January 31, 2008, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: How to find the payoff in search marketing

(Page 6 of 7)

Retailers also need a strong link to their site search on a landing page so product catalogs can be more closely linked to search terms if the shopper does not find what she wants on the landing page or simply wants to refine the search further and look for an accessory item.

“The whole idea behind landing page design is to create a shopping experience that comes as close to actually touching the item as possible,” says Murray. “If this doesn’t happen, retailer’s conversions will suffer.”

One rule for creating effective landing pages is constant testing. “Testing is a best practice,” says Kevin Lee, executive chairman of Didit.com, a New York-based online advertising and marketing firm. “It’s the only way retailers will know for sure what designs and mix of offers will work.”

One aspect of paid search that retailers do not put enough emphasis on is adjusting their keyword selections to match up with shoppers’ behavior. Indeed, many shoppers use keywords to search for a product and locate a store where they can see the item before making a purchase. Others want to search for items they can buy online and pick up in a store.

Understanding these behaviors and identifying the time of day or days of the week when consumers are most likely to exhibit them enables retailers to tailor their marketing copy and keyword selections accordingly. “Keywords have to change to reflect the marketing message, even though the product itself does not change,” says Stuart Larkins, vice president of search marketing for Chicago-based search marketing firm DoubleClick Performics.

Retailers identify these behaviors through surveys, according to Larkins. A recent survey by DoubleClick Performics, in cooperation with Microsoft Corp. and ROI Research Inc., of about 1,000 mothers who shop online revealed this demographic heavily uses search engines in support of online and offline purchases, to coordinate travel, and to plan other activities.

Specifically, 35% of respondents spend three or more hours a day online. Three-fourths spend more than an hour a day online, in addition to watching television. About 90% are online at least twice a day for an average of 16 minutes per session.

Syncing the moving

“Some shoppers may research an item initially and conduct a later search with the intent to buy, some may be looking to make a purchase in the store or through another sales channel,” says Larkins, who adds search influences 20%-30% of purchases at retail locations.

“Retailers need to understand why shoppers conduct a search so they can properly allocate their budgets behind the right search words to match up to shoppers’ objectives,” he continues. “There are a lot of moving parts to effective keyword management and lot of attention to detail is required to get them moving in the right direction.”

Similar principles apply to day parting, a technique by which search marketers adjust keywords according to the time of day. Research has shown that shopper’s intentions can vary by the time of day. For example, a shopper conducting a search in the morning or after working hours is more apt to be conducting research because he has the leisure time to do it. In comparison, a shopper who conducts a search over the lunch hour is more apt to buy because he must use the time more efficiently.

“Creating ads to appeal to shopper demographics during the time of day and the shopper’s location is a technique that has been successfully used in broadcast advertising,” says Didit’s Lee. “The psyche of the shopper differs by the time of day and retailers are best served when they build keyword clusters around this concept. This type of keyword segmentation provides retailers with more control over the effectiveness of their search campaigns. The more search marketing managers know about advertising and marketing in other channels, the more readily they can leverage new keywords, change the keyword mix to dovetail with other marketing efforts, and adjust bid strategies.”

Days of the week also influence the effectiveness of keywords. Sporting goods retailers tend to sell higher margin items, such as winter jackets for skiing and snowboarding, on the weekend when shoppers have more time to search the retailer’s catalog. Apparel retailers tend to do the bulk of their business Sunday through Tuesday. “There are trends as to when shoppers are actively searching for items. Keyword lists and buying strategies need to be adjusted to fit them,” says iProspect’s Murray.

The changing seasons

Seasonality plays a major role in how keyword strategies can change. Retailers of sports apparel often see sales spike around the post-season and all-star games as items for team and star players in those events experience heavy search volume. “New product launches, clearance and discontinued items will also draw increased interest and retailers have to adjust their search strategy to leverage these periods of peak interest,” says Murray. “Retailers can afford to promote related keywords more heavily during these periods.”

One pitfall retailers must avoid when implementing a day parting strategy is drawing what appear to be logical conclusions based on early results before data is available to fully support them. “In paid search retailers can’t just assume they are automatically reaching more people because of the directness of the channel,” says Szetela. “If orders are rolling in between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., retailers can’t say with certainty that is when the keywords need to be run, because that’s when the most sales are generated. There are potential customers who will research those keywords outside that window and if it is closed when they are conducting their search, those customers will become a missed sales opportunity.”

Nor can retailers assume that major shopping days from the previous holiday season will generate the same amount of sales activity or more the following year. “Sales are going to vary by year and by season and that can make it hard to know when to put more search money behind certain days,” says Sandberg. “Retailers need to index their seasonal and daily performance throughout the year.”

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