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Archive for Search Engine Guide 2005-2007

Retail Bonanza Starts With Search – Part 2

By · January 11, 2007 · Filed in Search Engine Guide 2005-2007 · No Comments »

Last month, we talked at length about how online search triggers offline sales and the mechanics of latent search buying. We brought you up to date on the state of ecommerce and talked about preparing for the holiday season. Then we promised to let you know how paid search compares to organic listings when it comes to conversions.

SEO Vs. Paid Search Conversion Rates

MarketingSherpa (2005) reports that “SEO is a huge driver of ‘latent’ conversions.” Looking at conversions by campaign goal for paid search and SEO, the study found the following:

  • Average of all campaigns: SEO had higher conversion rates (4.2%) than paid search (3.6%)
  • Delayed ecommerce/service purchase campaigns: SEO had higher conversion rates (6.3%) than paid search (4.2%)
  • Ecommerce product/service purchase campaigns, SEO had higher conversion rates (4.1%) than paid search (3.8%)

However, paid search is getting better at conversions. The latest research from WebSideStory looking at traffic and conversion data from 20 B2C ecommerce sites for the period January through August 2006 found conversions fairly equal but slightly favoring paid search. Paid search conversion rates averaged 3.4%, while organic rates ran 3.13% on over 57 million search engine visits to ecommerce sites.

There is no doubt that a good balance of organic and paid search listings can maximize your search marketing ROI by taking advantage of the different benefits offered by PPC and SEO.

Boost Conversions With Search Marketing

Search engines have over twice the ecommerce conversion rate of other traffic acquisition sources.

During the last three months of 2005, the search engine conversion rate at B2C ecommerce websites was 2.30%. This was more than twice the conversion rate of banner ads, affiliate marketing links, shopping search engines and other referring links (0.96%), as reported by the WebSideStory Index.

You need just the right mix of SEO and paid search advertising in your search marketing plan. Anecdotal evidence shows that sites using both strategies increase conversion rates because traffic goes up dramatically with links in multiple positions. Users choose to click more frequently on an organic listing when they also see a sponsored listing. But when marketers experiment by removing their paid links, conversions drop precipitously. Put the paid link back, and conversions rise. Go figure!

Boost Conversions With Site Search

Effective site search is becoming one of the most critical conversion drivers in online commerce. A study by WebSideStory shows that site search provided a huge boost to ecommerce sites during the 2005 holiday shopping season. Site search helped convert visitors into buyers at nearly three times the rate of average site users.

During the last three months of the year, the conversion rate for visitors using the search box on a Website was 7.54% – 2.7 times higher than the conversion rate for average site users (2.79%). Site search conversion rates ranged from just under 6% in October to over 8% in December.

Enhance Keyword Bid Management

Keyword bid management enables more effective allocation of your marketing dollars when buying keywords or categories of keywords. The integration of keyword bid management and Web analytics allows you to track keywords to determine which phrases work best in terms of conversions. You can also determine the monetary value of those keywords, including cost per click, cost per acquisition, cost per initial sale and cost per lead. Analytics helps you manage the bidding process for optimum results.

It is also worthwhile to track all the misspellings and alternative names found from site search behavior in your Web analytics program. The analysis of visitor traffic from those external search results can reveal which keywords work best for turning prospects into customers. You can then buy only those keyword phrases that result in your targeted ROI or CPA.

The Future of eCommerce

Ecommerce has survived 12 years on the Web, evolving considerably over time. One of its biggest challenges is the growing importance of search. With the huge number of purchases following Web searches, search engines like Google want retailers to add tons of additional details online to enhance the search process. This might include continuous structured feeds of data such as SKU listings, daily inventory and hours of operation, which would be fed into public search engines.

Theoretically, this will allow more specific and relevant search results, long with increased ecommerce revenue for cooperating retailers. For instance, a consumer seeking a particular model of vacuum cleaner will see search results for local vendors who carry that model and actually have it in stock. For this to work, inventories must be kept up to date, no small task. This would also improve the efficiency of in-store pickups. The in-store pickup option is currently not available on all ecommerce sites; however, it could help increase online sales.

The pressure will be on technology systems to accurately predict what is and isn’t in stock, which may require inventory data to be fed to search engines, along with POS (point-of-sale) and RFID (radio frequency identification) item-location information. The POS data could be critical during high-volume purchasing periods like the year-end holidays.

Such a system may take years to implement. Data sharing is one obstacle, which probably can be overcome with time as more and more retailers buy in. The major problem for retailers is accessing the data and transferring it to the search engines. In most cases, this involves changes in established processes. While most retailers see search as a great distribution channel, the top decision makers have difficulty making the necessary changes and prioritizing these tasks. Nevertheless, ecommerce continues to evolve.

The Biggest Threat to Your SEM Profits

By · January 7, 2007 · Filed in Search Engine Guide 2005-2007 · No Comments »

Click fraud continues to be a major threat to the PPC ad model; make no mistake about it. An Outsell survey conducted last year reports that click fraud amounts to an estimated $1.3 billion, causing approximately 27 percent of advertisers to cut back on PPC campaigns or eliminate them altogether.

Some experts report that click fraud accounts for as much as 20 percent of the PPC clicks, while others estimate the fraud rate at 14 percent. Google claims estimates are overblown and asserts that click-fraud auditing firms use methodologies that inflate click fraud rates. Regardless of who’s right, publishers have reported a drop in AdSense revenues due to a mistrust of PPC advertising.

CPA Model Alternative

Google is testing a cost-per-action (CPA) ad model where marketers pay a fee only when users perform the desired action (sale, subscription, download, etc.). While Google does not have serious concerns over click fraud, it wants to give advertisers more options and provide its publisher network with an additional means to earn revenue through AdSense. The CPA ads will be displayed on a different network (Content Referral Network) than the PPC ads.

Bill Gross introduced the CPA model on SNAP because he believes it is the only way to eliminate click fraud. SNAP CEO Tom McGovern believes other engines will embrace this model eventually because advertisers pay only for results.

Lack of Transparency Enables Click Fraud

Click fraud is difficult to document once identified. A major obstacle to tracking click fraud is the lack of transparency in the click fraud billing and tracking process. This lack of transparency on the part of major PPC providers is bizarre. Imagine your cell phone provider sticking you with a $20,000 bill and refusing to provide itemized billing for your calls. Yet, the major PPC providers defend this view.

