November 4, 2013, 2:33 PM

Survey: Searching for better ROI

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For natural search, about 71% of respondents said they rewrite descriptions, such as revising e-commerce site copy to better reflect keywords, on the home and product pages to boost visibility in search results. Other top tactics included increasing the use of header tags in content in home and product pages, improving site navigation and making better use of web analytics.

Using analytics to boost natural search results promises to become more challenging in coming months because in September Google announced that it will encrypt all searches conducted on its search engine. Encryption will make it more difficult for online marketers and retailers to track the effectiveness of keywords in organic search because retailers and marketers will know a consumer came to a site via Google but will not have broader analytical information about individual queries. Instead, they will receive a list of the top 1,000 search queries that drove traffic to their sites for each of the past 30 days, Google says. Google began encrypting search term data for consumers who are signed into a Google account when they conduct searches in 2011. At the time, Google said the move was intended to protect consumers' privacy. "We added SSL encryption for our signed-in search users in 2011, as well as searches from the Chrome omnibox earlier this year," a Google spokesman says. "We're now working to bring this extra protection to more users who are not signed in."

Online marketers and retailers will certainly notice the change, and may end up diverting more of their budgets to paid search, which will provide more details about how consumers get to e-commerce sites and buy, experts say. "Losing Google's keyword-level reporting will have a significant impact on how organic search performance is tracked, optimized and analyzed," says Ryan Mayberry, SEO director for search engine marketing firm iProspect, a unit of global marketing firm Aegis Media.

Like some other search marketing vendors, iProspect encourages marketers and retailers to adjust to the change by better integrating organic search keyword data—for instance, how often visitors who search for a specific term interact with an e-commerce site—with data from paid search campaigns and other search engines, along with historical comparative keyword and conversion data.

Another change in search marketing could be felt by retailers this year—though perhaps not as badly as some would fear. Google recently updated its search algorithm to emphasize a search's context so that consumers searching, say, for a "cheap hotel" would be more likely to find affordable hotels than ones of low quality, according to search experts. Google, which often names its algorithm updates after animals, dubbed this version Hummingbird. The good news is that retailers that have yet to experience a drop-off in search traffic since Hummingbird's official debut this fall are unlikely to suffer much from the change, those experts add.

That said, Hummingbird, which reflects the changing ways in which online consumers search, will certainly require retailers to keep updating their e-commerce sites. "This rollout seems to target mobile searchers, since these are the users that are least likely to do multiple 'refinement' searches," says Steve King, director of product strategy marketing for marketing services provider SIM Partners. "Google has a lot of historical information, but as new items or events change the context of searches, the algorithm will change accordingly."

thad@verticalwebmedia.com

@ThadRueterIR

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