Searchers aren’t an isolated demographic from the rest of your target audience. Searchers are your target audience. And they’re telling you exactly what will compel them to buy your products, engage with your company, and become your strongest advocates.
The largest source of this data is through the major search engines, particularly Google. Millions of people search using these search engines every day, and in aggregate what they search for and how those searches change over time provides incredibly useful insight into their needs.
Just as valuable as the words they type are the ways they behave. Search engines know exactly what people click on after they enter a query. They know what content searchers viewed then quickly returned to the search results to look for a better answer. They can follow the entire search session to better understand intent: What did the searcher type next? What result did the searcher click on that ended the search?
Research companies like Enquiro Research augment this understanding of searcher intent with data about what searchers see as they scan the search results and what they focus on, as well as what they skip. And research into how the brain processes information as we search helps complete the picture of what searchers are really after.
Marrying how we search (behavior) with why we search (intent) and what we search for (query volume) is vital to understanding a business’s potential audience, since the average length of a query is three words, and many queries consist of only one word.2 It’s difficult to know intent for many one-word queries. But coupled with search history, aggregate behaviors, and other behavioral data, the intent picture becomes much clearer.
If you can track individual behavior and add this information to the rest of the data, you can get a very clear picture indeed.
How We Use Search for Research: Planning a Trip to Lake Tahoe
A Microsoft search session in February, 2009, that lasted nearly four hours and included eight queries and 27 visited sites illustrates how searcher intent is difficult to discern from a single query and how results found in earlier queries can influence later ones. See Figure 2.1.
The searcher begins the search with [family reunion Lake Tahoe]. The results generally relate to event planning, which is clearly not what the searcher is looking for, as subsequent searches are more obviously related to lodging ([large house Lake Tahoe], [large vacation home to rent in Lake Tahoe]). The searcher originally was focused on the outcome of his task—having a family reunion in Lake Tahoe—but he quickly realized that the way to reach that goal was to look for lodging that would accommodate many people (the last query in the session is [Lake Tahoe rental for large group]). At one point, he searches for [rental sleeps 30 Lake Tahoe]. If you were tracking individual visitor behavior, then when this visitor landed on your site for [Lake Tahoe rental for large group], you’d know that he’s bringing 30 people for a family reunion and he’d like a large house to accommodate everyone.
This type of data may not be all that valuable for your business based on one visitor. But what if you found that you had highest conversion rates from [Lake Tahoe large rental], that 80 percent of those conversions were from searchers who had previously searched for family reunion–related content, and that most searchers doing that same [Lake Tahoe large rental] search who had previously searched for [college spring break] didn’t convert at all?
Depending on other data, you might build out a family reunion resources section to attract even more of the high converting customers and you might create a page describing why the rental is great for college students on spring break (if that’s an audience you’d like to convert).
Of course testing is key to make sure it works.
Market Research: Where the Wild Frontiers of Human Nature Meet the Wild Powers of Technology
In his book Spent, biological psychologist Geoffrey Miller talks about his experience at a 1999 conference about economic preferences. The economists in attendance were more interested in buying patterns than the psychological reasons behind them. However, the marketers in attendance did care, leading Miller down a road of research about marketing at the end of which he concluded: ‘‘Marketing is not just one of the most important ideas in business. It has become the most dominant force in human culture.’’ He defines marketing as ‘‘[a] systematic attempt to fulfill human desires by producing goods and services that people will buy. It is where the wild frontiers of human nature meet the wild powers of technology.’’ And he describes the marketing revolution of the 1950s and 60s as a shift to understanding that a ‘‘company should produce what people desire, instead of trying to convince them to buy what the company happens to make.’’
The discipline of market research was born and is now an $8 billion industry in the United States alone
Before the Web, it was difficult to learn about what large groups of people were interested in without conducting large scale surveys. But today, nearly all of your potential customers are broadcasting exactly what they want through their searches. And search data may even be more honest than survey data, since people are searching for what they actually want, not telling a surveyor what they think they should want.
Miller notes that not all industries have embraced this method of creating products (such as banking, law, and medicine) and concludes that those who don’t ‘‘bother using market research to shape their services to their customers’ desires, [will] lose market share to those that do.’’
The same can be said of search data. Those businesses that don’t realize that we’ve experienced a shift in consumer behavior and that customers and customer data are now centered on search will lose market share to those that do.
