Category Archives: Inside SEM

Inside SEM

Do you consider SEO to be part of your product development?

Just saw this throwaway tweet from search guru Danny Sullivan, who I guess is currently attending SMX East in New York:

What this would suggest is that HTC looked at what people were searching for around their phones (say ‘htc purple’ or ‘htc evo fuchsia’) and realized that there was latent demand that they weren’t addressing. As a result they are now bringing out a line of multicolored phones that presumably will be on the end of these searches in future, leading to more satisfied customers and obviously a few more dollars in the bargain.

What a great example of using one of the cheapest market intelligence tools out there: internal and external search metrics. For external search, query your web analytics tool for your keyword referral data. Look at what search terms are used on Google, Yahoo, Bing and the other major engines to reach your site. Are there terms for which you don’t currently have neat product placement, but could provide something with relative ease? (If it’s longer term you may need to work it into the product roadmap). Perform the same exercise with your internal site search engine. Most solutions in this space will provide metrics on what are the most commonly searched terms on your site.

If you want to look further afield at what people are searching for on Google, you can also poke around on the Google Keyword Tool. In this example you can see related terms for the base keyword ‘htc’:

The next step is perhaps the toughest: particularly if you work for a large enterprise. Somehow you need to get this information over to your product team. They may already be clued on to what you can learn from the web and embrace your research. My experience is that there is generally some education to do (and possibly the building of a process) before you can embed this search-based market intent into product development. Still, at least you know your product portfolio will become more closely aligned to the (online) market.

Do you have any examples/experiences of your own to share?

Making sure your YouTube videos rank

The Underground Confessions blog recently covered the thorny subject of driving more traffic to your YouTube video content. They suggest the term YouTube Ranking Optimization (YRO) as a description for this field, which I’m sure is set to grow – especially as more and more companies now take the plunge into using YouTube as a way of distributing video content (it’s something like the 5th most visited site on the planet).

So, how do you ensure that your video ranks highly? It’s pretty close to what you do to optimize web content (or a blog for that matter). Basic items they use:

  • The title of your video
  • The description of your video
  • The tags that you assign to your video

By offering this basic advice, the post has attracted a great deal of comments by those asking questions or offering their own experience of YouTube optimization.

One particular comment stands out, together with Jeff’s response:

Chris says:
Hey Jeff thanks for the post.
I just checked your profile on Youtube and saw your videos that reviewed the Casio Exilim under the search term ‘Casio Exilim ex-z1080?.
I saw that you were kind of split testing the results.
And the newer version of the same video put up 1 month ago is ranking higher than the one that was put up 6 months ago – YET the 6month old video is actually rated 3 stars compared to the 1 month old video.
The only other difference is that the newer video has more comments than the older.
It’d be interesting in the test results.
1. Do newer videos get more preference than older?
2. Are videos ranked according to the number of comments?
3. Do the contents of the other videos in your profile (tags, titles and descriptions) as well as your profile name, play a role in the ranking of your video amongst others for the same/similar keyword?
It’d be interesting to find the test results. It could possibly be a combination of all of the above.
Maybe finding that out will help you put out your ooined term ‘YRO’ in the internet marketing realm. Anyway, thanks for the heads up.
Jeff Johnson says: Here are the answers to your questions:
1. No, newer videos do not necessarily rank higher than old ones. It has to do with many, many factors including incoming links, comments, tags, the number of sites that host it outside of youtube, the quality of those sites, etc.
2. Yes, commenting helps but is not the only thing that matters.
3. Yes, the only way the engines know what is in the video is by what you tell them is in it by use of your incoming link text, the title tags, your description, and any of the words found on the pages surrounding it.
That pretty much means you should optimize the pages that your videos on in the same way you would for a regular page.

I was interested to hear that the quantity and quality of external sites hosting the video plays a part in the ranking algorithm.

I don’t have any concrete evidence for this, but one thing that does appear to happen is that channels with a lot of content tend to outrank lesser channels (much like the way, as a vast generalization, Google favors sites with more content rather than less).

If anyone does have more definitive answers, please let me know.

Read the post from Underground Confessions

Search Engine Strategies San Jose 2008 Sessions

Google engineers talking openly about the latest challenges in indexing web content. Search marketers getting their heads around building promotions on Twitter.  Lunch networking sessions exploring obscure tips and tricks. This year’s San Jose SES had it all, with a glow-in-the-dark Google Dance to boot.

