social Sites are Search Engines
Google may be Number 1 when it comes to search engines, but YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. Additionally, immediate events (real-time search results) aren't easily searchable outside of Twitter.

Web users aren't stupid. They are getting more sophisticated and adapting their search behavior outside of the traditional engines. For example, if I want to know what conversations are happening at this exact second, then I search on Twitter. If I want to look for a good deal on trinkets, then I search on eBay. If I am looking to rent an apartment, then I search on Craigslist.

If search is expanding out to all these different platforms, then we need to think and work outside of just the traditional search engines. It also means we need to optimize more stuff so that we show up in these searches. For example, making sure we include keywords in tweets, carefully crafting video titles, and using metadata around video transcripts... the list goes on.

4. Universal Search to Include More Social Media Results
Engines recognize that people are getting street smart when it comes to search, and they aren't just going to sit by whilst searchers wander elsewhere.

ComScore found that universal search results are increasingly dominating search engine results pages (SERPs). Universal search (also known as blended search) shows you video, images, news, and shopping, specifically broken out as part of your search result.

Last month, Matt Cutts told the SES San Jose audience that Google sees reviews as an extension of search. So could a future addition to universal search results include product ratings and reviews? And what about Twitter feeds, Facebook status updates, and FriendFeeds? As search marketers, we need to stay on top of this if want to continue capturing shelf space in SERPs.

5. More Forward Thinking: The Future of Social Search
There's no question that Google is great at a lot of things. But right now, it doesn't do such a good job of making sense of social sites. Looking forward, how will this develop and how will search and social become better integrated?

Groundswell author, Charlene Li gave an eye-opening talk on how to prepare for the future of search, at SES. In her presentation she talked about search engines relying much more upon social networks to deliver results that are a lot more customized to each individual searcher.

Some key points from the discussion included:

  • Better real-time search results
  • Personalized search results based upon social data
  • Searcher intent becoming clearer with geographic location, time and social context
  • Search recommendations based upon reviews from people we know, rather than from complete strangers

Just think - you're stuck in your hotel room in a strange city, and your stomach is growling. You need to find a place to eat. The search engine detects your geographical location, and recommends a restaurant two blocks away, based upon positive reviews from friends within your social network. Heaven!

These are just some of the reasons why search should care about social. I am sure there are more (feel free to share ideas). It also serves as a good reminder that moving forward, people need to be at the center of our search strategy, not keywords.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Understanding the Importance of Assist Keywords

When you have thousands of adgroups and keywords to cover and not enough money to cover them, what do you do?

To try and answer this question, I conducted a test to see where I could get the most bang for my buck. This is what I found:

Approach 1. Spread Thin
Spreading PPC budget thinly across adgroups casts a wide, but shallow net; you cover all bases, but end up "going dark" early on in the day. In addition, the quality of engagement from these visitors is lukewarm.

Approach 2. Go Deep
Focusing budget on the top performing adgroups produces a higher level of conversions, with visitors clustered more towards the buy phase. However, as the net is narrow, there are much fewer visitors being caught. In addition, the keywords belonging to top performing adgroups tend to have a lot of competition, and consequently have a much more expensive cost-per-click (CPC).

Looking at these two approaches, the road you take would probably depend upon the goal you are trying to achieve:
  • If you want to drive traffic to your site, then the "Spread Thin" approach makes sense
  • If you want to drive conversions to your site, then "Go Deep" delivers
My goal was quality over quantity, so in this case, "Go Deep" was the way to go... Or was it?

Considering the Customer Journey
There are additional, important implications of taking a "Go Deep" approach that needs to be considered. In particular, the matter of assist attribution.

My eyes were first opened to the concept of assist attribution in a talk given by Jim Sterne at SES San Jose. The idea is that although general keywords used at the start of the customer journey have a low conversion rate, they can actually assist higher converting keywords further down the keyword funnel. Therefore, by removing assist keywords, you reduce conversion of your higher performing keywords later on.