Miller says that ‘‘marketing knowledge lurks as a sort of arcanemagic,’’ and the same can definitely be said of search-based consumer acquisition.
With search data, we can gain new insights into our customers, our industry, and our competitors, but many businesses think of it as a kind of arcane magic that they aren’t sure how to best harness. But once you know where to get the data and how to apply it, you’ll find that search data provides clear insight that makes running your business and acquiring customers easier, smoother, and more measurable.
Search Acquisition Strategy: The New Product Strategy and Customer Acquisition Strategy
Effective search acquisition begins with learning more about your customers and what they’re searching for. From there, you can assess your site and make sure it satisfies the needs of those searchers. Finally, you ensure that when your customers search, your site shows up in results. It stands to reason then that search acquisition strategy is really customer acquisition strategy and, at its core, product strategy.
The biggest difference between traditional market research and search-based market research is that you can gain a great deal of information about customer behavior and needs without spending a dime on focus groups, surveys, or other expensive methods. That doesn’t mean you won’t do some of those things to refine your strategy and confirm your conclusions or as a parallel endeavor, but an amazing amount of data is available from search and, with multivariate testing and mouse movement tracking, you can see how customers are responding in near-real time.
Building a Better Digital Camera
Consider a new digital camera manufacturer, BetterCamera. They are looking to build the right set of features into their inaugural product. But what do people care about most in a camera? The product development team at BetterCamera can gain some insight into what that might be by looking at search logs.
First, how big is the digital camera market? According to Google, over 41 million people searched for [camera digital] and [digital cameras] in July 2009.6 And that number doesn’t include all of the variations of related searches such as specific digital camera brand names.
According to Google AdWords, the top searched-for digital camera features are:
BetterCamera hasn’t had breakthroughs with its lens technology that would rival the competition, and its megapixel and size specs are comparable to other brands. The company decides to explore the idea of building an underwater (and thus waterproof) camera.
The BetterCamera team uses search data for a bit of competitive research and finds that the top searched-for brands for waterproof and digital cameras are:
This is an area that the team feels it can compete in because only a small number of searchers are looking for specific brands. Most are looking for simply variations of [waterproof digital cameras] and [underwater digital cameras]. See Figure 2.2.
Could BetterCamera gain insight into the audience for waterproof and underwater cameras and what features are most important to them? The first thing the product team notices is that, not surprisingly, search interest spikes in summer. And overall interest isn’t declining, which confirms the underwater digital camera business is a healthy one. See Figure 2.3.
Searchers in Hawaii and Florida appear most interested in underwater cameras, but third-place Alaska is unexpected. The market researchteam will have to look more closely into that. Are these searches driven primarily by Alaskans planning vacations to tropical destinations? See Figure 2.4.
Looking at specific searches, the BetterCamera team finds that those in the market for an underwater digital camera are particularly interested in disposable versions, waterproof housings, and inexpensive options. Perhaps the company should consider offering low-costalternatives to expensive waterproof digital cameras for those potential customers who only need to take pictures underwater during short vacations and, therefore, aren’t looking to invest in high-cost solutions. But quality is still important to this audience (after all, why take underwater pictures at all if they aren’t going to turn out?), so the product team at Better Camera looks into designing a waterproof housing that will enable the two-week-a-year scuba divers to turn their existing highquality digital cameras into underwater versions.
Some of this potential audience clearly knows that buying a waterproof housing is an option based on the high volume of existing searches, so a consumer base already exists. In addition, the BetterCamera team brainstorms ways of marketing to the audience segment looking for inexpensive and disposable underwater digital cameras. After all, the number of monthly Google searches for waterproof housings is approximately 40,000, whereas the number of Google searches for waterproof digital cameras is around 600,000. So if the team only went after those already looking for waterproof housings, it would be neglecting a substantial target market. See Figure 2.5.Search Data: A Powerful Source of Market Research
With all the searching your potential customers are doing, you can gain a great deal of information about exactly what they’re looking for.
And we get more than just a list of queries from search data. We can find out what searchers looked for next, where they were searching from, and what they were searching for most.
Using Keyword Research for Market Insights
As you saw with BetterCamera, you can use keyword research to determine the keywords with the highest query volumes, which have the most competition and which are most likely to attract searchers to your site and turn them into customers.
