January 30, 2009, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: Making search marketing a more competitive force in tough times

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Selecting the right keyword for optimization campaigns requires detailed analysis of site content to identify words and phrases that represent specific products. In addition, retailers can analyze search terms shoppers enter through the search engines and their own site search engine to identify additional terms shoppers are using to search for a product and expand their use of keywords in the description of a product.

“In some cases shoppers will enter a model number or features specific to the product, such as the size of the hard drive for a computer,” Coupe says.

Retailers desiring to drill down even deeper in their analysis can track the paid search terms entered through the search engines for a specific product. Customer reviews are another source that can yield insights into how consumers describe a product.

Identifying combinations

“Selecting the right keywords for SEO means identifying multiple combinations and permutations of keywords and associated phrases within a site’s content and those used by shoppers,” says Coupe. “The more search terms that can be identified, the more opportunities exist to improve search rankings for the product.”

To illustrate his point, Coupe cites the example of a client that wanted to improve its SEO results for a travel pillow, which was found with 30 different search terms in one month. After keyword analysis and creation of new landing pages to reflect variations of “travel pillow,” such as “comfortable travel pillow,” the product was found through 286 variations of that term.

“It can be tough for retailers to manually figure out all the variations of a keyword or search phrase, that’s why the process needs to be automated,” Coupe says.

YourAmigo’s Search Engine Enhanced Content service provides the automation needed to identify the myriad keywords and search terms associated with a product and typically provides an increase in traffic and sales of 200% over SEO performed without the service, adds Coupe.

While similar analytics can be applied to selecting paid search keywords, one aspect of paid search that tends to get overlooked is the use of keywords associated with the retailer’s brand.

Many retailers invest heavily in their brand and promote it as part of their search strategy. The benefit of purchasing brand-related keywords, such as “electronics” for Best Buy or “wedding gift” for Macy’s Wedding Channel, for example, is that while these keywords may be too broad to generate efficient ROI, the retailer wants to be known for them as part of their overall branding strategy. Appearing No. 1 in paid search as well as organic search results for these types of keywords identified with the brand reinforces the brand’s visibility.

Separate branding words

The downside to buying broad keywords primarily for brand advertising when it comes to paid search is that many retailers lump the performance for those keywords into their overall campaign performance.

“There are a lot of branding-type keywords that a retailer feels are important to a branding strategy, but they don’t necessarily meet the desired ROI for a paid search campaign because they may be too broad or highly competitive with other merchants resulting in high cost-per-click fees,” explains PM Digital’s Sandberg. “Retailers must clearly draw a line regarding performance between brand-related identifying keywords and product keywords and accept that identifying keywords will not deliver the same type of ROI.”

Sandberg recommends that retailers separate branding-type keywords out of their overall campaign results to get a true picture of performance. “If branding-type keywords get lumped in with overall campaign results they can drag down performance,” she adds. “The ROI on keywords primarily used for branding and not for ROI needs to be measured separately.”

Online marketing services provided by PM Digital include pay-for-placement search engine marketing, data feed marketing (comparison shopping engines and paid inclusion), search engine optimization, online media planning/buying, multi-channel planning/strategy, e-mail marketing, and creative.

Regardless of whether a keyword is generic, product specific or brand oriented, retailers are best served when they think like consumers when building and maintaining their keyword dictionaries, says Sandberg.

“Consumers often reference products differently than the way retailers name them,” says Sandberg. “It is important to be cognizant of that when developing keyword lists.”

Coordinated marketing

One aspect of search marketing retailers cannot afford to overlook in tough economic times is coordination with other marketing channels. “Retailers need to build a marketing ecosystem in which all marketing channels work together,” Tawadros says.

A recent study by JupiterResearch on behalf of iProspect revealed that 45% of search engine marketers do not integrate search marketing with offline marketing. Nevertheless, 67% of search engine users are driven to online searches through offline marketing campaigns and 39% of those ultimately make a purchase from the company that prompted the initial search.

“There is a huge disconnect between search marketing strategy and search engine user behavior and the further the economy slows, the more retailers need to coordinate offline marketing and search campaigns,” Tawadros says.

The most common integration technique used by search marketers is to prominently display a web address and the company name in offline marketing campaigns.

“Retailers need to make their offline messages memorable to facilitate search, and their search efforts need to echo their offline marketing message by integrating those keywords,” Tawadros says. “It is no longer enough to simply know what is going on in other marketing channels; they must coordinate efforts between channels.”

Before retailers can properly coordinate search with their other marketing efforts, they must be able to measure the value of each marketing channel. A common problem is crediting more than one channel with the sale, which blurs the ROI, according to Sandberg.

For example, if a shopper initiates a product search through a paid search link and then leaves without making a purchase, but goes on to purchase from another one of the marketer’s channels a few days later, it’s probable that the sale will be counted in both channels, depending on how long the tracking cookie for the paid search link is in place.

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