Here's an illustration to demonstrate this point (adapted from an example given by Jim):

To me, what this shows is that:
  • Long-tail words are a necessary part of the keyword mix
  • Choosing to go too deep is not a sustainable solution since there is a negative impact on conversions of high performing keywords over time

Thursday, September 3, 2009

How to Catch a Searcher's Attention in 2-3 Seconds

When a searcher types in one of your keywords, you only have a very small window of time to get them to click on your PPC ad. 2-3 seconds to be exact.

So what's the best way of catching a searcher's attention when you only have the blink of an eye to do it?

Before we move to specifics, let's take a look from an overall perspective:

1. Write at Least Four Variations of Adcopy
What’s cool about PPC is that the search engine will use all ad variations. It will calculate which ones perform best and then serve the best performing ads most often. This is why it’s good to...

2. Test Copy and Refresh it Regularly
PPC makes it easy to test your ad copy and see what approach works best. This is the only sure fire way of knowing what works. There may also be opportunities to apply your learnings to other campaigns, depending on the elements you choose to test (EG: You may find that the word, "Guide" performs better than the word, "White Paper").

Also make sure you review your adcopy regularly (aim for 2-6 months, depending on your level of resources and program scope) and refresh your ads, by swapping out the two lowest performing ads with new copy variations. This way you are constantly trying to improve your results.

3. Try to Anticipate Intent
If you keyword is "learn" focused, then make your adcopy "learn" focused also. Talk about resources, tutorials, white papers and so forth. If your keyword is "buy" focused then talk about things like prices, specs, and deals/discounts.

My previous post Discover Ways to Tap Into Searcher Intent talks more about how to anticipate intent.

Now let's break down the elements of an ad a little more:

1. Treat Your Heading Like Gold
As with all media, the different visual treatment of headings (and the fact that it appears first) give it more perceived importance by the searcher.

Test out keyword insertion tags as these can often provide an uplift in click-thru rate. A keyword insertion tag is when the search engine inserts the searcher's keyword into your PPC ad heading (this helps improve the scent from their search to your ad).

If you have a well respected brand name, then remember to make use of it. Include it in the heading (preferable) or in the body copy (at a minimum). For branded keywords, make sure you spell out that yours is the "Official Site" in the heading.

2. Stack the Front
The beginning copy is scanned three times more intensely than the end, so it's important to get your message (and keywords) across from the start.

3. Break Up Text Patterns
Eyes are drawn to variations in pattern. So where it makes sense, remember to break up text patterns with the use of numbers, particularly if the intent is around buying (EG: use pricing or key specs).

4. Try Using Action Words
Action words can prompt searchers into taking action. For example, words like:
  • Get…
  • Download…
  • Order...
  • Find out...
And follow these action words by using...

5. Specific Call-to-Actions
Use specific call-to-actions linked to intent. For example:

  • Learn: Call out high-value content pieces (guides, white papers, tutorials)
  • Buy: Quote, Pricing
  • Use: Support, Service

Monday, August 31, 2009

Discover Ways to Tap Into Searcher Intent

When people search on a broad keyword (EG: computer) it can be difficult to pinpoint what exactly they are looking for:
  • Are they looking for a PC or a Mac?
  • Are they looking for a desktop or a laptop?
  • Are they just browsing or buying?
For broad keywords like this, it is often good to point them to a top-level hub page, with a range of choices and call-to-actions spanning learn, buy and use.

Sometimes though, people use trigger words to narrow their search. Trigger words are words added to a keyword that better qualifies what it is exactly they are looking for. Trigger words are magic as they provide an insight into searcher intent.

When we know the intent of the searcher, we can organize our PPC adgroups in a way that better appeals to their needs, through relevant ad copy and more targeted landing pages.

