Leverage Search Marketing for Demand Intersection

I recently had an interesting discussion with a CMO of a personal computer manufacturing company about how little they were leveraging search marketing.  He told me that their main objective in this recession was to maximize traditional advertising to generate awareness and therefore increase demand for their products.

I told him that was admirable but what are you doing to capture those who are already aware of these types of products? You are not doing anything to leverage the existing demand demonstrated by the millions of searches each month from consumers who are already aware, and are actively looking for information for products like yours.  He seemed stunned by the comment for a moment then asked me to explain what I meant.

I explained that all of your current advertising is generating awareness as is the advertising of your competition.  There are over 10 million searches each month for variations of the phrase laptop and notebook computer this is existing demand and all we have to do it be there with the right message when they are looking for your type of products and services.

These are “hand raisers” or consumers who have explicitly told you they are interested in a laptop or notebook computer.  Many of these are actually using phrases directly related to your brand.  Surely you want to capture those who took the extra step of searching for your specific product.

Companies are too focused on “creating demand” since that is what they have always done.   This is what we now call “faith based marketing” which is spending money to attract consumers and hoping that we have a corresponding increase in sales.

In these trying economic times it is imperative that we “intersect” with the existing demand and ensure we are capturing as much of these opportunities as we can.  Nimble companies are seizing this opportunity already — is it not time for your company to capture your share?

The Web task-oriented environment

The word “search” is a verb and implies to look for something.  Consumers use search engines to find information. In fact, research shows there are only three types of searches that consumers do:

  • Navigational searchers want to find a specific Web site (perhaps because they do not know the exact URL), and use queries such as “PADI” or “Beijing City Airport”.
  • Informational searchers want information to answer their questions or to learn about a new subject, and use queries such as “what is scuba” or “green tea diet”.
  • Transactional searchers want to do something (buy something, sign up, enter a contest, and so forth), and use queries such as “Sydney weather” or “discount laptops”.

We need to examine each kind of searcher so that you can reach them with content from your Web site. Understand that real people shift roles all the time the same searcher might enter informational queries to learn about your new product and suddenly decide to use a transactional query to buy it. A clear understanding of the types of searchers and their respective intent will help you reach more searchers with less effort.

This is what turns much of traditional marketing on its head because customers find content themselves, rather than the traditional model of content being carefully placed in front of them (such as with print or TV). In order to be found (and not summarily rejected when the user is dissatisfied with the resulting Web site), you must know what words customers use when they search.

Speaking the Customers’ Language

As already stated, with search marketing we are simply trying to intersect with existing demand.  One problem we face is that “search demand” is in the language of the customer with does not often sync with the language you use on your website to describe your products or services.

If you do not use your customers’ language you provide little value, as your content does not match their mission. By speaking your customers language, you uncover opportunities to find new customers or better serve existing ones.

So, how do you know what language your customers are speaking? Keyword research is the practice of mining various sources of data mixed with intuition and a little brainstorming with a dash of guesswork.

Although searchers are growing more sophisticated each year, the task of actually choosing the words for the query is one of the most difficult parts of searching.  It is especially complex in China where entering characters into a keyboard or a mobile handset is a challenge.  Chinese searchers tend to use fewer variations of keywords than they would in the west.

Develop a Keyword Strategy

The objective your keyword strategy is to identify, prioritize and map a complete set of keywords that best match the business objectives of your company but more importantly, the terms searchers are using to find you.

This process consists of a number of steps each of which is designed to make the case for or against a particular keyword by gathering and examining a variety of data. We suggest that you look at demand volumes provided by the search engines, your current paid search program, conversion metrics, the content you have, your on site search engine database, your competitions website and most importantly conduct searches in Baidu to see how many pages containing those phrases are currently indexed.

Once you have your list, there is no rule on how large or small the list should be, the next step is to understand why a searcher would use that phrase and what type of content they are looking for when they do the search.

