Opening the Door to the Crowd of Customers You’ve Been Keeping Out
By now you have learned how to use search data to improve your overall product and business strategies and seen the value of developing a search acquisition strategy. Next, we’ll put these pieces together by using what you’ve learned about your business and potential customers to create searcher personas and search acquisition workflows that harness the power of search data for opening a whole new channel of acquisition.
Your customers are already looking for what you have to offer, but they often aren’t searching specifically for your brand. If your site doesn’t appear for their non-branded searches, you could very well fall off their consideration list.
If you’re doing offline advertising and not ensuring your brand shows up for the subsequent search traffic that advertising triggers, you may as well be running TV commercials but keeping the store locked up with no way for customers to get in.
Remember those old Mervyn’s super sale ads in which the crowds of customers stood outside the closed store chanting, ‘‘Open, open, open?’’ That’s exactly what’s happening when you don’t ensure organic search is a fundamental part of your customer acquisition strategy. Your audience is standing at the door, and you’re not letting them in.
Search Acquisition Strategy Process
As you probably realize by now, a successful search acquisition strategy involves more than just someone at the company with the job title of SEO A successful strategy involves:
- Ensuring all business and product goals are aligned and using search data as a key part of market research.
- Identifying a target audience that is most likely to turn into customers.
- Determining the queries that fit your business needs and are conducted by your target audience in significant volumes.
- Building content that not only ranks well for those queries, but provides a user experience that helps searchers complete their tasks and engages them more deeply with your business.
- Offering a call to action that compels the searcher deeper into the conversion funnel.
- Understanding what metrics provide actionable insights into the effectiveness of the strategy.
This process involves the steps below:
- Identify your business goals—
- What is the business purpose?
- What is the Web site purpose?
- Assess the market opportunity—
- Based on keyword research, what searches are relevant to your business?
- What’s the overall volume?
- Assess the conversion potential—
- What queries will drive conversion (based on your business goals)?
- Who is the target audience?
- What’s the competitive landscape?
- Create a tactical plan.
- Develop searcher personas.
- Develop search conversion workflows—
- Build a content strategy based on the searcher personas and search conversion workflows.
- Execute the technical implementation
- Monitor progress.
- Identify actionable metrics
- Create rollout and adjustment strategies.
Identify Your Business Goals
It’s important to have a clear sense of your business goals in mind as you embark on developing a search strategy because they provide context for using the search data you collect, identifying your target audience segments, and building a conversion workflow that supports those overall goals.
Consider both your primary and secondary business goals. For instance, in the case of the Napa Valley B&B, the primary business goal is to keep the rooms fully booked, but it’s also important to book those rooms at a profitable price, to engage with guests so they have a good experience and return often (and tell their friends), and to make as much information available to them as possible in advance to reduce manual overhead (such as providing directions, recommendations, and assistance with booking wine tours).
It’s also important to set concrete goals for the Web site. It’s not enough to say that the goal of the Web site is to give your business an online presence. That’s not a goal that you can measure, nor is it something that can align all of the departments in the organization toward a common purpose. For our B&B, Web site goals might include:
- Generate leads for offline bookings.
- Enable online bookings.
- Provide answers to frequently asked questions from guests.
We can measure these goals using data points such as:
- Increase the number of offline bookings by 10 percent over six months.
- Book 10 bookings online per month.
- Reduce number of phone calls asking for directions by 50 percent.
A great first step in the goal-articulation process is to step way back and remember what your company is all about at the most basic level. Start your goal discussions by remembering why your company exists: What are you trying to do? Who are you trying to do it for?
Based on your goals, you can build searcher personas that identify the key queries and target audiences that will help you reach them.
Assess the Market Opportunity
We’ve seen in Chapter 2 how to dive into search data to discover who your customers are, what they’re looking for, what the overall industry trends are, and what the competitive landscape looks like.
You can use this data to construct an initial set of target searches.
For every category of content on the site now and for every type of new content you plan to introduce, answer these questions. You should have most of the answers based on the research we’ve just done.
- What are my business goals (and conversion goals)?
- Who in the target audience is most likely to convert?
- What is this target audience searching for?
- What searches are most likely to lead to conversions?
- What content best meets audience needs for those identified searches?
- What information will compel those visitors to convert?