On the whole, I've found that searchers can be grouped into 4 main intent categories, that can be closely mapped to the stages of the traditional buy cycle:

1. Seekers (Learn)
Seekers are in the learn phase of the buy cycle. They seek out basic information and learn about the different solutions that are available to a problem they are facing. With seekers, you better make sure that your site contains good, educational content to cater for this type of searcher. The thing to remember about seekers, is that it's not all about the hard sell.

2. Shoppers (Research)
Shoppers have a better idea as to what they are looking for. They are looking to compare different solutions, specifications and prices to get the best deal.

3. Buyers (Buy)
Buyers are looking to enter into a transaction. At this point, they have pinpointed exactly what they want, and are looking to get quotes, buy online or find a physical location where they can buy.

4. Servicers (Use)
Servicers are existing customers who have already bought a product and are looking for customer support, replacement parts, and product help. In addition to external search engines, servicers often conduct on-site searches on your website.

And finally, we can map different trigger words to the different stages of intent:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

3 Tips for Finding Golden Keywords

Every once in a while an Email shows up in my inbox that goes something along the lines of:

"Oh my God, we have a HUGE problem!! I searched on [enter some obscure 20 word phrase that no customer in their right mind would ever search on] and we're not even showing up for it! We need to fix this ASAP!"

Which brings me to the topic of my next post - Keywords. In particular:
  • How to identify keywords that customers are searching on
  • How to get the best return for the time you spend
The thing that people often forget when it comes to SEO keywords is the "key" part. SEO keywords are an elite set of words that you *must* show up for when a search is performed on an engine. Here are 3 keyword research tips to help you in this very important process.

1. Talk to People
Brainstorm keywords with different people, from different groups, inside and outside of your company. Even better, speak with some customers and ask them. Voice of the customer should always trump everyone else, and can help to validate (or invalidate) internal opinions.

2. Look at Keyword Volume
Once you have finished brainstorming, you need to consider keyword volume. A lot of people often underestimate the time and effort that goes into fully optimizing a page, so you don’t want to waste time optimizing for a keyword that no-one is searching on (see obscure 20 word example above!).

Google Adwords Keyword Tool is a free tool that helps you see approximately how many searches are being made for different keywords. It can also help you to discover a different keyword, or more keyword ideas, that you may not have considered before. When using this tool, I recommend setting the Match Type to "Phrase" match, rather than "Broad". And don't forget that you also have the option to select by "Language" and "Country".

3. Look at Quality Measures
As with anything, it is important to balance out quantity with quality. In my opinion, this is best done by utilizing data from your Paid Search Campaigns, in particular the Quality Score data.

A quality score provides us with an indication of how valuable a visitor to our site is, depending on the keyword that referred them. Typically, the higher quality action they take, the higher their score. For example, someone who purchases from your site - or indicates an intent to purchase (EG: by asking to be contacted for a demo) - is more valuable than someone who just clicks on a link and then leaves.

PPC is a good way to inform SEO in identifying quality keywords. If you're not sure about a certain "must-have" SEO keyword, then always test it out first on the PPC side to see the level of engagement of searchers coming in on that keyword, before you spend time optimizing a page for it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

How to Make Search Optimization a HABIT

In search, there are technical people and there are marketing people. My roots are in marketing, and one thing I know about us "Jack of All Trades" marketing-types, is that we aren't too good when it comes to technical stuff.

Many marketing people, whose primary role is not search marketing, often see search as black magic. HTML and GIF is about as technical as we get. Laugh as you may, but very often, these are the people who own and write the web content within companies. This is why it's important for content owners and writers to understand, and apply, the basics of search engine optimization (SEO). This way, everyone is a winner. The key is making optimization a habit so it becomes incorporated into people's everyday way of working.

Help is at hand. Time to pull out the HABIT checklist - A simple checklist that applies basic on-page optimization to help content owners optimize content, without having to get too bogged down in some of the technical aspects that we, the search marketers, can more easily influence. So without further ado, here's to making HABIT a habit.