Google Product Manager Shuman Ghosemajumder has stated, “Google is examining ways to make its fraud-fighting efforts more transparent without revealing crucial information that might help swindlers elude detection.”

In the Auditing Paid Listings and Click Fraud Issues session at SES New York last year, Yahoo stated that it evaluates clicks along 20 to 50 data points, mentioning a few but not providing definitive information.

The argument that providing itemized per-click billing would disclose the inner workings of the PPC providers’ anti-fraud system to the bad guys is foolhardy. Chances are the bad guys are already a step ahead.

At first search engines were dragging their feet on this issue. However, Google started providing advertisers with the number of invalid clicks on their ads last fall. Additionally, the IAB and Media Rating Council formed a Click Measurement Group to create Click Measurement Guidelines with cooperation from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Ask and LookSmart. These are both steps in the right direction, but the worst may be yet to come.

Invasion of the Botnets

I had the opportunity to speak with Dmitri Eroshenko, founder of Clicklab.com, an Internet marketing services company specializing in web analytics and click fraud audit. Eroshenko is known as a leading ecommerce efficiency expert who has written extensively on subjects such as PPC advertising, web metrics, click fraud and maximizing marketing ROI.

I asked Eroshenko what his single largest concern regarding click fraud is today. “The worst threat is currently coming from botnets. Botnet masters may have tens of thousands of zombie PCs on their networks. They can afford to use each PC only once in a lifetime (i.e., no repeat clicks whatsoever). Such a threat can only be stopped on the botnet level. It can not be detected by either search engines or on the advertiser side.”

Runaway Crime Bots

Botnets are used as a weapon in online crime. From spam, phishing attacks, virus propagation, and now click fraud, these networks are an increasing threat to the Internet.

Symantec’s third quarter 2006 Internet Security Threat Report identified increased use of click fraud and other evasive tactics by attackers, stating, “widespread internet worms have given way to smaller, more targeted attacks focusing on fraud, data theft, and criminal activity.” The U.S. accounts for 26 percent of the world’s bot-infected computers, higher than any other country.

Dealing with botnets is not an easy task because these networks are an illegal collection of hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of compromised computers all being controlled with a common infrastructure by a master crook. One botnet in Holland was reported to consist of 1.5 million machines all under one group’s control.

Defending Against Botnet Click Fraud

It is difficult to defend against a botnet attack because it requires complex tracking and research on how these armies of PCs communicate and how they receive their instructions from their botnet masters. Instructions from the masters direct the bots to various URL addresses that post AdSense or Yahoo Publisher Network contextual ads on their sites, and the bots click away.

There are informal voluntary groups as well as commercial companies that identify and track botnets. One method of detecting and responding to malicious network traffic is to implement a virtual honeypot (a software program designed to emulate a functioning network but is actually a decoy built to be probed and attacked by malicious users). Honeynets are set-up in laboratory PCs with botnet instructions. They collect lists of infected IP addresses and can cross-reference them; however, there is no current technology to detect the botnet clicks. The Honeynet Project, a volunteer organization dedicated to improving Internet security, states, “One of the challenges we are facing is the complexity of attackers and threats today. Several years ago it was relatively easy to capture and analyze cyber threats. You simply stuck out a honeypot and the bad guys came. Nowadays they use a variety of multiple vectors, advanced tools, and are always adapting and changing.”

Internet security company Panda Software, working with RSA Security, recently reported dismantling a botnet control system threatening a pay-per-click provider’s contextual network. The bot network was comprised of over 50,000 zombie computers infected by Clickbot-A, which was controlled remotely. The joint effort resulted in the detection and neutralization of a sophisticated online fraud attack. The ad network affected was not identified, but most likely it was Google AdSense or Yahoo Publisher Network. There are a number of click fraud service vendors doing this kind of work, including Alchemist Media, Click Assurance, Click Defense and Click Forensics, to name a few.

Fighting Click Fraud

For some advertisers, the return on investment is enough. This is the cornerstone that has kept PPC from collapsing overnight. Some companies receive 80 to 90 percent of their revenue from PPC so obviously they are not complaining about click fraud. They consider it the cost of doing business and are content to skim the cream off the top.

If you are not one of these companies, what can you do about click fraud? At the very least, install web analytics capabilities to track and monitor conversions and other key indicators that can reveal suspicious trends. If you track click fraud yourself, it can be tedious and time consuming. One solution is to outsource to a click fraud prevention agency. If you do search marketing through an interactive agency or search marketing vendor, these firms will usually provide tools and/or analytics for the detection of click fraud.

Snap For Relevancy

By · November 17, 2006 · Filed in Search Engine Guide 2005-2007 · No Comments »

IdeaLab’s Snap.com, is a unique search engine in more ways than one. And it’s like a breath of fresh air compared to the behemoth blue-lined SERPs.

While it launched over a year ago, Snap is still in its early days. And it looks like entrepreneur Bill Gross has done it again. Bill is the guy who started GoTo.com (formerly Overture, currently Yahoo Search Marketing). After going public, he sold it in 2003 for $1.63 billion to Yahoo.

Bill Gross is responsible for starting the pay-per-click revolution that changed the way commercial advertising works on the Internet today. Bill’s mission has always been to help users find things faster. He provided the Business Plan for Google’s phenomenal success before either of them even knew it!

Bill’s latest killer app is Snap Dotcom. I ran into Snap the other day when a co-worker blogged about its unique features. Being a search engine buff, I checked it out and must say I was pleasantly surprised. As I went deeper, my jaw opened wider. No way — this is sweet!

Following are a few of Snap’s unique features. Warning — this is no place for dial-ups.

Ease of Use: Snap is different because it gives you a quick visual display of results. Snap’s web application presents search results in two columns. The left side lists the familiar text summary of each site, and the right side displays a partial screen shot of the actual web page corresponding to each entry. The user can scroll through the list of numbered results using the up and down arrow keys (like surfing channels with a television remote) to quickly see each search result. In addition to site previews, users can directly interact with the sites returned in the search results list without ever needing to leave the search engine.