How Keyword Research Is Valuable
- You gain insight into what searches have the highest volume (and can bring the most traffic).
- You get data on the competitive landscape of each query category.
- You learn the language of the customer, so you can better engage them (in clicking on the search result, staying on the page, and converting).
- You can better prioritize features and content additions based on expected traffic lifts.
Predicting Future Trends
But how reliable is search data in predicting future trends and influencing business decisions? The Google research team has spent a great deal of time considering this. As the team noted in its blog:
Having predictable trends for a search query or for a group of queries could have interesting ramifications. One could forecast the trends into the future, and use it as a ‘‘best guess’’ for various business decisions such as budget planning, marketing campaigns and resource allocations. One could identify deviation from such forecasting and identify new factors that are influencing the search volume. We were therefore interested in the following questions:
- How many search queries have trends that are predictable?
- Are some categories more predictable than others? How is the distribution of predictable trends between the various categories?
- How predictable are the trends of aggregated search queries for different categories? Which categories are more predictable and which are less so?’’
From this investigation, the team published a paper that describes how its research found that, among other things:
- Over half of the most popular Google search queries are predictable in a 12-month forecast. Categories such as health, food and drink, and travel have the highest percentage of predictable queries.
- The rest are not predictable (which makes sense, as Google can’t predict who will be the next Britney Spears or Twitter). Entertainment, for instance, has a low percentage of predictable queries.
- Eighty-eight percent of the aggregated category search trends of over 600 categories in Insights for Search, one of Google’s free keyword research tools, are predictable.
Based on this research, Google launched the forecasting feature for Google Insights, which predicts future search volume for those queries in which it has some degree of confidence.
In its paper Predicting the Present With Google Trends, the team found that ‘‘Google Trends data can help improve forecasts of the current level of activity for a number of different economic time series, including automobile sales, home sales, and travel behavior.’’
Look, for instance at the search trends for Figure 2.6.Interest spiked sharply in late 2008 and began to decline in the latter half of 2009.
This data can also provide competitive research, diving into the top searches shows that [Wells Fargo] is the dominant searched-for bank (see Figure 2.7). And the data can provide product strategy insights as well. If we want to attract searchers to our mortgage products, we’d be wise to provide a mortgage calculator.
Google says it expects this forecasting data to help businesses make decisions about budget planning, marketing campaigns, and resourceallocations. If tools powered by such high volumes of customer data exist for free to help you gain insight into your market planning, marketing campaigns, and resource allocations, don’t you want to take advantage of them?
Search Data as Economic Indicator
A September, 2009 Washington Post story described Google chief economist Hal Varian’s efforts to lobby government agencies to use Google search tools to better understand ‘‘customer sentiment, corporate health, and social interests.’’ Varian said he was confident of the national economic recovery—not because of government data, but because of search data. He noted that in March, 2009, the number of Google searches about unemployment benefits and centers began to drop (corresponding to the decline of new jobless claims): ‘‘As a contemporaneous predictor, predicting the present through search queries has been a pretty good predictor of initial (jobless) claims.
He also noted an increase in home and real estate agent searches, which he felt indicated a strengthening housing market. He compared this to rising interest earlier in the year for the government’s ‘‘cash for clunkers’’ program that he said the government could have used to forecast budgetary needs for the program. (The government underestimated demand and initially didn’t allocate the budget necessary to keep up.)
Government agencies might be slow to embrace innovation, but you can be nimble and adopt Varian’s advice as it applies to your business. Search data can provide a powerful point of triangulation for other corporate data, market research, and industry trends, and can predict potential industry changes early. By paying attention to how your customers are searching, you can get a jump on the competition, who might not realize such data exists.
Seasonality and Prediction
Google research has found that many queries are seasonal, and can therefore be fairly reliably predicted. (Those who searched for skiing conditions last winter are likely to search for them this winter as well.)
You can see how the forecasting works with the query in Figure 2.8.If you have a seasonal business, search data can help you pinpoint just when demand is likely to peak. Even if you don’t think your business is impacted by seasonality, this trend data can help you be sure.
Using Search Data for Better Business Strategy and Stronger Customer Engagement
The following example formulates a business strategy for a hypothetical bed and breakfast in Sonoma County, CA. (We take a closer look at some of the tools available for conducting this research on page 43, and you can find a comprehensive list of resources at marketingintheageof google.com.)
