Internal Site Search: Hiding in Plain Sight

Internal Site Search: Hiding in Plain Sight

Businesses pay a lot of money to figure out what people want from them and/or their industry. Even with that research, businesses can still miss the mark on what they deliver and how they deliver it. What a lot of these businesses don’t realize is that gaining insight into the true intentions of many users on their website is just hiding in plain sight, waiting to be capitalized upon.

You may have noticed that many sites have their own internal search box to provide you a way to quickly and easily find information that may not be readily apparent. Have you ever thought about the fact that all of this can be tracked? Have you thought about what this information really means?

These site search queries are basically users (read: people who want to consume what you offer, whether it be information or concrete products) telling you what they expect to find on your site, in their own words!

How You Can Use This Information For Insight

The first step is to understand what percentage of user sessions are resulting in someone using the search box. A high percent may indicate that you need to consider reconfiguring your site/information. One of the primary ways in which internal site search analysis can help your business is by understanding which content on the site users are having a difficult time finding. When a user clicks through to your site, they expect to see certain information. Using the site search box is a strong indicator that the information they were expecting to find was not intuitive or easily accessible. This is a strong signal that your site architecture and navigation needs to be updated; once you’ve identified certain keyword trends, make it easy for your users to find that information.

Another way in which this information can be used is to identify gaps/opportunities within your content. If there are numerous searches around a product you offer but do not feature on the site, then it’s time to highlight that! They want it, you have it, make it easy for them to convert. Build out content around that product and feature it on your website. If they are searching for a product you do not offer, then consider a conversation around what it would take to create that product/information and present it to your users.

How to Set This Up In Google Analytics

1)      Log into your account in Google Analytics

  1. Click the “Admin” tab

 Home Window2

2)      Click “View Settings” under View

Admin Tab2

3)      Find “Site Search Settings” at the bottom of the page

Site Search

  1. Turn to “On”
  2. Enter the query parameter that appears in your URLs through site search
  3. Save

site search on

4)      Find Your Data

  1. Reporting > Behavior > Site Search

final result

Once you have this set up, be prepared to gain a lot more insight into the true intent of users visiting your site . . . and be prepared to make the changes necessary to facilitate their desire to convert. If you have any questions or issues while setting this up, contact us and we’d be more than happy to help you out.

Google Updates Search Results Design, Did You Notice?

Google Updates Search Results Design, Did You Notice?

One of the most important, if not THE most important, and identifiable aspects of any search engine listing is your title. This is what draws a user’s attention to your listing, and it is what they will click to get to your website. This is where you hope to catch their attention and present yourself as the most relevant option based on the query they performed. This is also where, as of a month ago, Google cut back on how many characters of your title will show in their results page, seen below:

Serp changes

Their goal with the update is to improve readability and create a cleaner look. The enhancements include:

  • Increased font size of result titles
  • Removal of underlines
  • Ad labels

So how does this really affect your titles, and overall digital marketing image? Google’s redesign increased the font size of result titles, however they kept the overall listing container the same size (512 pixels). Look at the following search result both before and after the redesign:

Serp changes 2

You’ll notice they both have the exact same language, however the redesign listing at the bottom is getting cut off. This becomes an issue for messaging.

Dr. Pete over at Moz put together a study in which he and colleagues looked at page 1 search results for 10,000 English queries. This covered 89,787 titles from Google.com. This is what they found:

title length change

Through the test, Dr. Pete concluded that if all of your title tags were exactly 55 characters long, then you could expect about 95% of them to be left alone. If your titles are not 55 characters long? This is when you need to consider the importance of your messaging and how your titles are constructed, as you are working with fewer characters to get your brand’s message across.

Because there is no definitive number to attain for title length, it takes more than just slashing some words out of your titles to shorten them. You’ll want to identify your primary keyword phrase on each page for which you’re trying to rank and ensure that it is at the beginning of your titles. Unless you have a very recognizable brand that receives high search volumes, place your name at the very end of your title, freeing up space for important page information.

Need help with this? Give us a call and we’d be more than happy to help you out.

Thoughts On Google’s Recent Algorithm Change for Local Business

Google released an algorithm change early this month that has been dubbed “Mayday”. The name references the timing of the release, but it also describes the panic expressed by many SEO consultants who have invested much time and effort into optimizing sites according to their theories of how Google’s crawling, indexing and ranking algorithms work.

SEO forums such as WebmasterWorld are abuzz with the prattling-on of search engine optimizers who are debating how to take advantage of this latest update. I can’t respond to this chatter any better than the excellent advice of Vanessa Fox on Search Engine Land:

Focus on what Google is trying to accomplish as it refines things (the most relevant, useful results possible for searchers) and you’ll generally avoid too much turbulence in your organic search traffic.