Relevance: Snap delivers its search results from in-house algos, which have layered in behavioral data. This allows Snap to tap into the wisdom of the crowd rather than strictly using the machine to score the relevance of web pages.

Snap narrows down your list of search results as you type in the first letter of a word or a domain. It uses licensed data feeds from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to sort results based on data culled from other searchers’ use of a particular site after performing the same search. This makes Snap one of the first search engines to gather and infer data on user intention based on previous search queries.

Post Click Data: Snap’s licensed ISP data identifies where people find success versus a dead end. Think about users at a major search engine: they click on the first link and often look at it, read it, process it, then wait to load. After about 200-300 milliseconds, they typically navigate back to the results page. Most advertiser sites barely survive this experience. White-hat SEOs with good intentions set up for delivering users with multiple page views. Users go into SSL mode, download a PDF, etc., but the search engine won’t tell the client or the SEO if the click stream data leads to a dead end alley. However, with Snap, the CPA advertiser will have the post click behavioral information.

Analysis of post click behavior to improve results is where the rubber meets the road. Knowing that a user actually consummated a transaction is golden.

Blending Organic and Paid: Snap is radically different from other search engines by combining paid (sponsored) and unpaid results into one simple list that is sorted based on user satisfaction. Most SERPs separate these links; however, the Pew study (PEW Internet & American Life Project 2005) revealed that 62 percent of searchers are not aware of the distinction between paid and unpaid results. Snap includes its sponsored results within its organic results, identified as such in orange text. Some have poo-pooed this tactic, saying it’s not in the best interest of the public. I say BS — look at any newspaper or magazine. You’ve got paid and unpaid in your face 24/7.

Snap’s configuration is based on user satisfaction. For instance, a commercial search will bring-up sponsored results in the mix, whereas a research-related search retrieves no sponsored results. Snap matches your intentions to the results it produces. Its goal is not to maximize revenue per pixel, but rather through a consumer satisfaction approach to relevance.

Graphical Results: Another major difference in Snap is the rapid previewing of web sites. For advertisers, this means users go far beyond the typical search ad of a Title and 70 characters of Description. You actually get to show your landing page to the user. Cost-Per-Action (CPA) Business Model: Snap’s unique model allows advertisers to guarantee that their marketing expenditures are cost-effective. Snap’s CPA system only charges advertisers when the user actually follows through and purchases an item, fills out a form, makes a donation, or performs whatever criterion the advertiser establishes for the campaign.

The system is based on a conversion rate quality score, and it is self-policing. Advertisers report their conversions via a beacon on their site. For those of you who work with affiliate networks such as Linkshare or Commission Junction, this is straightforward. A small snippet of code is placed on the conversion page (such as a thank you page), which reports back when a user coming from Snap converts. Snap then determines the conversion rate by keyword and uses that information to optimize the relevance for its users. Snap’s minimum fixed bid-per-action is currently $1.00 per action; the variable bid-per-action cost is 5.0 percent minimum per sale. Fixed and Variable CPA are further explained here.

The beauty of CPA is that it aligns the search engine with the advertiser. Snap CEO Tom McGovern said, “We believe this will be embraced by other engines eventually as it is not fraudable like Cost Per Click is — advertisers only pay for real business.”

Snap currently reaches over one million users, and with the above unique features, I see a bright future. They’ve crawled and indexed over two billion documents. Their model is not in competition with Google; they simply want to build a base of searchers who seek an alternative to the sameness provided by the search products of Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. Coupled with its advertising model, Snap creates an interesting alternative for users and advertisers alike.

The Power of Web Analytics

By · December 9, 2005 · Filed in Search Engine Guide 2005-2007 · No Comments »

Ever since Google announced it was giving away its web analytics tool, marketers have raced to board the analytics bullet train. This is both good and bad. Good because it is advantageous for an online business to make decisions based on factual data rather than flying blind. In today’s competitive marketing environment it is vital to continually improve website and marketing campaign performance to maximize your return on investment (ROI).

But the bad news is that many marketers don’t know what to measure, how to do it or even why — let alone what to do with the data once they have it. The challenge is two-fold: selecting the right analytics solution and then knowing how to use that application to measure, manage and optimize your website and marketing campaigns.

How Do You Use Web Analytics?

A Forrester survey, “What Matters to Web Site Analytics Users (2004),” found that users were basically satisfied with and received good value from their web analytics applications. The two types of analytics applications are: (1) a hosted solution that charges a monthly fee, and (2) a software solution purchased for a one-time fee. Forrester reported that users of hosted applications paid an average monthly fee of $7,400; whereas licensed software users paid an average one-time fee of $74,500. Following are major findings on the way marketers used their analytics applications:

  • The majority of marketers (81 percent) said their most frequent use of analytics tools was to create and modify reports of customer activity on their websites.
  • The second most popular use was analyzing search engine traffic, cited by 65 percent of users as a frequently used task.
  • The third most popular use was creating segments of customers based on shopping behavior, cited by 57 percent of marketers.

Other uses, in order of importance, were:

  • Analyzing A/B tests of site features or content
  • Generating and analyzing e-mail marketing campaigns
  • Performing ad hoc analysis using a data warehouse
  • Analyzing site search data
  • Analyzing intranet or extranet usage
  • Gathering and analyzing data from CRM or other applications

Keep in mind that the above survey was conducted over a year ago and much has happened since. A number of new analytics vendors have hit the scene, and Urchin became the Google Analytics freebie. While there is still an element of mystery about web analytics, don’t let that stop you. Analytics skills can be learned through training or supplemented through a web analytics consulting service. Some consulting services will assign an analytics specialist to your project to help you get started and answer whatever questions you may have.

Separate the Wheat from the Chaff

Once you get your hands on a good web analytics solution, don’t be mesmerized with the vast data harvesting capabilities of today’s sophisticated metric tools. These tools can give you the ability to configure a gazillion reports — but do you really need that many? It is wiser to center your analyses on key metrics that can help you meet previously defined, actionable objectives. Work with the key metrics that are the true performance indicators for your business. This will give your team the tools they need to make wise tactical and strategic business decisions.

