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