Although SES hosts events around the globe, the San Jose event has traditionally attracted considerable attention due to its proximity to the campuses of the major search engines. This year was no exception, with a notable presence from Google, Yahoo and to a lesser extent, Microsoft.

Certain trends jumped out at this year’s event, permeating many of the panel presentations.

Universal (blended) search

Over the last year, all the major engines have rolled out different variations of universal search: mixing up the search result pages (SERPs) with video, news, blogs and other content. While each engine has a slightly different approach, the overall affect on search engine optimization (SEO) strategies is the same: you need to concentrate on optimizing more than just web pages. You need to think about creating and optimizing multimedia content, news and other forms of web content.
Relevant sessions:
Universal Search: representatives from each of the engines talk their developments in this space
Semantic search: a distant cousin of universal search, semantic search has similar implications for SEO practitioners

News optimization

The distinction between PR professionals and search engine marketing (SEM) experts is forever blurring. More and more journalists are using news search engines to source and build stories. Companies can take steps to ensure they have maximum visibility in this space. On your own site, there is work you can do to ensure your PR content (often a good source of fresh content) is as optimized for search as possible.
Relevant sessions:
Optimizing for news search: PR professionals and providers of online news wires discuss making the most of your releases

Conversion optimization

In the paid search space, average pay-per-click (PPC) is increasing as more marketers take to this medium. Therefore it’s increasingly necessary to increase efficiency of campaigns, drive up ROI and outperform the competition. Focussing on the traffic delivered by search can really help in this respect. For instance, making your landing pages more attractive to your target audience and improving a registration form can really make a significant difference to campaign performance.
Relevant sessions:
Pay per conversation: creating real engagement with your audience
Storyteller marketing: weaving a story around your information
Post-click marketing: tips for landing page optimization, including segmentation

Social media optimization

Social media is becoming an integral part of our online culture. SEM professionals should be aware of what this means for the way we find information online. Whereas the traditional search engines still remain important, sites like Myspace, Facebook and Twitter have become credible sources of information. In addition, more and more companies are incorporating social media networks into their own sites, which presents its own unique challenges for search.
Relevant sessions:
Facebook, feeds and micro-blogging: the impact of new online technologies on search

I haven’t included mobile search in this list of trends, although there were numerous sessions on this topic. To me this seems less of a trend – more of an entrenched part of the search landscape.

View all sessions from SES San Jose 2008

Post-Click Marketing: Converting Search Engine Traffic

There were many sessions at SES San Jose 2008 on getting more value from SEM traffic and improving the usability of SEM landing pages. Although not so well attended (being the last day of the conference), this session did contain many useful tips and tricks for landing page optimization.

Moderator:
Anna Maria Virzi, Executive Editor, ClickZ

Speakers:
Carrie Hill, Search Engine Watch Expert & Certified Search Engine Marketing & Promotion Account Manager, Blizzard Internet Marketing
Laura Wilson, Senior Manager of Audience Development, New England Journal of Medicine
Scott Brinker, President & Chief Technology Officer, ion interactive
Tom Leung, Senior Business Product Manager, Google

Carrie:

In the eCommerce space, buyers will place emphasis on words that relate to their query. These should be considered trigger words throughout the landing page experience.

Beyond the keyword, make sure the Ad Text is backed up in the copy eg. if you mention ‘free shipping’ in the ad, this should definitely be highlighted on the first page the visitor sees. The ultimate goal is to let the user design their own experience (could we call this Landing Page 2.0 development?)

Laura:

You can often use the landing page as a medium to upsell. You can offer something free upfront, but on the landing page provide an additional link to premium resources.

Make sure you test everything, including any registration process. What you consider intuitive often doesn’t work out, or may not be the ideal path.

Scott:

A key to getting better conversions is creating more landing pages. The more focussed these become, the better will be the results.

Remember that you are attracting lots of different kinds of people. Use meaningful segmentation to find out more about the audience. Scott shows examples where the landing page is purely navigational – with only 2-3 big links that segment the audience towards relevant content. He outlines a number of reasons why 2 clicks are better than 1:

  • Easy engagement – 5 secs on ad and 5 secs on first page
  • Self-identification – easy for people to categorize themselves
  • More focussed content when they drill down (signalling helps create a rich experience)
  • Market research – find out which segments are most popular

Tom:

Following on with the theme of let your users decide what is the optimum content, Tom recommends turning your website into a living lab (what he calls the democratization of web design). He goes so far as to say “the only opinions that matter are the opinions of people who visit your site”.