Establish Your Business Objectives

As a first step, it is important to identify the variables that will improve your business results. This might include bottom-line variables such as costs and revenues. What business processes impact your costs and revenues? Once you identify these, you can make site changes to achieve higher profits. Below are some questions for brainstorming that might help identify important metrics for analysis.

  • Are you attracting unique visitors?
  • Are visitors spending time on your site, and if so, where?
  • How well do you convert visitors?
  • Does your site navigation help visitors accomplish their intended actions?
  • How does the behavior of your customer segments differ?
  • What is your churn rate?

If you are new to web analytics, you might want to define one major objective at a time. Get your team to vote on your number-one marketing objective, and then brainstorm to identify the metrics that can be used to measure the performance of that goal. Limit yourself to five or six metrics to avoid the trap of analyzing too many variables at once. Once you identify a few top metrics that can be measured, analyzed and monitored, you can implement the changes that improve business performance. Don’t forget to reevaluate over time ? it’s is a continuous improvement process.

Set Key Performance Indicators (KPI)

Your KPIs are the measurable performance indicators that help your business achieve its goals by defining and measuring progress. As such, they are usually long-term goals. KPIs are always company specific. They are identified and monitored by your team of key functional personnel. As a reflection of your business goals, KPIs are instrumental to your success.

Say you want to identify KPIs for an e-commerce site with a major objective to increase conversions. Below are some of the key indicators you might want to track:

  • Site-wide conversion rate
  • New and repeat site-wide customer conversion rates
  • Percent of orders from new and returning customers
  • Average order value, site-wide and for new and returning customers
  • Sales per visitor

Once you have defined the right KPIs for your business, you should share them with your web team, including your sales and marketing people who drive site traffic and conversions. Look back at your current online initiatives. Do they support and drive your KPIs? What effect will your promotions have on the KPIs? You’ll learn which initiatives to monetize based on the continuous analysis of your KPIs, allowing you to reprioritize your marketing initiatives. Having well-defined KPIs can change your current marketing mix for better targeting and an improved ROI.

Build ROI into Your Marketing Plan

Once you start using web analytics, you may need to redefine the way your marketing and sales people think and operate. It’s always a good idea to encourage your managers to foster change and support new initiatives. To help you get there, hold monthly meetings to discuss performance metrics. Brainstorm for metrics that will help measure marketing campaign and website performance. You might eventually want to hold your department managers accountable for key metrics performance in their area of responsibility. By implementing such changes, you turn your website into the ultimate experimental lab. And this is a good thing. You can measure, propose and test changes — then implement those that will improve your business performance. Web analytics reports give you raw power. You just have to experiment and learn how to use it, and the payoff makes it worth your time and investment. Don’t be intimidated by web analytics — use it to lower your costs and set record profits.

Is Google Messing With Organic Algos?

By · November 3, 2005 · Filed in Search Engine Guide 2005-2007 · No Comments »

Loren Baker started a thread on the SearchEngineWatch forum stating that Google filed for an organic search patent. Titled Personalization of placed content ordering in search results, this patent may potentially enable Google to serve organic search results based on user profiles.

The abstract states the patent is “a system and method for using a user profile to order placed content in search results returned by a search engine.” Does this mean that Google is going into behaviorally based search personalization after all?

Search Personalization

In my article, “Search Marketing Then and Now,” I talked about search personalization and behavioral targeting, indicating that Google had the capability but did not currently include behavioral data in its algorithm. That may be about to change, as Google becomes more and more commercially focused. In further describing the patent, the abstract summary continues:

“The user profile is based on search queries submitted by a user, the user’s specific interaction with the documents identified by the search engine and personal information provided by the user. Placed content is ranked by a score based at least in part on a similarity of a particular placed content to the user’s profile. User profiles can be created and/or stored on the client side or server side of a client-server network environment.”

This certainly suggests that user profiles will be used to manipulate organic rankings in a new algorithm. If so, it may create havoc for search marketers. To quote Chris D on the SearchEngineWatch Forum, “…User targeted advertising using user profile data. Yes – it’s a Marketeer’s dream – and a privacy nightmare…. ”

At this point, it’s hard to say whether the patent will actually be used to manipulate organic listings. There are mentions of “a respective bid” and “a respective click through rate” in the paragraphs quoted below, which are paid search terms. Potentially, the protocol could be used for either organic or paid listings.

“5. The method of claim 4, wherein the ordering includes assigning a score to each of the set of placed content in accordance with the user profile and a respective bid for the placed content.

6. The method of claim 4, wherein the ordering includes assigning a score to each of the set of placed content in accordance with the user profile and a respective click through rate for the placed content.”

Privacy Nightmare

You may recall the DoubleClick privacy fiasco when it merged with the database firm Abacus Direct back in 1999. Privacy advocates went into frenzy after their attempt to block the merger failed, causing DoubleClick to blink first.

DoubleClick planned to match users’ web activities (tracked by cookies) with the names in the Abacus database, targeting relevant ads to users on a massive scale in its ad network. Users could opt-out, but privacy advocates said this was unfair to users, who didn’t realize their personal information was being shared. So much for best-laid plans. The privacy debate sparked criticism from consumer groups and got the attention of the FTC. Ultimately, DoubleClick shelved its plan to use personal information for ad targeting.

Behavioral Targeting Redux

The search industry continues to explore ways to use behavioral targeting because the technology can be used to meet user needs while achieving advertiser objectives. Google has indicated it believes that sponsored listings improve the overall search experience. Ideally, it should be a win-win ? users see only ads of interest and advertisers get exposure to a targeted audience.

The current focus is to stay away from using identifiable personal information. For instance, RelevancyRank uses search technology that ranks sites based on behavioral indicators gathered by Claria adware (formerly Gator). That is, indicators like repeat visits, time spent on the site, user click rates and so forth.

Yahoo! uses behavioral targeting in a program that targets display ads based on a visitor’s recent search activity. Yahoo! Impulse allows advertisers to serve banners based on search behavior that follows a query entry. Such targeted ads can be served for 48 hours. Advertisers sign up for the program but users don’t have an opt-in option. While users aren’t asked for permission to be served targeted ads based on their search queries, Yahoo! discloses its behavioral targeting practices in its privacy policy.