Before you dive into search data, you should clearly define your business goals. For the B&B, we’ll answer the questions as follows:
- What is the primary goal of the business?
- To book guests into the B&B.
- What does success look like?
- 70 percent occupancy at 90 percent of list prices.
- What is the primary goal of the Web site?
- To attract potential guests to book rooms.
- What are the secondary goals of the Web site?
- To engage with guests so they have a positive experience and return.
- To reduce manual overhead of providing maps, directions, nearby wineries, restaurants, etc. by having all of the information available on the Web site.
- Who is the primary audience of the business?
- Those interested in B&Bs who want to tour wineries in Sonoma and who can afford to pay list prices.
The answers to these questions provide us with a foundation: Who is interested in winery tours in Sonoma and like to stay in B&Bs? Where do they live? What do they like? What are they looking for in a B&B?
Knowing this information can help us make the Web site compelling for the audiences so they’ll book a room, as well as help us craft the B&B itself so that it meets the needs of the guests. Web strategy and business strategy intertwine. The customers are the same. Their needs are the same. What compels them is the same. What you as a business owner want them to do is the same.
How is the B&B business in wine country doing these days? For that, we can check Google Trends (see Figure 2.9).
The first thing we see is that the interest in B&Bs is down slightly, but we also find that many more people are searching for [bed and breakfast] than .
We also find that people are searching for both Sonoma and Napa and that, whereas searches for Sonoma spike at the end of each year, Napa searches stay fairly constant (see Figure 2.10).
The searches for [wine country] have similar spikes (see Figure 2.11).
We’ll have to keep those spikes in mind when we start planning promotions. (Digging further, it seems that the spikes are due to searchers looking to buy Christmas gifts.)Where should we target those promotions? We can see that, not surprisingly, Californians have the most interest, followed by those in other nearby states. But both Minnesota and Maine show higher than expected interest for their distances.
Interest is highest in the United States, but there’s substantial interest from Canada, as well as other countries (see Figure 2.12).Diving into the top search terms and rising searches, we see that people seem to be interested in:
- Wine country maps
- Visitor information
- Airport information
- Wine country packages, vacations, and gift baskets
This gives us a starting point for considering how to position our B&B.We know we want to include visitor information on our site (such as maps, airport details, and weather), but we may also want to consider providing vacation packages and even creating gift baskets that can be ordered online. Since gift baskets aren’t our core competency, however, we’ll hold that idea for when we’re ready to expand.
Diving Into Keyword Research
Before we get started, a few words about numbers. Although most keyword tools list numbers, you shouldn’t think of them as exact counts. Rather, you should think of them as a way to compare terms on a relative scale. Google clusters and approximates its numbers and many of the other tools use sampling. So, for instance, if Google lists [Napa Valley] at 823,000 queries, [Napa hotels] at 246,000 queries, and [wine country inn] at 14,800 queries, you can conclude that more searches were done for [Napa Valley] and [wine country inn] had substantially fewer queries. But you can’t conclude that Google saw exactly 14,800 searches for [wine country inn].
Another thing to keep in mind is that you’ll see a lot of references to ‘‘keywords’’ but what this really means is ‘‘queries.’’ A ‘‘keyword’’ might actually consist of several words.
Many free and fee-based keyword research tools exist. The search engine tools are generally based on paid search data and are often presented as relative rather than as absolute. Third-party tools tend to be based on data from internet service providers, toolbars, or consumer panels.
We now have an initial seed list of words for our B&B based on our business goals, target audience, and trends information. Based on this seed list, we can build an expanded list with volume information.
Determining Keywords to Use
We’ve already gotten started with this for our B&B. But there are lots of ways to develop seed lists, including:
- Industry trends
- Existing targets
- Analytics data
- Site search logs
- Webmaster Tools data
- Competitor primary keywords
- Related sites, social media sites in related topics, and other written publications to find out what the audience is interested in
- Data from all of the departments in your organization that deal with customer needs (including product research, customer support, marketing, and PR)—what data can be shared?
We’ll start with the Google AdWords Keyword Tool12 (which you don’t need an AdWords account to use). Enter your initial seed list of words and keep ‘‘enable synonyms’’ checked to get an expanded list. You’ll get back a list of queries with search volumes based on ‘‘broad match.’’ Broad match means that the listed word(s) appeared somewhere in the query. You can switch this list to ‘‘exact match,’’ which lists only exact queries.
