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.