Evaluate Site Pages for Alignment with Content Strategy
Another way of using this information is evaluating the pages currently on the site and any proposed pages. Ask the following questions:
- What are you trying to accomplish with each page?
- Who are you trying to attract?
- What is that audience searching for?
- Will this page satisfy that search?
- Will this page compel the audience to convert?
- What’s the call to action?
Assess the Conversion Potent
Based on your business goals, searcher data, and competitive landscape, you can refine the initial list of target searches to subsets that are most likely to convert and that are reasonable areas for your business to initially compete in. For example, [cheap Viagra] searches have high value and volume, but you’ll face strong competition if you choose that as your initial market. On the other hand, [pictures of cute bunnies] may have fairly low competition, but there’s not much money to be made in bunny photography.
Create a Tactical Plan
Now we’ve made it to the core of the work. You’ve identified a core set of searches and have a good understanding of audience and competitive landscape. You know what actions you’d like those searchers to take once they reach your site. The next step is to develop searcher personas and search conversion workflows that will help you build a content strategy. The rest of this chapter dives into searcher personas and search conversion workflows.
Search strategy is an iterative process. One of the most powerful aspects of search as an acquisition channel is that you are provided with near real-time feedback about what’s working and what’s not.
Creating Searcher Personas
A persona is a highly-detailed description of an individual who embodies key goals and behaviors of an important group of target customers.
Typically, a project team will create a set of prioritized personas and use them to drive decisions throughout a design process. Product design personas are built to embody the ‘‘differences that make a difference’’ between the goals and needs of various intended users of a product or service; searcher personas should capture the ‘‘differences that make a difference’’ in the ways target customers search for (and find) the things you are offering.
Product design personas help organizations build products, sites, and services that make sense once the customer or user starts using them; in the case of a Web site, for example, design personas help teams craft the paths visitors take once they arrive. Searcher personas will help you get the visitors to the site in the first place. In effect, they help you begin the user experience design well before the potential customer reaches your site or store and, indeed, before that customer may even have your brand in mind.
Searcher personas also provide snapshots of your potential customers at different phases of the buying cycle. Since searcher personas can describe both a particular searcher demographic (moms who are looking for safe cars that can fit two children and two adults) as well as a potential customer in a particular part of the purchase cycle (preretirement couples who are researching the best places to live once they retire versus those same couples once they have retired and are ready to move), they are flexible constructs that you can modify to best meet your needs.
When developing searcher personas, you generally classify and identify search query categories from the list of queries you’ve built. For instance, O’Reilly, which produces technical books and conferences, might begin with the following query categories:
- Navigational/branded queries—These include variations of the domain and brand, such as [oreilly], [oreilly.com] and [oreilly Web site]. These queries may also include existing brands such as [head first].
- Code queries—These are searches for information about codingrelated topics. The searcher may be looking for anything that answers the question or may be specifically looking for a book, conference, or forum/blog. In this case, O’Reilly will want to investigate if it makes sense to set up a separate conversion path for books, conferences, and forums, or if it would serve these searchers better to have a topic landing page (‘‘All About AJAX’’) that links to the various components available for that topic (such as conference, books, forums, and latest blog posts). Queries along these lines include [Blackberry hacks], [C# design patterns], [C# cookbook], [iPhone development].
- Book-specific queries—These could include writing-related queries such as [book writing] and [how to write a book].
- Author searches—Searches for author names can likely be aggregated into one persona type. It may make sense to build out author pages with bio information, links to related sites, books written, and upcoming speaking events.
Next, perform query category analysis. Aggregate the list of queries for each category, and then determine the market opportunity, search volume, competition, and conversion potential. This information will vary for each category and is useful information for later success metrics. For each query category, assess:
- What are the related keywords for the category?
- What are the highest volume keywords for each category?
- Does the site rank for any of these terms now? If so, which pages?
- What is the intent of these searchers?
- What are the current ranking, bounce rate, number of pages viewed, and other conversion event metrics?
- What’s the competitive analysis for the category?