For instance, we see that the local search volume for [Napa Valley] in August 2009, was 823,000. But this doesn’t mean that 823,000 searches were for [Napa Valley]. It simply means that many queries included the words ‘‘Napa’’ and ‘‘Valley’’ ([Napa Valley lodging] and [Napa Valley wineries] would both be counted in this number).
In addition to showing local (which is based on the chosen country and language, which you can change) and global search volumes, this tool also generates advertiser competition information.
Google generates two lists of keywords: related keywords and additional keywords to consider. An easy way to work with these lists is to export them to Excel, sort them by volume, filter out the queries that don’t align with your business goals and target audience, and then categorize them. Once you have a general sense of what you’re looking for, you can take a look at exact matches.
We can do this with our bed and breakfast data.
As we categorize the queries, patterns start to emerge. Not surprisingly, these searchers are interested in regional activities such as wine tours, trains, restaurants, and spas. They are looking for B&Bs that are historic, luxurious, and romantic. We may decide to partner with a local spa and offer lodging and spa packages. And we may want to decorate at least one of our rooms in romantic tones and offer a romance package, complete with wine train tour.
We also can see smaller details about how people search. They are much more likely to use the abbreviation ‘‘CA’’ than to spell out ‘‘California.’’ And they’re much more likely to search for ‘‘bed and breakfast’’ than for ‘‘bed & breakfast’’ or ‘‘B&B.’’ These may seem like small points, but when you consider that major search engines are still, at their core, text based—matching up queries to pages—you realize that how you word content can make a big difference. Using the language of your customer can help you engage with them better as well.
Use of language becomes even more important with companies selling products that may inadvertently lapse into corporate speak and alienate their potential customers.
Now we have a general sense of how we should position our B&B and how we should talk about it. What else can the data tell us?
We can get a list of questions that people are asking from the WordTracker Keyword Questions Tool.13 From this, we see that the most asked questions about Napa Valley include:
- Where to go in Napa Valley
- Where to stay in Napa Valley’
- What vineyards do you recommend Napa Valley
- When do they harvest grapes in Napa Valley
- Where is the Napa Valley
- What vineyards should you go to in Napa Valley
- Where is the Napa Valley in California
- Where is Napa Valley
- Where is Napa Valley vs San Francisco
- Where is a visitor guide for Napa Valley
- What to do in California Napa Valley
- What is the best winery in Napa Valley
- When is harvest time in the wine country Napa Valley
- What to wear in Napa Valley
- When is the best time to visit Napa Valley
- What airport do you fly into for the Napa Valley
- Where to taste Napa Valley cult wines
- What is closest city to Napa Valley
- How far is Napa Valley from San Diego
- When to go to Napa Valley
- What to do in the Napa Valley
We can learn at least a couple of things from this list. We see that people are looking for:
- Where to stay in Napa Valley
- Location and direction information about Napa Valley
- The best time to visit Napa Valley
- Things to do in Napa Valley
We also see how people craft their queries. We may want to include copy on our site such as ‘‘looking for where to stay in Napa Valley?’’ Be sure to use this data to add useful content to the site that matches what your potential customers are looking for, and not just include text that matches keyword strings.
Meeting Your Business Goals
Now we have a list of ideas about how to position and expand our business offerings and have gained insight into our target audience. Next, we want to focus on those areas that will bring us the highest rate of conversion.
This data is easier to obtain if your site is already running. You can use your analytics data and paid search data to find out what is attracting the most attention and what topics attract visitors who are most likely to convert.
Pinpointing conversion is tricky though, since it’s based on not only attracting qualified visitors who are searching for the right things, but also on how well the content is positioned on the page and how effective the call to action is. We’ll talk more about those components of the funnel in Chapter 4. For now, just know that the numbers you see in your web analytics program and paid search reports may not tell the whole story.
Using Web Analytics Data
You can categorize web analytics data in much the same way as keyword research data. Export the information into Excel, categorize by topic and then discern patterns
For instance, if you use Google Analytics, you can generate information about search queries that brought visitors to your site by choosing Traffic Sources > Keywords > Unpaid.