The HABIT Checklist:

Make sure your keyword is included in your Headline. This is obvious, but you'd be amazed how many times I've had to pull people up about this.

Anchor Text
The Anchor Text is the label given to a link; essentially it's the link name. Make sure that when there are links pointing to your page content, that it matches the keyword you are optimizing your page for.

Body Copy
Make sure that your keyword appears in the first sentence of the Body Copy, as close to the beginning as possible.

Inbound Links
Make sure that there are links coming into your page from...
  • Easy: Important pages within your site (EG: Your homepage and popular hubpages)
  • Less easy: Prominent industry sites and sources (EG: .edu and .gov sites)
...and make sure these Inbound Links use the keyword in the Anchor Text. The more links into your page from prominent sources, the more important the search engine perceives your page to be, and so will rank it higher.

Title Tag
The Title Tag of your page also needs to include the keyword. The format that I've found works well is - [Company name] : [Keyword]

And finally, here's a bonus tip for the marketing people who want an extra power-up:

Meta Description
The Meta Description is the copy that appears when your listing shows up in organic search. Again, try to include the keyword as close to the beginning as possible, and try not to exceed 155 characters, making sure to include correct punctuation.

HABIT provides a really basic checklist that is easy to follow and apply. It does, however, assume that you know what keyword you are optimizing your page for. So in the next blog post, I will be providing some tips for keyword research.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Search Marketing Basics (Part 2) - The Digital Hook Up

Now that you are all clued up on the reading front, it's time to move on from old school methods of learning to something more fun.

One of the issues I've found is that things move so fast in the search and social world. This means that most printed materials get dated, and quickly. Even news that appears in an industry magazine ends up being "So two days ago". In this environment we need a real-time way to keep up to speed.

With this in mind, here are 3 tips to help you stay up-to-date in search and social media marketing:

1. Get Yourself on Twitter
Where better to learn about search and social media than in the place where the Industry cool kids all hang out? A place where news travels faster than earthquakes. I'm talking Twitter of course!

Contrary to popular belief, it isn't just about what your neighbor had for breakfast or the bowel movements of your colleagues. Twitter - by far - has been the most valuable learning tool for me.

The trick with Twitter is about following the right people. Try to go for quality over quantity (both in terms of followers and followees). Here are few great people to follow. There are many, many more, but this list is based on the people whose tweets I have "favorited" the most, of late:

The mashable machine just keeps pumping out real-time search and social news. Myself (and quite a few others, I've noticed) are guilty of retweeting a hell of a lot of mashable!

Jeremiah shares a ton of good insights, particularly in terms of what to expect from the future of social media. He also provides examples and case studies of companies successfully using social (lucky people!).

Matt is the Google Guy - we must play by his rules! He shares links to helpful Google Webmaster videos on YouTube that explain things like "Why are .com sites ranking highly in UK SERPs?"

Lots of interesting social media tweets, with little fluff. Just the way it should be!

Simon was a great find on Twitter. He's full of news and facts that span search, social and beyond. What's also nice is that he says thank you when you retweet him, and I'm a big fan of nice manners!

@eMarketer and @comScore
These guys provide useful data analysis reports on search and social. And as we know, facts and data are essential when backing up your points.

Finally, a special mention to Logan - an up and coming social media dude, who shares good ideas, advice and encouragement.

2. Subscribe to These Blogs

Biznology (Mike Moran)
Mike's on holiday right now until September (lucky bugger) but when he is about to write, he talks sense. He knows search engine marketing and he's all about using data to become better.

Occam's Razor (Avinash Kaushik)
Avinash is the master of web analytics. What may seem a boring and complicated subject, is suddenly transformed into something understandable and (dare I say it) quite fun when Avinash is around to explain it.

3. Go to this Conference
There are a bunch of conferences out there. But when times are tough and travel budgets get slashed, the one conference I choose to go to (if I can choose only one) is Search Engine Strategies (SES).