I for one would always want to set my own personalization criteria and profile. You’ve all seen Yahoo! Mindset: Intent-driven Search, right? If you haven’t tried it, you should — it’s cool. Mindset is a form of personalization search:

“The demo provides a slider widget for users to explicitly specify their intent. Leaving the slider in the middle means they want to use the original Yahoo! search result order. Moving the slider to the extreme right means they want the top results to be those which the classifier is most confident are “non-commercial”. Putting the slider in between those two positions means a blend — somewhat faithful to the original ordering but also tending to bring the more obvious non-commercial pages to the top. Similarly, sliding into the left half indicates blending of commercialness confidence vs original ordering.”

MSN adCenter (Beta) promises powerful tools for better targeting although it does not include behavioral targeting at present. adCenter currently offers targeting by age, gender and geography. Behavioral targeting is the magic bullet because it achieves the kind of targeting those advertisers will pay more for.

What Does “Placed Content” Mean for Algos?

Can you imagine what will happen to search marketing vendors when their clients see organic listings moving all over the place with less predictability than ever before? The question is: How will Google use this placed content capability?

Andrew Goodman suggested a way to temper variable user interests in organic results manipulated with personalization data ? just mix generic and personalized results alternately on the results page.

The effects of personalization can be far reaching, as placed content can affect organic search results in many ways. Andrew suggests that “Google’s algorithmic thinking” applies to all placed content, such as “…organic search results, ads near organic search results, ads or related headlines near email, or ads on content pages.”

Other than a privacy issue, if any, I do not believe there is a problem with respect to organic SEO and Google’s patent request. Knowledge based services will always be in high demand and ethical search engine optimization practices are all about knowledge transfer.

Any robot, Googlebot included, will always have a difficult time interpreting data from a website for several reasons:

  1. No two websites are technically identical.
  2. No two robot crawlers are technically identical.
  3. HTML and other programming languages used to create websites produce text that is not viewed in the same light by humans and robots.
  4. Until robots like the Googlebot can imitate human behavior, intellect and intuition, there will always be a disconnect.
  5. Human knowledge and intervention is greater than any robot, even with AI.
  6. Facilitating a website’s data to be properly accepted and consumed by robots will always be an important process that the robots have difficulty doing on their own.
  7. No robot will ever be human.
  8. No mathematical algorithm will ever represent a person’s or a business’ intention as accurately as a human being.

Personalization of search will have a big impact on the way ads are placed and displayed. Again quoting Andrew, this will “…have a dramatic impact on the opportunities available to advertisers, and the price they may pay to gain visibility.” Look for a sea change in marketing when the personalization train hits.

Cracking the SEO Mystique

By · October 25, 2005 · Filed in Search Engine Guide 2005-2007 · No Comments »

MarketingSherpa asserts, “SEO Still a Tiny Portion of Total Search Marketing Spend” in its 2005 Search Marketing Benchmark Survey. It’s hard to understand the under-utilization of organic search engine optimization (SEO) compared to pay-per-click (PPC) when SEO listings attract more users and the links are more highly valued as non-commercial.

This same report states that organic results are “better noticed, read and clicked on than paid listings.” The report also notes that organic listings convert as well as, or even better than, paid listings (organic listings converted at 4.2%, whereas paid listings converted at 3.6%). When it comes to clicks, industry research shows that the ratio of organic to paid clicks runs 5 to 1. So there’s no doubt that organic links are powerful.

Delight and Dismay

MarketingSherpa researchers were both “delighted and appalled by the year over year data on marketing search spending.” Delighted because more marketers said they would allocate larger portions of their marketing budgets to SEO to gain valuable organic listings. But appalled at the “continuing disconnect between paid search spending and SEO investment.”

That’s the keyword, “investment.” SEO is an investment in time, resources and knowledge ? an investment that is accountable and yields an excellent return. The benefits of SEO are long lasting when compared to PPC because paid click campaigns can start or end immediately, depending on your budget and a variety of other factors. Conversely, organic SEO changes to a website stay with you indefinitely.

Requisite Site Changes

Organic SEO takes a lot of expertise, and it also takes cooperation by the client in executing the recommended site changes that allow a site to rank well in the major search engines. A recent JupiterResearch study states there are numerous obstacles to achieving necessary site changes when search marketers outsource SEO to vendors. In fact, 64 percent of the marketers and agencies surveyed said they did not implement their SEO vendor’s recommendations. This leads to the assumption that they didn’t achieve good organic SEO results.

I myself wonder just what the “SEO recommendations” were that the marketers did not implement in this study. Why? Because I’ve seen and heard a lot of inappropriate and/or weak SEO recommendations over the past ten years.

While the reasons cited for not following through with site changes are reportedly varied, the most common were (1) “lack of internal human resources to implement changes,” (2) “timing/frequency of update issues,” and (3) “lack of outsourced IT budget.” In my opinion, this is by and large due to the SEO vendor failing to set proper client guidelines and expectations.

The Communication Workaround

Can any client trust the advice they receive from any given SEO vendor? It seems like a catch 22 for the politically correct — clients pay big bucks for SEO services, but they don’t get results because they can’t make the site changes. I say horse feathers to this assumption — clients come to an SEO vendor for help. It is the vendor’s responsibility to guide the client to success. Failure occurs when the vendor fails to communicate what is required of the client prior to signing a contract.

A partial remedy for not implementing site changes would be to task the SEO vendor to FTP the site changes, but many companies will not allow outside consultants to access their site. The best solution is for the vendor to be clear upfront in communicating with the client, coming to mutual agreement on a procedure and schedule for making recommended site changes.

SEO vendors need to be more explicit in delineating the IT vs. marketing tasks necessary. They also need to consider the expertise and knowledge factor. SEO experts can likely accomplish the site changes in less time than the client IT technicians; however, there is tremendous value to in-sourcing SEO in the long run. Vendors can provide a realistic time schedule for accomplishing changes and factor in time for unknown contingencies due to client company operations. Explicit communication between the SEO vendor and its client’s IT and Marketing departments will lead to much better SEO results ? a win-win for both parties.

The SEO Mystique

The MarketingSherpa report stated that “SEO under-spending” is a trend that will continue in 2006. The researchers asked, “Why don’t more marketers invest in SEO?” The major reason given by respondents was “Don’t understand SEO, overall complexity.”