Tamara Adlin, author of The Persona Lifecycle: Keeping People in Mind Throughout Product Design
To identify the audiences for your query categories, try completing an ‘‘I want/I need’’ exercise that’s used in an ad-hoc persona creation process I developed with John Pruitt. Gather your team in a room and hand out sticky notes. Ask everyone to spend a few minutes writing a person þ situation on each sticky note. For example, the O’Reilly team might create sticky notes like these:
Coder looking for a code snippet
Professor trying to find the best book to use for his upcoming class
Wired reader who remembers an author name from an article she read
Marketer who heard something about a ‘‘polar bear book’’
Student who needs bibliographic details to include in a paper
Aspiring author wondering who might print his book idea
After everyone has written as many stickies as they can think of (typically, each person in the room will come up with at least 20), have everyone cluster the stickies on a large sheet of paper.
To do the clustering, use a different color sticky note and create ‘‘I want . . . ’’ or ‘‘I need . . . ’’ category labels. In the O’Reilly example, the team might come up with:
Category: ‘‘I need an answer to a question I have right now’’
Stickies—Coder looking for a code snippet
Student who needs bibliographic details to include in a paper
Category: ‘‘I want to find a book I heard about’’
Wired reader who remembers an author name from an article she read
Category: ‘‘I’m interested in learning about publishing’’
Aspiring author wondering who might print his book idea
The category labels you come up with can form the foundation for your searcher personas and can be a good way to do the query classification.
Once you have begun to categorize your audience into searcher personas, you can define the audience for each query category by answering the following questions:
- What do you know about this category of searchers?
- What does success look like for them?
- How can you help them accomplish their task?
- What conversion goal applies to them and what is the likelihood of conversion?
- What stage of the buying cycle are they in? Are they researching? Intending to purchase?
- How can you compel them to conversion?
- What is the lifetime value of this searcher? (This last question is a stretch that most companies haven’t quite figured out, so if you haven’t gotten there yet, don’t worry! Just know that it’s useful data to compile once you’re able to.)
You may end up with something like Figure 4.1.
Creating Searcher Conversion Work£ows
Once you’ve created searcher personas for each query category (and audience type, if applicable), you can turn that information into an optimal searcher conversion workflow. Use the illustration in Figure 4.2 as a guide.
In order for your search acquisition strategy to be effective, all phases of this workflow must be in place.
- Search—You need to understand your customers and what they’re searching for (identified in the searcher persona definitions).
- Rank—Your site has to rank well for the identified queries
- SERP (Search Engine Results Page) Display—The search results display must compel searchers to click through to your site.
- Page Content—The page the searcher clicks to should be quickly identifiable as relevant to the searcher’s task.
- Conversion—The page should propel the visitor to conversion with an effective call to action.
Once you’ve outlined searcher conversion workflows for each searcher persona, you can create a content strategy that takes full advantage of the search opportunity.
What Queries to Target
When options brokerage PEAK6 decided to branch out and provide educational information about the stock market to novice investors, they created a virtual trading space that enabled visitors to practice investing with no real money at stake.
Knowing that to learn about the stock market and to invest can be daunting to some (and—sorry brokers!—boring to others), they built WeSeed.com, educational content around topics that got people excited and related those topics to the stock market:
- Excited about that new Apple iPhone? Learn how the release impacted Apple stock.
- Psyched for the next Britney Spears tour? How has it impacted the stock of BMG, her record label?
Sounds great, right? And it is. But they weren’t gaining much traction in customer signups. Looking at their Web analytics, it was clear that few visitors were coming from search, even though investment advice is likely a hot search topic.
Two of the areas we looked at were:
How well were the visitors they were getting converting to customers?
Was there a different product strategy that would attract more visitors?
We discovered some interesting data in the logs. Most visitors were searching for variations of ‘‘virtual stock market’’ and ‘‘stock market game.’’ While this is exactly what We Seed offers, that’s not obvious from the pages those searchers were landing on.
Another large subset of searchers was looking for information on teaching their kids to invest, with queries such as [investing for kids] and [stocks for children]. We Seed hadn’t considered creating a product that helped teach kids to invest.
We Seed already provided a section for educators, but it was aimed at those teaching at the university level. We considered adding a subsection to the site focused on elementary school teachers—giving them advice, sample games, and educational material they could provide to their students.
We also looked into creating a stock market game that parents could play with their children. Expanding into this product had several advantages. The parents would control the user accounts, so although the kids would be playing, they wouldn’t need accounts of their own. We Seed could take advantage of the visitor traffic they were already getting from search and acquire more traffic, which would in turn add activity to the site. And the parents would be introduced to We Seed and the PEAK6 suite of products, which might motivate some of them to sign up for We Seed or PEAK6 accounts.