Traffic Sources > Keywords > Unpaid. We’ll cluster all of the branded searches (that is, searches for our brand name or domain name) together and exclude them, as those searching specifically for us should convert at a higher rate. And we’ll exclude queries that clearly aren’t targeted for our business. These will be fairly easy to recognize, as they’ll have little relevance to your core business. For instance, untargeted queries for our B&B may include [where to buy Napa Valley brand clothing in Rhode Island], [Napa Auto Parts], and [San Diego B&B].
We may find good engagement from people searching for winerelated information, but poor engagement from those searching more generally for things to do. From this, we can decide to either concentrate on adding wine-related information or evaluating the section of the site that focuses on things to do to ensure it is compelling and has a strong call to action.
By default, web analytics data generally only capture things like visits, time on site, number of pages visited, and bounce rate (the percentage of visitors who abandoned the site immediately). For better insight, you’ll want to have your analytics team add conversion tracking. With conversion tracking, you specify what constitutes a conversion (in the case of our B&B, thismay be completing an online reservation formor sending amessage via the contact form) and can then track this across search queries.
Using Paid Search Data
If you run paid search campaigns, you can use this data for better insight into your potential customers as well. And if you don’t run paid search campaigns, you might consider running a small one just to gather data
on how potential customers react to the ads and resulting landing pages before investing a lot of resources building out that content.
Your paid search data should look something like this and include information such as average ad position, number of impressions, number of clicks, resulting click through rate (CTR), number of conversions and conversion rate (see Figure 2.13).
So, for instance, you may run two ads that result in the AdWords comparison as shown in Figure 2.14.
From this, you can see that 36 percent of searchers who saw your ‘‘Napa Valley B&B’’ ad clicked through to the site, and nearly 3 percent of those visitors booked a room (or filled out a request for information form or performed any other action you’ve set up as a conversion event). On the other hand, only 12 percent of those who saw your ‘‘wine country lodging’’ ad clicked through to the site, but once there, nearly 4.5 percent of those visitors converted. Which is the better audience? We can discern the following:
- More people are likely searching for the phrase ‘‘Napa Valley B&B’’ than for ‘‘wine country lodging’’ since that ad has considerably more impressions.
- A higher percentage of searchers are clicking on the Napa Valley ad, but a higher percentage of wine country searchers are converting. What does each ad look like? Is the Napa Valley ad substantially more compelling?
- Since the wine country searchers are converting at a higher rate, they are worth seeking out. What related terms are they searching for? (wine country B&B? wine country inns?)
- The Napa Valley searchers are converting at a lower rate. Is this because, as a group, they aren’t quite as qualified, or is it because the page is geared towards the wine country group? Does the page talk about wine country lodging but not about Napa Valley B&Bs? It may be a good idea to implement A/B testing to try out different versions of the page that cause the Napa Valley group to convert at a higher rate, while not driving down the conversion rate of the wine country group.
- As a data source for organic search keyword research, it’s likely worth catering to both of these groups and you can likely modify the pages in a way that benefits both paid and organic search traffic and conversions.
You can also use other business data to formulate a more complete picture. What do offline sales look like? Direct mail? E-mail campaigns? What press releases picked up the most interest?
We’ve already seen some competitive research with the data available from the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Let’s take a closer look. In the tool, competitive information shows up as a bar graph, and when you export the information, it shows up as a number between 0 and 1. Since this data is based on the competition for paid search terms, it may not correlate exactly with organic search, but it can provide a pretty good gauge to start from.
For instance, consider the following four queries, which have about the same query volume each month (see Figure 2.15).
We can see that, about the same number of people search for each of these per month, but [winery Napa] has much lower competition than the others. If we ran a Northern California winery and were wondering
how best to craft our Web site messaging, we may want to go with the terms with lower competition, as it may be easier to rank for those terms.
We can also use Google trends and keyword data for insight into particular competitors (see Figure 2.16).
Other types of competitive research are available. We’ll look at a few below. A more comprehensive list of tools is available at marketing intheageofgoogle.com.
Site Comparison and Traffic Tools
A number of tools exist that compare sites and provide traffic estimates for them. While these tools provide adequate comparisons and good
insight into relative changes over time, don’t put too much faith in the absolute numbers. Because of the different data collection methods and estimation processes, the exact numbers are, at best, wildly inaccurate.
Compete14 provides data about the top keywords that are sending searchers to a particular site (see Figure 2.17).