Another common theme is to concentrate on microconversions – ie. specifying and testing goals at every stage along a process (eg. shopping cart). Whenever you implement a new feature, make sure you don’t hurt your site (eg. the length of a registration form could negatively impact conversion rates).

There are a few basics you should consider upfront. Think whether you are building trust – does the site look legitimate? Also, is it intelligible in a few seconds? Is it simple to go through the conversion process? 

Questions:

Scott: when it comes to implementation, work in a sandbox first – run a small A/B test and then show the reports. Roll out across the organization in this manner.

Tom: don’t run a test shorter than 2 weeks (to eliminate weekly traffic trends) and ideally wait for at least 100 conversions through each channel (if you are segmenting the audience).

Creating a Cohesive Search Strategy Across Multiple Business Units

If you have ever grappled with trying to create SEM strategies for companies with more than one business unit or how to sell in the value of SEM to upper management, then this session was for you!

David Roth did a particularly good job of explaining how he created the current SEM strategy for Yahoo (to be clear, these are campaigns to increase Yahoo’s visibility through search – he is a marketer working for Yahoo, not a representative of the engine technology).

Introduction by:
Amanda Watlington, Owner, Searching for Profit

Speakers:
Eduardo Llach, Chief Marketing Officer & Co-founder, SearchRev
David Roth, Director of Search Marketing, Yahoo!

David:

The challenge is to do a few things well across a large scope. You really have to pick your battles.
Yahoo is a particularly complex case : every form of advertising – CPM Media, transactional, lead generation, B2B campaigns, B2C campaigns.

The only way to compare campaigns is to look at the lifetime value of the customer.

One big takeaway is to work out the money you are not making from doing SEO – the opportunity cost. David shows the spreadsheet he uses to formulate this. He works out what are the rankings they are currently not getting. Using data from paid search and other tools, he works out how much traffic this translates to, and finally using conversion data, works out the lifetime value of these customers. The numbers will not be exact, however you should try and ensure that they are somewhat realistic.

For the SEO stratgy, the message for projects of this size is to not fix what’s out there. David focusses on the new stuff being built. This works well in a world of limited resources, and over time all assets are optimized.

David offers the mantra: “if you can’t quantify it, it doesn’t exist”. With this strong emphasis on metrics, Yahoo reforecast every month to ensure campaigns are on target. This is a considerable task with workflow to manage the process across marketing, sales and finance.

Measuring success
Use a marketing scorecard to compare different campaigns.
Create an SEO dashboard that is available to upper management.
Ensure there is a strong relationship between marketing and finance (in Yahoo’s case, the Markops finance team) to create LTV figures and keep on top of budget management.

Eduardo:

Perform the optimization across the frontend (traffic, or the data you would find in Google Adwords interface) and backend (site, the data you would find in your web analytics).
Successful traffic optimization involves finding the difference between geo (or metro) targetting, network and creative. Eduardo advocates the use of optimization algorithms to figure this out across large data sets.
For site conversions, track microconversion points (ie. look at each click along the path). By optimizing for lifetime value, it has been possible to increase campaign performance by 20% for same traffic level.
For ad creative, don’t just look at CTR, also consider conversion rate. The CTR could be low yet the messaging could still produce quality traffic.

Questions:

David: when considering brand terms think of canabalization and lift (what do you gain by adding these?)
Eduardo: on the thorny question of market attribution (which marketing channel gets the credit for the sale when many channels have been involved?) – Eduardo recommends thinking of search as closing the loop – in particular look for SEO traffic uplift from offline activities to help build a case for this.
David: take people out to lunch, even your competitors
Eduardo: concentrate on the top terms

Semantic Search: How Will It Change Our Lives

I didn’t get to cover this one, but Lisa Barone for Bruce Clay, Inc. did a great job:

http://www.bruceclay.com/blog/archives/2008/08/semantic_search.html

What is semantic search? A way of finding meaning in those 2-3 words you type in the search bar. Search for ‘Definitely, Maybe’, you get music-related results  for Oasis. Search for ‘Marriott San Francisco’ and you get a hotel listing with a map. You’ve probably seen a lot of this in place already. The idea is to move away from ‘blue line’ listings (ie. the standard link and snippet the search engines normally display).