Determining value to the business is key. A site could build out a number of content and product areas based on search volumes and analytics data. And that would likely add substantial search traffic to the site. But the point behind acquiring search traffic is to convert those visitors to customers. Would building out a section for kids result in conversion?
The process to determine the answer is the same as for any business. Will adding a pool result in the gym seeing more memberships? Will fixing that leaky roof get the house sold quicker?
When I ask business owners what their site goals are, they tell me things like ‘‘I want to increase my site traffic by 50 percent’’ and ‘‘I want to rank number one for this particular keyword.’’ But neither of those is a site goal. Those are both steps that can lead to the goal, but neither is the reason behind the site.
In the case of We Seed, conversion goals are hard to pin down. The site doesn’t generate revenue—it doesn’t sell anything, display ads, or sell memberships. The site simply produces educational content.
Since the site was already getting search traffic for [investing for kids]-related queries without having a targeted product for those visitors (as it ranks on the first page for those queries), odds are that we could vastly increase that traffic fairly easily by focusing on that product strategy.
We also determined that parents who were interested enough in the stock market to want to play an online stock game with their kids that teaches kids investing were a good audience that aligned with the site’s goals: increasing awareness of the PEAK6 brand and positioning it as an authoritative thought leader on investment-related advice by providing educational content.
Looking at the competitive landscape, there’s room for a better product choice. The top ranking site on Google is called ‘‘Investing for Kids,’’ but its content doesn’t seem to be targeted for kids, and it appears to be abandoned. It appears to be ranking because the site contains a lot of content and the title of the site matches the query. The next few sites are article-based sites, also mostly abandoned. There don’t seem to be any sites that provide easy to use educational content for parents and kids with a game component. Related queries such as [educational games kids investing] list articles from 2001.
By using the Google AdWords Keyword tool, we found that the top three related search queries were:
- Stocks for kids
- Kids stock market
- For kids stock market
None of these queries had significant competition, so the market seemed a good bet for expansion. Looking more closely at the search data, we can begin to paint a more detailed picture of the persona we’re targeting. Some searchers want to explain the stock market to kids. Another set of searchers is looking to buy stock for their kids, so we decided to exclude it from our targeting. Later, we could expand into educational content around that topic to reach additional searchers.
Next, we did searches for the identified queries to see what the search results would tell us about this audience. Many of the related searches at the bottom of the search results page are about teaching kids about the stock market.
WeSeed.com now has data about a potential new target audience, just from looking at search data and their web analytics. So should they drop their current strategy and redirect their business efforts toward kids? Not so fast. Remember, this research also uncovered a key segment of their existing business strategy that they weren’t taking advantage of during searches for virtual stock markets and stock market games. Those searchers are a great audience for the existing content on WeSeed.com and are likely highly qualified. We Seed chose to start there and will consider new audiences once they’ve reached this group who are already searching for exactly what they offer.
But you can see how looking at search data can help you uncover new potential avenues of connecting with an audience and directions your product strategy could go.
Ensuring Each Page Has a Clear and Valuable Call to Action
Every business wants to achieve their goals and they don’t want to invest substantial resources on acquiring an audience to whom they don’t even offer the chance to convert. But you might be surprised at how easily it can be to overlook the last step in the search conversion workflow—the conversion itself.
To see this in action, let’s take a look at PEAK6 again. One of their family sites is Options News Network (onn.tv), a destination for traders to gather insights, news, and analysis around the stock market. They showcase a number of personalities on their site who appear on financial channels such as CNBC. They know that watching television spurs people to search and they want to take advantage of that.
In building individual profile pages for each Options News Network personality, PEAK6 thought about how to best satisfy the needs of searchers as well as meet their business goals. They put together the following goals.
- Provide self-direct options traders with a single destination that aggregates options news, trade ideas, and content to help people manage risk better.
- Provide options information and education through text and video content.
- Grow the universe of option traders by reaching out to stock investors who will benefit from adding options to their choice of investment tools.
- Self-directed options traders.
- Stock traders who want to learn about options trading.
- Brokers who are investing on behalf of clients.