Despite the fact that users prefer unbiased organic links, and the conversions from organic links average higher than those from sponsored links, some marketers won’t invest in organic SEO because of its ambiguity and complexity.

That’s why it is necessary to educate marketers and technical people on SEO, demystifying the process. It is really not difficult to understand when examined step by step, but the problem lies in identifying qualified SEO vendors. SEO requires specific knowledge of appropriate methodology and a bit of perseverance. Some of the vendors with marketing visibility lack such traits, leaving a lot to be desired.

Another obstacle to the widespread adoption of organic SEO is that experts in the field offer conflicting advice. A lot of what you hear on the Forums is rhetoric and hearsay. Then there is the lack of SEO standards and a code of ethics, which further erodes the integrity of the industry.

Some SEO experts talk in very general terms, e.g., all you need to do is write your site content for both your customers and the search engines, give each page a keyword-optimized Title and Description Meta Tag, and get as many quality inbound links as possible. Others will say it’s more a matter of technical changes, “you need maintenance.” Very few know what goes on behind the scenes, and this contributes to the SEO mystique.

SEO Made Simple

First, you need a site review. This includes establishing your business goals with respect to search engines, leading you to measurable organic SEO results. I’m talking about Server Header Status, your IP C Block, dotting the (i) and slashing the (t) in the basics of server-side status, site architecture, page construction, content and inbound link popularity.

Next, a competitor review tells you what you are up against. Your site is obviously lacking several criteria or you wouldn’t have such poor positioning. This will also wake you up to the reality of what is required to achieve good positioning. Hello! I think Wake Up is the keyword here, get specifics from your vendor and don’t settle for rhetoric or marketing lingo. Here’s your script.

I want evidence that my IP address is not IP blocklisted, I want to know why a robots.txt file should be in my root directory, I want to see I have a site status header 200 when you ping my server and not a 400 or 302. I want to see if my HTML is being read properly by a spider read, a browser read and a request read. I want to know how to determine what my odds are of acquiring my strongest competitor’s best positions in Google. I want to know I will be spam free, and I want to know how my site should be arranged so that spiders can find, crawl, index and rank all my data.

Go ahead, crack the SEO mystique!

Balancing SEM for Success

By · October 13, 2005 · Filed in Search Engine Guide 2005-2007 · No Comments »

Don?t be one of those marketers who optimizes for Google alone. Or one who uses paid search and forgets organic SEO. Yes, Google is important; and paid search is popular. However, if you want to plan your SEM campaign for optimum success, you must go deep and wide to generate the greatest number of leads and conversions.

Google Rules, Or Not

The Big G is king, and it continues to beat the competition in almost every area of search. Not only that, all users love Google. An eMarketer 2005 opinion poll of U.S. adult users reported an 89 percent ?strongly positive experience? for Google users. In the 2005 MarketingSherpa and Enquiro study on the role of search in B2B purchase decisions, Google was favored over other search engines by 83 percent of users. Even children will tell you that Google is the best.

But despite Google?s great popularity, it just doesn?t make sense to focus your SEO campaign solely on one search engine. That?s because other major search engines have a following too, with different demographic groups favoring one engine over another.

The June 2005 comScore data show that users at Yahoo!, MSN, AOL and Ask Jeeves are skewed slightly toward women, whereas Google is used by a higher percentage of men. BTW, women purchase or influence the sale of over 50 percent of consumer electronics goods and 75 percent of the over-the-counter meds, in addition to 80 percent of overall consumer goods, which includes vehicle sales.

More telling is the data on searcher buying power and intent. The June comScore study found that Google users were 42 percent more likely to buy online than your average Internet user. Yahoo! users were 31 percent more likely to buy; MSN users, 48 percent; and Ask Jeeves users, 17 percent.

It Pays to Spread the Love

Statistics show that Google is not the only major source of qualified website traffic.

  • Hitwise reports for the week ending July 23, that Google, Yahoo! and MSN account for approximately 73 percent of all search activity with the following breakdown: Google, 40 percent, Yahoo!, 18 percent and MSN, 15 percent.
  • Nielsen/NetRatings reports for July, that Google ranked first with 47 percent of searches, Yahoo was second with 21 percent, and MSN was third with 14 percent (numbers rounded to nearest tenth).

Note that if you optimize only for Google, you are missing access to 60 percent of your potential audience if the Hitwise data is accurate. If Nielsen/NetRatings is more precise, you miss 53 percent. When you don?t balance your SEM campaign, you?re creating a situation where you leave money on the table.

Another problem with narrow targeting is the fact that users admit to using several search engines in their quest for information. Nielsen/NetRatings reported this when it found that 58 percent of those using Google also went to either Yahoo! or MSN. Multiple search engine use was also noted in the B2B MarketingSherpa and Enquiro study.

You don?t want to risk not being found across multiple search engines for your strategic keyword phrases because this undermines your brand?s credibility. And it certainly limits exposure and awareness, as well as conversions. Fact is, your competitors will likely take a good organic position if you fall asleep at the wheel.

Organic Listings Attract Users

Multiple research studies observing search engine user behavior conclude that users prefer organic listings to sponsored (PPC) listings by 70 to 80 percent.

Do users know the difference between organic and sponsored listings? Yes and no; it probably depends on their level of search sophistication. Research by Enquiro reported ?significant confusion? over sponsored links, but that users favored organic links overwhelmingly: 77 percent chose organic over paid listings when searching. When making a purchase, 67 percent chose organic over paid listings.

To further buttress the case for organic links, Jupiter research found that six out of seven sales resulting from search engines originated in the organic search listings. And a Marketing Sherpa study found that conversions from organic links average about 25 percent higher than those from sponsored link conversions. It should be noted that the landing page call-to-action is definitely a factor when it comes to conversions, whether using paid placement or organic SEO.

Sponsored Listings Attract Advertisers

While organic listings show their power in research studies, most marketers planning SEM campaigns prefer to bid for the top sponsored listings with Google AdWords or Yahoo! Search Marketing. This is the quick way to achieve immediate visibility in the major search engine results pages (SERPs). Marketers want that visibility to jump start conversions.