Understand the Searchers’ Intent

John Battelle refers to search engines as the “Database of Intentions” because of the vast amount of data about what people want to know or do that has been amassed by the various engines over the last 10 years.  By carefully looking at “why” someone did a search and “what they hope to find” we can discover many opportunities to connect with the searcher and truly offer them exactly what they are looking for at that phase of their discovery process.

The “why” is actually a very simple question that not enough companies ask when they start their search marketing program.  Too many times companies want to “tell the searcher” what they want them to know or do rather than understanding that the searcher wanted when they did the query.  We must remember the searcher is in control and if we understand their needs and wants we can create an unmatched opportunity to connect with them and lead them down a path that will result in significantly higher engagements.

For example, a leading art and print site in the US was spending millions of dollars on paid search placements for art-related search queries. The marketing manager knew that “monet” was one of its most heavily trafficked queries.  He noticed that the cost per click for the phrase “monet” had increased significantly.  What had changed?  There were two new competitors for the phrase who were willing to pay significantly more for the click.

This prompted a deeper look into the click and conversion data for the phrase “Monet”.   As well as a survey on the landing page to ask the visitors why they did this query.  Of the survey respondents, 95 percent indicated they were students simply looking for biographical information on Monet and information about his paintings. These were informational searchers who had no desire to ever buy a Monet print.

Armed with this information, the marketing manager switched his paid placement buys from an informational query (“monet”) to specific transactional queries (the names of Monet paintings such as “water lilies”). This strategy not only increased traffic but also increased sales, by capturing people who were more informed about the painter and more likely to buy a specific print.

As you can see, careful study of the searcher’s intent pays off in more visitors who are focused on your site’s goal. It can be just as important to avoid the wrong traffic as to get the right traffic.   By focusing on queries that real purchasers use, the art and print site reduced the art students and attracted more art buyers at the same time, thus selling more and getting more overall value from their search marketing program.

If you, as the experienced marketer, do not believe the searcher is in control, simply look at the bounce rates for not only your paid search campaign but your site in general.  The bounce rate refers to the visitors who came to a page on your site and immediately clicked the back button leaving to go back to the search results.  Most companies who do not try to leverage searcher intent experience bounce rates of sixty to eighty percent.  A goal would be to keep your bounce rates to below twenty percent.

Emphasizing your Value Proposition in 95 Characters or Less

The switch to PPC from traditional marketing tactics was a big one.  This monumental change has forced companies to drop imagery and communicate their message through words alone.

With PPC, marketers today are forced to present their value proposition to consumers in 95 characters or less which is the typical size of the search ad space.  This new brevity can be a daunting task for those experienced in using voice, images and full-page newspaper ads to create a compelling and moving experience and generate awareness to their product or service.

With search the awareness is there since they have stated what they are looking for and it is our opportunity to connect with them by saying “yes, we have what you seek” and get them to click our listing over those of the competition.

You can dramatically improve your search marketing by thinking about the “need behind the query”.  This knowledge helps you deliver the best possible content to your visitors when they search while ensuring you only pay for the clicks which convert and guarantee a positive searcher experience.

Add Search Marketing to your Marketing Mix

But the fun does not stop there.  Many companies are integrating paid search into their other marketing mixes with great success. They are leveraging paid search ads to test their email subject lines and even starting to test TV and print advertising messages before they are integrated to see which work best with consumers.

Search is unmatched as the logical next step for those consumers who have seen any of your other advertising.  If they saw the newest mobile phone commercial and want more information on that phone their option is to go to a local merchant or simply do a search in Google.  Many companies in the west are using increases in search volume and clocks from search as a proxy for awareness of new products and how well the message is received from consumers.

While search marketing may seem to be a daunting task, leveraging even a few of these simple best practices described above will reap significant gains and help you to see that search marketing is the most effective marketing tactic available to marketers. We are finding more and more savvy marketers not only adopting search marketing but mandating that it be the first dollar you spend of your precious marketing budget.