SpyFu15 provides organic and paid search data about any Web site (see Figure 2.18).
Google Trends for Web sites16 enables you to compare the traffic trends of multiple Web sites (see Figure 2.19).
Alexa17 gathers data from its toolbar users and makes available trends data, comparative information, and keyword data, among other things (see Figures 2.20 and 2.21).
One particularly interesting data point is the list of sites that users visit directly before the site in question. For instance, with Olympus .com, we see that over 36 percent came from parent Olympus sites, olympusamerica.com and olympus-global.com, and close to 20 percent came from search engines Google and Yahoo! (see Figure 2.22).
Digging further, we find that over 42 percent of visitors to olympus america.com came from major search engines such as Google and Yahoo! (see Figure 2.23).
Consider the customer base Olympus could be losing if it didn’t appear in search results.
Hitwise18 data comes from partnerships with internet service providers that log the sites their users visit and what they search for. Hitwise products are paid services that include competitive analysis, keyword
research, clickstream reporting, and demographic information. It also provides free industry reports (see Figures 2.24 and 2.25).
ComScore19 provides panel-based research, and like Hitwise, produces industry reports and offers fee-based services. Its products include
comScore Marketer, which provides search market share, audience, and analytics analysis, and comScore qSearch, which reports on searcher behavior and activity across the web (not just at major search engines) (see Figure 2.26).
Nielsen NetRatings20 also provides panel research—an extension of its television panel research—and provides both free and paid reports on searcher behavior and keyword volumes.
You can also simply look at competitors’ Web sites. What terms do they use on their pages? Does their site cover additional topics? What sites link to them?
Using Search Results for Competitive Intelligence
A wealth of data is available from simply looking at the search results. When you search for the queries you’re targeting, you can see exactly what sites the search engines think are the most relevant for those queries, and how they stack up. You don’t know, of course, what the conversion data is like for those sites, but you can click over and see what the searcher workflow experience is like. Look, for instance, at the search results for [accounting software] (see Figure 2.27).
The related searches tell us that many searchers are looking for Microsoft accounting software, so they are clearly a top-of-mind brand for potential customers. The top three brands Google lists in results are QuickBooks, Peachtree, and Sage. Those are the primary brands you’ll be competing with in search and in brand mindshare among searchers.
Looking at those top three pages that rank organically, we can see that the QuickBooks page has a compelling value proposition and clear call to action, although some potential customers might not be initially ready to sign up right away and would be more effectively engaged with a larger ‘‘learn more’’ link (see Figure 2.28).
Peachtree does a better job with inviting visitors to learn more, but centers its value proposition on a low price, rather than compelling features (see Figure 2.29).
The Sage site makes its software seem complicated and not necessarily even accounting-related. My eye is drawn to the ‘‘what’s the right software for me’’ wizard, which only reinforces my sense of complexity (see Figure 2.30).
When I click on the related search [top accounting software], I see that the results primarily focus on the comparison of articles rather than brands, which means ranking a brand site for that query would likely be difficult. (The same is true of the [accounting software lists] and [types of accounting software] related searches at the bottom of the page.) However the related searches [simple accounting software], [bookkeeping
software], and [personal accounting software] all bring up brand results, so those are good initial targets.
A Better Strategy for Increased Customers and a More Successful Business
Once you’ve got a sense of the types of things your target audience is interested in the most and how competitive those markets are, you can consider the impact on your business in a number of ways:
- Product strategy: Are you providing the types of things your audience is looking for? Are you investing resources in areas that your audience isn’t interested in at the expense of areas that it is? If you identify gaps between your product offering and what you find your audience is interested in based on search data, you may want to spend a bit more time asking your customers, setting up focus groups, or analyzing spending patterns.
- Business strategy: Is your industry in decline or a state of growth? Are you using the best revenue model for your business? Or are you trying to sell everyone new home loans when they’re looking for mortgage refinance?
- Search acquisition strategy: What audience and interests lead to the highest conversion rates? What audience is large enough without overwhelming competition? What search terms should you target and what kind of experience should you make available on the site? This process is very similar to the ways you can use this data when building your product and business strategies.
You already know how to use data effectively to improve your product and business strategies, but what about your organic search strategy? The key is to understand the search acquisition workflow: Focus on the searchers, what they are looking for, how you can meet their needs, and how you can compel them to meet your business goals.