On the heels of this update I have had various conversations with local businesses who hope to achieve top ranking for competitive keywords. To those businesses I have two pieces of advice:

  1. Play to your strength – focus on local optimization.
  2. Invest in content, not SEO.

Play To Your Strength

Google and other search engines are getting increasingly better at recognizing local intent in user’s queries. For example, if I do the query “industrial supply”, I get Google local results after the first two listings. I was talking to a client recently who has a small business selling industrial supplies and hoped to show up on the first page of results. Maybe it would be possible for a small business to show up on the first page of organic results, but not without a considerable investment in link-builing and content development. On the other hand, the competition for local results is not that strong.

Many SEO consultants will take your money and do their best to improve your ranking in the organic results, but the return on investment is likely to be much better for local optimization, and you are less vulnerable to the whims of the next Google update. Look for a marketing consultant who has experience with local optimization, or read up on Mike Blumenthal and Matt McGee and work on it yourself.

Invest In Content, Not SEO

Or, at least, invest more in content than SEO. The goal of a search engine is to deliver the page that best matches a user’s query. There are a number of best practices that help ensure that a search engine can crawl your content, and that you are getting credit for the good content you offer. But pick any one of those and I can find an example of a page with good content that doesn’t comply and still shows up in the top results. It is possible to game search engine algorithms and rank well with poor content, but the safer and better long term investment is to provide content that is useful to searchers.

I was responsible for SEO for the social/local community Guidespot.com (my involvement ended about a year and a half ago), and we did incredibly well in organic search. But my job was easy, because we were investing a lot in fostering good content. If you are striving to achieve a top ranking, you should ask yourself if your content is more comprehensive, funnier, more informative, more engaging or in some way better than all of the other content on the web. If not, you are polishing a turd, as the expression goes.

I don’t think it is possible to give an exact ratio, but if your SEO budget is more than 1/10th of what you spend on content, you are probably spending too much.

In summary, you should not care about any given algorithm update if you are a small, local business. Focus on showing up well in local search before trying to compete with large, national businesses in the organic search engine results, and invest in good content on your web site if you want to attract visitors.

The Problem of Measurability

There is a basic problem with web analytics today. Web analytics tools give us data on what drives leads or web conversions, but the picture they paint is incomplete at best and can be misleading. As an illustration, below is a cartoon describing my own experience deciding on and purchasing a new brand of trail running shoes. This cartoon more or less follows the path I really took, from when I was first motivated to look for a new brand to when I actually purchased.
The Conversion Funnel That Is Not a Funnel

Along my meandering path, I had many opportunities to interact with brands and retailers. You’ll also notice that word-of-mouth played heavily into my decision. And this is not just anecdotal – there is a lot of research to support the fact that most purchasing decisions are heavily influenced by word-of-mouth. Also, my cartoon illustrates the interactions I remember – but there are many brand and business interactions I don’t remember. For example, several local retailers are very active in the local running community, including online forums. I tend to think of those businesses as authoritative, even if they are not speaking directly to my current interest. There are also race and athlete sponsorships that create a positive association with brands, even if I don’t consciously remember them.

The lesson here is that much of what happened prior to my purchase was not directly measurable. In fact, if someone were measuring, they would probably think that search advertising or organic ranking accounted for my purchase, but I had all but made my decision at that point. Online reporting tools are good at measuring search clicks, but not so good at measuring everything else that happened prior to that last search.

There are some reporting tools that do a better job than others of measuring all of the interactions that lead to a conversion. See some of the great research done by the Atlas Institute for more on this topic. (Disclosure: I used to work for Atlas, but the research is still great.) I’ve found both Atlas and Omniture Discover to be very useful when trying to understand buyer behavior, but both of these are too expensive for small businesses. Unfortunately, Google Analytics does a poor job at this even though it is a very powerful tool in many respects.

The solution for small business lies in combining online conversion data with other on- and offline sources, such as a Facebook Insights reports and “how did you hear about us” questionnaires. Also, engagement metrics such as time-on-site and bounce rate can be very useful indicators. At Two Octobers, we produce our own dashboard reports that draw from multiple sources to provide a more complete and accurate view. We pull it all together to show how all online activities and channels are contributing to business goals. There is no exact formula – the right combination of data sources and indicators depends on your business model and marketing methods.

If you know of other useful tools and techniques, please comment below.

Digital Pollution

We don't care who you are billboard.

Internet marketing is targeted. In contrast to the 30 second network TV spot, the internet allows marketers to target messaging by medium, location, topic, demographic and a variety of other factors. Yesterday I tweeted that I want to be a firefighter when I grow up. Today I was followed by @firefighterjob in Twitter. Most of the ads that appear in Facebook as I browse around are local to me or specific to my interests. In fact, I spent some time convincing my dad that there are ads in Facebook at all. He had seen them, but he didn’t recognize them as ads.

But not all advertisers take advantage of these targeting capabilities. And not all web sites encourage targeted ads. Going from one web site to the next can be like going from New Hampshire to Vermont.

When you drive across the border from New Hampshire in to Vermont, the landscape becomes friendlier, more compelling. At least that is what visitors said to me when I lived there. Then I would explain to them that Vermont doesn’t allow billboards. And a light would dawn, and they would say “Yeah, you’re right. That’s nice!”