They provide multiple session tracks, so you can tailor sessions depending on your level and interest, and they always bag superstar speakers (superstars in "our" world, at least!). They also hold events all over the place, not just America.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Search Marketing Basics (Part 1) - 3 Essential Reads to Avoid Looking Clueless

When I first started in search marketing, there was no hand-over, in-house expert or all round rock star that I could turn to. Rather disappointingly, I was it. So I pulled up my sleeves and blindly set forth on the journey to enlightenment.

If you are new to search marketing, or if it is a part of your wider marketing/communications role, then here are a few tips to get you started. In this post (Part 1 of 2), I cover essential reading on the book front. Everyone has to start somewhere, and although reading academic books can suck sometimes, being clueless sucks more.

Commonsense Direct Marketing (Drayton Bird)
What does direct marketing have to do with search marketing? A lot more than you may realize. The classical direct marketers, particularly those within the catalog mailing world, are masters in their field. Why? Because they test, they measure, they apply... and then they test, measure and apply, again and again.

Data is used to continuously improve results by tweaking headlines and copy, optimizing layout and reply coupon placements, sending response rates and ROI figures through the roof. Data and measurement are key in the direct marketing field. The same can be said with Pay-Per-Click search marketing, but instead of responses and responses rates, we measure clicks, click-through rates and quality score (and if we are really lucky, then revenue and net profit). The added advantage is that testing and tweaking can be done a lot quicker and cheaper. That's one of the great things about search. In the wise words of Mike Moran: It's ok to do it wrong, but make sure you do it wrong quickly and learn from your mistakes so you don't do it again!

Drayton's book "Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing" is now in it's 5th Edition. He may be an old bean, but this old bean knows what he's talking about, and he's a master copywriter; the last of a dying breed. This book also contains everything you need to know about writing good copy. Afterall, you can't write good, optimized search copy, without being able to write plain old, good copy first. This book will help you on your way.

Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (Mike Moran and Bill Hunt)
This was the first (and still the best) search-specific book I've bought. It provides a step-by-step guide to setting up and managing a search campaign. Straight to the point and easy to read, it could easily be re-named, "A Fools Guide to Search".

Groundswell (Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff)
I'm still shocked at how many people in the marketing/social field haven't read this one yet. It's not specifically search, but essential reading if your role also involves social media - which is becoming a lot more common due to increased awareness about the link between search and social (it's about more than just link juice).

What makes this book different to many other social reads is that it focuses on setting the objectives and framework around your social strategy first, and then figuring out the tools to make it happen. This is what helps to make this book timeless - tools may come and go, but what you want to achieve, and why, remains. So the next time someone asks you, "What's your Twitter strategy?", you can tell them with confidence that Twitter is a tool, not a strategy. Let's talk goals first, not tactics.

So that was my Top 3 essential reads. If you have any other recommendations of books that have helped shape the way you approach search (or social), I would love to hear about it.

In Part 2, I'll be sharing some smart ways that can help you learn and stay up to date in the search and social field. In the meantime, here are links to each of the books:

Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing
Search Engine Marketing, Inc.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Where's the booty?

For my first post, I want to set the record straight regarding the whole booty thing. In the context of this blog, "booty" is referring to a treasure rather than a behind. So if you've stumbled upon this looking for the latter, then my apologies. Maybe something like would be more up your alley.

If you are still reading this, then great, and welcome! Although I've worked in marketing for almost 10 years, I've only been fully focused on search engine marketing for less than two, so I am a relative newby to the scene. I am, however, quite an effective sponge. During this time I've been doing my homework, and from a combination of books, blogs, conferences, successes, failures, and (most recently) Twitter, I've managed to avoid the bullet and start to fully understand what I'm doing and why. With this in mind I welcome you and your thoughts. There is, afterall, much to learn.