The Target Searchers Agenda
- Information on company personalities (such as Jud Pyle) based on seeing them on TV and reading an article about them.
- More details about topic personality discussed. For instance, showing an interest in knowing more about Pyle’s opinions on options trading.
- Motivated by:
- Credible and comprehensive information.
- Compelling content that pulls visitor through mediums to videos, articles, and so on.
- Audience engagement (watch videos, read articles, and comment).
- Site registration.
- Monetization through ads, subscription, or lead generation.
- Return visits.
- Premium memberships.
- Number of videos watched and articles read.
We put together the following searcher persona workflow as shown in Figure 4.3.This corresponds to the searcher acquisition workflow from earlier in the chapter is shown in Figure 4.4.
Thinking through the business goals for the content and creating an outline like the one in Figure 4.4 can help ensure every investment we make supports those goals and provides a concrete road map for building content.
The final page is obvious at first glance to contain the content that the searcher is looking for, as it includes a heading with Jud Pyle’s name,
a large photo of him, and a biography. This helps ensure searchers don’t abandon the page on first glance and keeps them engaged (see Figure 4.5).
To compel engagement, the page includes a prominent link to the RSS feed of Pyle’s articles, as well as links to his video channels. Every page of the site has a clear sign up path (see Figures 4.6 and 4.7).
Once these pages are in place, you can use multivariate testing and other data to improve conversions.
Harnessing the Long Tail
While the resource investment for monitoring each individual query and providing content for it isn’t reasonable, monitoring and building content for categories of queries is a manageable and worthwhile investment.
The Hotel without a Sign: Branded Search and the Importance of Title Tags
I stayed in a small town in Ireland recently and some friends and I drove through the main street, looking for a hotel we had decided to check out. (The town was too small for individual addresses. Instead, every business simply listed its name and the name of the town.) At one end of the village, we saw a large sign with a huge arrow pointing toward the direction of the hotel.
Aha. We had come to the beginning of the search funnel. We had a need (to get hotel rooms) and we knew the answer to that need (the specific hotel). That huge arrow was the beginning of our search.
But that’s where things started to go off course. We drove down a small windy road with several forks, but no more signs for the hotel. We pressed ahead towards the water, thinking surely the hotel would be in that direction. The road ended at a parking lot and a large building that appeared abandoned. It vaguely resembled a hotel. The only sign was a small one over the door that read ‘‘hotel entrance.’’ (See Figure 4.8.)
Was this in fact the hotel we were looking for? Whether it was or not, it was going to be our hotel for the night. Even though we were on a branded search (a search for a particular brand), the path wasn’t clear. Had we seen another hotel on the way, we likely would have just stopped there, since we didn’t have much confidence that we were going the right way. And we were resigned to staying at this hotel whether it was the right one or not. But apparently the hotel assumed everyone would just know where and who they were.
Can your site be found for searches for your brand? In a recent study, 55 percent of business to business buyers said that they would navigate to a site they already knew through search. You can see this trend in the top search terms. Nearly all are branded (see Figure 4.9).
Enquiro Research has found that if a brand the searcher hadn’t previously considered shows up in results, it is added to a consideration set 40 percent of the time.5 And a brand not listed may be dropped from a consideration set. So, appearing in results is important even if the searcher doesn’t click. In fact, Enquiro Research found a 16 percent lift in brand awareness when the brand appeared in both the top organic and top paid position (versus appearing in neither). When searchers were asked if they remembered seeing brands in the search results, fewer than 30 percent did if the brand was only in a paid search ad, but nearly 60 percent did when the brand appeared on top of both paid and organic. The study also found that appearance in the organic results only versus the paid results only causes more brand lift.
And the positive brand perception doesn’t stop at just recall. A 2006 iProspect and Jupiter Research study found that 36 percent of those surveyed felt that . . .
. . . seeing a company listed among the top results on a search engine makes me think that the company is a top one within its field. . . .
Organic search should have a clear place in your brand awareness strategy. Visibility for your brand name, domain name, and primary tagline in organic searches should be a key requirement for any Web site initiative or advertising campaign. A quick search for [just do it] on the major search engines illustrates how this can easily go wrong even for large brands with a longstanding tagline (see Figure 4.10).Review the result of the top ten organic search results for your brand. If negative items exist, can you add positive content to the Web (such as through social media, video and images, blog posts, interviews or articles on other sites, conference appearances, or media mentions) that could have the opportunity of outranking that negative content? Google calls this ‘‘proactively publishing information.’’