SEMPO?s research, The State of Search Engine Marketing 2004, shows that paid placement received 82 percent of SEM spending, while organic SEO received 12 percent. This coincides with reports that Google receives 97 percent of its revenues from paid search. Yahoo! also gets a major portion of its revenues from advertising, as paid placement continues to be a major revenue stream for search engines.

So what does all this mean? Your PPC campaign will get immediate results, but it requires time and expertise for proper management. Cost-per-click rates are escalating, and there?s the risk of click fraud. On the other hand, your organic SEO campaign takes time to generate results, but those results are long lasting when properly maintained. It?s counter-productive to pit one against the other; leaving the obvious conclusion that one needs to leverage both for success. Serious marketers need organic SEO and PPC ads to cover all the bases for meeting their website objectives.

A Balanced SEM Campaign Spells Success

On the SEO side, you need to focus on gaining high rankings in the Google, Yahoo! and MSN SERPs. It wouldn?t hurt to include Ask Jeeves as well. We?ve already pointed out that if you optimize for Google alone, you?re missing access to at least 50 percent of your potential audience.

When it comes to paid search campaigns, the obvious choice is Google and Yahoo!. But there are other PPC programs that can be viable, depending on your industry, site objectives and the nature of the products and/or services you offer.

The top search engines feed paid listings to a number of other search engines, giving you exposure on multiple search sites. For instance, Google feeds paid results to AOL, AskJeeves, HotBot, iWon, Lycos, Netscape and Teoma. Yahoo! feeds paid results to AlltheWeb, Bruce Clay, Inc., Search Engine Relationship Chart).

As a savvy marketer, it?s wise to focus on both organic and paid listings for repeated exposure and credibility. With both natural and sponsored listings, brand reinforcement builds trust with users who skip around to multiple engines while searching for your strategic keyword phrases. Organically optimizing beyond the top three engines can further extend your exposure, elevate your brand and gain more effectual conversions. Balance is the key to your successful SEM campaign.

Search Marketing Then and Now

By · October 3, 2005 · Filed in Search Engine Guide 2005-2007 · No Comments »

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) has changed considerably over the past ten years. When I first started, it was called Search Engine Submission. Then it became Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which was barely recognized as a marketing strategy.

At first, SEO was a simple webpage-tweaking service. It required due diligence in installing meta tags, sprinkling keywords in content (some would sprinkle more than others) and manually submitting to engines like WebCrawler, Yahoo!, Infoseek, Lycos, AltaVista and Excite. Looking back, it was a lot easier to achieve high rankings in those days compared to the complexity of organic SEO today.

By reverse-engineering the search algorithms, SEO techs discovered many different ways to quickly get high rankings. That began the white-hat / black-hat debate that continues to this day. One of my first clients, NASDAQ, required a strictly white-hat posture, and that early experience helped shape my philosophy on the ethical standards of SEO practice that I recommend to this day.

Back then, it was a cottage industry without certification, licensing or even a professional organization. We?ve come a long way since, as Search Engine Marketing has expanded its services to include paid inclusion and paid placement. Search marketing is now proven to be an accountable, cost-effective and multi-purpose advertising medium.

Many Flavors of SEM

As search engine marketing matured, it was found to be effective for branding, as well for direct response online sales and latent-action offline sales. SEM adoption has begun to reach critical mass as search engines develop new ways to tap additional inventory to meet advertiser demand. While search has become an authentic advertising medium, the industry is at a small pinnacle compared to where it will go in the future.

Concepts such as search personalization, vertical search engines, contextual search ads, and search behavioral targeting are just beginning to take hold. You need several crib sheets to distinguish between the many variations of search marketing and to select the best strategies that enhance your marketing ROI.

Personalization of Search

Search personalization can be promising for consumers and marketers alike. The premise is that by collecting user data such as frequently visited websites and past queries, a search engine can give users relevant results while delivering ads suited to their needs.

In order for personalization to be effective, user behavior has to be tracked over time, which may involve privacy and security risks. Thus, personalization technologies have some obstacles to overcome.

In a recent interview by Tom Saunders of vnunet.com, AskJeeves CEO Steve Berkowitz said, ?the growth of identity theft and phishing scams could kill the promise of more personalized search technologies.?

Another problem is the lack of disclosure when behavioral data is collected online. Legislators would like to see more disclosure in data collection as well as an opt-out option. HR 29 (Safeguard Against Privacy Invasions Act), a Bill with such provisions, has passed the House and was recently referred to the Senate for Committee review.

New information suggests personalization might work with a young demographic (age 13-24). A study conducted by Yahoo! and OMD Worldwide examined the needs expressed by members of the My Media Generation. Results show this demographic is attracted to interactivity and personalization, evidenced by their adoption of individual play lists for music, ringtones and wallpapers for phones, and avatar customization on instant messaging. This can be interpreted as evidence of a demand for personalization options as younger generations use the Internet and numerous self-programmable electronic devices.

Usefulness of Vertical Search

Vertical search engines are specialized search engines that contain only the content that is gathered from a select niche of the web. The thesis is that results will be more relevant to certain users because the context is narrowly defined. Organic SEO analysts should carefully select appropriate vertical search engines for submission, and these engines would also be a good source for targeted B2B paid search ads.

For instance, the science search engine Scirus is configured to only search science-specific content. Scirus searches over 200 million science-specific web pages, filtering out anything that is not science related. Users can quickly pinpoint information they are looking for and will likely be receptive to branding messages in the listings viewed.

Another vertical search engine, KnowIT, provides information for business and technology professionals. It filters out any content that is unrelated to the technology sector. The KnowIT index includes the following types of content: commercial, educational, news, analyst/research, blog, forum, industry association, government, and reviews/opinions. This allows specialized professionals to conduct deeper and more useful Internet searches for technology content, products and services. KnowIT hopes to change the way niche searchers use search engines by providing the ultimate search platform for the technology community.

Ubiquity of Contextual Search Ads

Contextual search ads (CSAs) appear on publisher site networks created through Google AdSense and Yahoo Publisher Network (beta). MSN has a contextual ad network, MSN Keywords (beta), scheduled to launch in October. Ask Jeeves also recently launched its own advertising network.