How will it work?
Well, publishers have to do some work to tag and categorize content. Microformats and Yahoo’s SearchMonkey are evolving tools in this space. Check out Hakia and Powerset for examples of other players.

Duplicate Content & Multiple Site Issues

So, it appears that I’m not the only one grappling with how to cope with duplicate content issues and content replicated in different places.

The session on this issue at SES attracted a sizeable crowd and a whole clutch of questions at the end.

Mark Jackson (of Vizion Interactive) gave a lively presentation with useful tips. If you are worried about duplicate content, check how many pages you have listed in Google and compare this with Yahoo. Normally there will be some discrepancy, but if the variance is large, you may well have a problem. Copyscape offers a great service to try on a page-by-page basis.

For your own site, you should where possible use unique titles and meta-descriptions. Google Webmaster Tools can help you see where you have the same meta-descriptions.

If you do notice a problem, the best course of action is to approach the site owner directly. If you have no joy here, you can file a DMCA with the host of the offending site, or with the search engines directly.

Benu Aggarwal (Milestone Internet Marketing) made the point that these days you can’t necessarily trust copywriters to write unique copy. She points to the iThenticate service as a good way to establish the similarity between your copy and what has been indexed.

Advanced B2B Marketing

This was a great session given that there is so much emphasis on eCommerce at these online marketing events. Thinking of B2B marketers and their specific needs (eg. lead gen, dealing with the organization, making a case for SEM) made for a well-attended session.

Moderator:
Jeffrey Rohrs, Vice President, Marketing, ExactTarget

Speakers:
Barbara C. Coll, CEO, WebMama.com Inc.
Patricia Hursh, President & Founder, SmartSearch Marketing
Adam S. Goldberg, Chief Innovation Officer, Clearsaleing

Patricia:

Use search to reach prospects early in the buying cycle – data from Forrester shows that search is particularly useful at this stage. For this reason it is important to look at the search history of a person. Often conversion occurs on a brand term, but there can be many other terms used before this to lure the prospect during the research phase.

For paid search, you can pre-qualify clickers with the ad text. You will take a hit on quality score (your CTR will often drop), but you’ll see better ROI – the traffic you receive is of a higher quality. Think about aligning copy across the buying cycle, eg. information and reviews can be useful at the early stages.

Use A/B or multivariate testing constantly to see how the site performs. Test what names you give your assets: ‘product tour’, ‘virtual tour’, ‘white paper’ can all perform differently. Add secondary (ie. additional) conversions to bolster the conversion rate. When it comes to registration, think of the value of the offering compared to what you are asking in return. Is the form too long for a white paper? All this can be tested.
Implement a lead qualification process to only pass ‘warm’ leads to sales.

Barbara:

SEM and the salesforce
Dealing with an enterprise B2B business, particularly with an entrenched sales force, has it’s own unique challenges. Marketing goal is to fill the pipeline with good leads. However most enterprise sales reps believe they will only get good leads through direct contact.

Marketing offers Free Trial, Downloads, Whitepapers although often trials are the biggest conversion points from a sales perspective. High leads also come through online demonstrations.

Sales want campaigns to deliver either a prospect that closes the deal OR another name in a key prospective account. These needs can conflict with site usability. For instance, the sales process wants the long form, but this might not always be the best course of action.

Knowing what keyword a visitor used can help decide whether a lead is an A lead. Educate reps on the value of SEM by showing them paid search numbers. Furthermore, check to see whether the reps are following up on leads.

When it comes to keyword research, sales can be particularly useful. Listen to the terms used by the sales force – their language has been honed over time to be resonanant with prospective clients.
Follow up to find out exactly which leads turned into sales and feed this data back into the SEM process.

Adam:

Looking at revenue is much more effective than looking at the cost per lead. Profit is obviously an even better metric (although not always available). You should tie web analytics to the CRM so you know which ads are the ones that work well.

In the B2B space, attribution management is needed to calculate which touch points (search, email, banner, etc) should be given credit in a sale, given that the buyer has probably had various marketing touch points prior to the sale. How exactly you work out an attribution model is open for debate.