Google.com is kind of like Vermont, in that respect. They have never allowed any kind of advertising that doesn’t fit in to the landscape. The ads that do appear don’t use color or presentation in a way that make them stand out from other content on the page. In fact, most of the ads appear along the right hand side, which is visually the least obtrusive real estate on the page. Google also seeks to make all ads relevant to a user’s query. Most other search engines have followed Google’s lead, but their progress has been slower than some of us would like.

Historically, Yahoo has been more like New Hampshire, allowing run-of-site ads that appear for all users, relevant or not. The good news is that Google’s approach generates better ROI for advertisers, and ultimately more revenue for Google, so Yahoo has been following Google’s lead and cleaning up of late.

What does this mean for marketers? Placing ads that are not relevant is digital pollution, plain and simple. It’s pollution we have taken for granted and overlooked, but that is changing fast. Google, Facebook and other sites are teaching us to care about the relevance of marketing. This means that marketers who broadcast ads regardless of user’s interests or intent face increasing risk. The risk is that consumers start to see those marketers as polluters.

The word “pollution” may sound strong. Can you really compare a Classmates.com ad to a plastic bag stuck in a tree? I believe you can. We spend much of our working and non-working lives online. We spend time with friends and meet our future spouses online. Why then should we allow our online world to be populated with valueless clutter?

The bad news is that there will always be polluters, but the good news is that there are a variety of marketing methods that do not pollute, and in fact those methods generally get better results with less investment. Rich media and viral ads can entertain and inform. Social marketing creates bonds based on mutual interest. Search marketing answers questions. Just as businesses are adopting no-impact and sustainable business practices in the physical world, they can and should be translating this behavior to online. Not only is it good citizenship, it is good branding.

Billboard graphic courtesy of Big Huge Labs’ Billboard Maker

Paid Search: Bidding Based on ROI

Bidding for ROI

This article explains some basic concepts related to bidding on paid search keywords based on return on investment (ROI). Using ROI to make bidding decisions helps ensure that you are spending your advertising dollars in the most effective ways possible.

To explain these concepts, we will use paid search marketers Jane and Lisa as examples.

  • Jane’s goal is to generate as much revenue as possible, but she doesn’t want to spend more than a dollar in advertising for every $5 in sales.
  • Lisa’s goal is to drive as many leads possible at a cost per acquisition (CPA) of $10.

A few definitions to start things off:

  • Click – a paid search click bought on Google, Yahoo or Bing
  • Conversion – a click-to-sale conversion. A conversion is when someone clicks through to your site, then completes a purchase. This could also be a click-to-lead conversion if your goal is to drive leads
  • Conversion Rate – the percentage of time clicks convert to sales. For example, a conversion rate of 5% means that 5 out of every 100 clicks result in sales.
  • Average Sale – the average value of a sale
  • ROAS – return on ad spend: the return in sales you are getting on your paid search investment. I will calculate this as $X in sales for every dollar spent
  • CPC – cost per click: what you are paying per click in Google, Yahoo or Bing
  • Target CPC – the cost per click you should be paying to achieve your target ROAS

Here’s an example scenario: Jane is paying $0.10 per click, 10% of clicks are converting to sales, and her average sale is $5. This means that on average she generates $5 in revenue for every $1 she spends to buy clicks. Therefore, her ROAS is $5.

If Jane is ok with a lower ROAS, she can generate more sales. Spending more per click will lower her ROAS, but the higher CPC will also drive more traffic. For example, if she can achieve her profit goals at a $2.50 ROAS, she can afford to pay $0.20 per click. Here is the math:

ROAS = Sales / Ad Spend
= (Average Sale X Conversion Rate X Clicks) / (Clicks X CPC)
= (Average Sale X Conversion Rate) / CPC

Solving for CPC, we get:

Target CPC = (Average Sale X Conversion Rate) / Target ROAS

Substituting Jane’s goal for ROAS, we get:

Target CPC = ($5 X 10% / $2.50) = $0.20

The process is similar for Lisa. Cost per acquisition is total cost divided by the number of acquisitions, or:

CPA = Ad Spend / Conversions
= (Clicks X CPC) / (Clicks X Conversion Rate)
= CPC / Conversion Rate

Solving for CPC, we get:

Target CPC = Target CPA X Conversion Rate

Substituting Lisa’s goal for CPA and assuming a conversion rate of 10%, we get:

Target CPC = $10 X 10% = $1.00

These calculations are pretty straightforward, and many paid search marketers use some variation of these methods. There are also a number of automated bidding systems that have formulas like these somewhere under the hood.

One assumption we’ve made is that we know Jane and Lisa’s conversion rates, but that is not necessarily a safe assumption. To learn more about the challenges of estimating conversion rates, have a look at this article: Paid Search: Bidding with Confidence.

And if you do not currently have the ability to track leads or sales to a keyword ad, Google Analytics is free and will do the job. If you would like help tracking performance or optimizing your paid search campaigns contact us.

This post is part of

Two Octobers Local.