Ensure any project that you do with an outside agency has organic search visibility as a project goal.
Track customer acquisition from branded organic search separately from other types of organic search and, if possible, track how the volume is influenced by other branding initiatives (such as display advertising).
You’ve Been Warned. Search: 2012
Sony Pictures built a marketing campaign around the movie 2012 that centered on search. Billboards cropped up sporting the cryptic message: ‘‘You’ve been warned. Search: 2012.’’ The Search: 2012 tagline also was incorporated into other campaign elements, such as the movie trailer (see Figure 4.11).
At least in some cases, the campaign worked. A screenshot of the search results for  on Flickr includes the description, ‘‘Spotted abillboard off the 405 South in Gardena hyping the movie with this headline above [search: 2012]. So of course I had to see what the fuss was all about (see Figure 4.12).’’
Google Insights for Search confirms that the campaigns have triggered search interest (see Figure 4.13).
Sony Pictures could further use Google Insights for Search to see how well the campaign is doing at a regional level by comparing search volume across cities to the billboard, television advertising, and other investments regionally (see Figure 4.14).
Unlike Hyundai, which, as we saw earlier, didn’t appear in organic search results at all for the tagline they were promoting, the 2012 moviesite appears number one on Google. Sony Pictures clearly is more focused on understanding how to be visible in organic search. However, including only the search term and not a Web site address in marketing material seems like a risky advertising strategy. Organic search results positions can’t be guaranteed and are always fluctuating. And Sony Pictures has added to the risk by creating an all-Flash site, which as we’ll learn in Chapter 7, can be problematic. Google does a much better job at indexing Flash than Microsoft Bing and Yahoo!, which could be contributing to the fact that the movie site does not rank number one on either of those search engines. Sony Pictures has further created search issues by maintaining several identical sites. Google and Yahoo! list who willsurvive2012.com (which, from a branding perspective, is likely the site Sony Pictures is looking to promote). Microsoft, however, lists sonypictures. com/movies/2012, which is simply a duplicate site. Why is this such a problem? Beyond the branding confusion, promoting two identical sites means that the links from other sites will be split between both of them (and in fact, as of this writing, both sites had approximately the same number of links). As a result, www.whowillsurvive2012.com has half the link value it otherwise would, and the site may never achieve the rankings it otherwise would.
Sony Pictures has additional obstacles since it has chosen to promote a search term that is already well-covered online. The movie is about a real theory, which is the potential end of the world in 2012 as evidenced by the end of the Mayan calendar. Numerous Web sites exist about this theory. Sony Pictures risks having those who search based on seeing billboards clicking to survive2012.com or december212012.com and never realizing that the billboard was meant to promote a movie.
Fortunately for Sony Pictures, both Microsoft and Yahoo! have blended search elements that use data feeds to provide movie-related information at the top of any search page that appears to be for a movie.
Should advertising campaigns integrate organic search at all? Absolutely. Throughout this book, we’ve discussed how potential customers often turn to search first, so integrating it from the beginning meets your customers where they are. Keep the following in mind when incorporating organic search into an advertising campaign:
- Ensure someone on the team (whether that person is in-house or with the ad agency you’re working with) fully understands the complexities of organic search, including content development, technical Web infrastructure, and external links.
- Assess the competitive landscape. If possible, drive search interest in a tagline that’s not already well-covered by unrelated sites.
- Unless it negatively impacts the campaign, include a Web site address and not simply a search term.
- When creating a plan for technical implementation, involve the organic search expert at every stage of the process and ensure you are accounting for all likely queries, including company name, product name, tagline, and Web site address.
- Have your organic search expert help design solutions for common issues, including:
- Micro sites that don’t launch until the campaign starts, and, therefore, aren’t available for search engine indexing in time for the initial searches.
- All-Flash sites that don’t provide unique URLs and textual content for the search engines to index.
- Duplicate content that can slow down indexing and dilute link value (and subsequently, ranking).
- Sites that redirect, preventing the promoted Web site address from ever being indexed.
Now that we’ve identified whom to target through organic search and how to target them, let’s learn a little more about how search engines work and how to build Web sites that searchers can easily find.