CSAs are displayed on publisher content pages across the web rather than on the Search Engine Results Pages. The text ad contains a link to the advertiser?s landing page and is displayed in a banner or skyscraper ad module. Google automatically selects the number of ads to list in an ad block, depending on which ads produce the most revenue. The ads rotate, so sometimes you?ll see a single ad in the banner space; other times there might be four text ads or a graphic ad.

Both Google and Yahoo! have distribution networks consisting of pre-approved publisher sites that agree to display ads and share revenue. Recently, CSA networks have been extended to include smaller, qualified publishers. Advertisers can select sites for ad display. Many publishers are happy campers because it?s a great way to earn more ad revenue. Advertisers can be successful as well by requesting distribution to sites that deliver their target audience.

Feasibility of Behavioral Targeting

The search industry is exploring ways to combine behavioral targeting with search technology to meet user needs and client advertising objectives. Claria is developing RelevancyRank, a search technology that ranks sites based on behavioral indicators gathered by Claria adware. These indicators might be repeat visits, time spent on the site and user click rates.

Google could also measure these indicators through its personalization feature, but to my knowledge, Google does not currently include behavioral data in its algorithm. Claria claims that Google and the major search engines do not show the most relevant sites in their top results because of this lack of behavioral influence in the algorithms.

However, privacy issues are a concern as search engines continue to accumulate more personal information on individuals. With the wide range of personal services offered, including free email accounts, free desktop search and instant messaging, users are beginning to lose anonymity. It is well known that search engines use tracking cookies to serve more relevant ads to users, claiming that no personal information is tracked. But consumers are getting leery.

Do online users object to constant pitches and privacy invasion? Yes and no. We already mentioned the objections of consumers and legislators under Personalization of Search. But consumers have consistently indicated in focus groups that they don?t mind seeing online ads for products that are relevant to the content they are viewing. And it?s a fact that consumers will agree to view ads in exchange for a free product or service. A recent Forrester Research study reported that consumers are willing to give up some privacy when offered adequate value in exchange. The role of personalization and behavioral targeting in search marketing remains to be tested.

A New Search Landscape

The integration of search with huge depositories of commercial data is in its infancy, as only a fraction of the existing online content is actually searchable online from search sites. For instance, the current issues and archives of news sites cannot be searched from Yahoo! or Google, nor can those of many other publications. You can search from the publication?s site but not directly from the search engines. That?s because search engines don?t own the rights to copyright-protected content. It will take a lot of negotiating before agreements can be made between search engines and publishers housing copyrighted material.

What will the new search landscape look like? If you ask Bill Gates, he?ll tell you that search engines will be extinct once he comes out with future versions of Windows and Office. Enjoy this quote from the Fortune article by Fred Vogelstein:

?Gates says that when Microsoft is done integrating search into future versions of Windows and Office, the world will look back at the way we are now “Googling” for stuff on the Internet and laugh. “The idea that you type in these words [in the search box] that aren’t sentences and you don’t get any answers?you just get back all these things you have to click on?that is so antiquated,” he says, later adding, “We need to take search way beyond how people think of it today and just have it be naturally available, based on the task they want to do.” For example, if you wanted to look up a factoid while you were writing a document, you might search for it without ever leaving Word.?

Perhaps, Mr. Gates. In any event, I believe that search will change dramatically in ways that will give us more and better data to be accessed quickly and easily. Tomorrow?s search systems will probably make today?s search engines look as outdated as the search/find function on Windows.

Want Branding With That?

By · September 14, 2005 · Filed in Search Engine Guide 2005-2007 · No Comments »

Branding is a major goal for marketers around the world, and companies will allocate big bucks for brand awareness. It?s always been hard to measure branding — until the Internet came along.

Online advertising started with banner ads, and it didn?t take long before marketers realized search listings drive large volumes of targeted traffic to websites.

Search traffic is golden because it doesn?t interrupt consumer behavior. Users are actively seeking information and want to be driven to its source. As they view the search listings for their query, the text descriptions function as ads that produce awareness.

The Proof Is in the Pudding

In 2001, NPD Group examined the effectiveness of three types of search engine ads: search listings, banner ads, and the tile ads next to search listings. The search listings were read and clicked significantly more often than banners or tile ads, and they also produced more sales. Conclusion: Search listings provide more brand awareness than any other ads in a search environment.

In 2004, Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Nielsen/NetRatings explored branding for search text ads versus contextual ads, focusing at various branding attributes (unaided brand awareness, aided ad awareness, familiarity and brand image associations). Conclusion: Branding in search listings is stronger than contextual ad branding, particularly when the brand holds the top position in the results page.

The Value of Branding

Your brand is what identifies your business to consumers. It resides in the hearts and minds of your customers and prospects as the sum total of their experiences with and perceptions of your company. Good branding ensures loyal customers, and your existing customer relationships are the key to profitability. So it?s no wonder that branding is a major marketing goal.

SEMPO research on business marketing goals shows that most companies place ?increase brand awareness? at the top of their list. Other goals include, ?selling products/services online,? ?generating leads,? ?increasing traffic,? ?generating leads for distributors,? and ?providing information/education.?

The Branding Component of Search Marketing

Up until now, the major goal of search engine marketing (SEM) has been to drive targeted traffic to your site for lead generation and online or offline conversions. However, it?s now evident that during the search process, another valuable advertising goal is achieved — that of branding.

Some SEM firms don?t hype branding because of the focus on driving qualified traffic to produce leads and sales. However, the branding aspect of SEM is important, accountable, and should not be overlooked.

How Search Branding Works

When indexing your site, most search engines will use your website?s Title and Description, or the information therein, to create the text link that appears in the SERPs. This link, and the brief description of your site that follows, function as an ?ad? when users view your search engine listing.

Every time your listing shows prominently in the SERPs, branding takes place. You can achieve better branding when you ensure that all your ad elements encourage maximum awareness upon click-through to your landing page.

There are two major factors of importance in an SEM branding campaign: your branding message on the results page (Title/Description or Paid Text Ad) and your call to action on the landing page.

Coordinating Critical Ad Elements

Your Title and Description Tags are critical elements in a professional search engine optimization (SEO) campaign. When your website architecture, linking and content are properly optimized, these elements will help bring you to prominent positioning in the SERPs.

With paid search ads, a professional SEM firm will research and identify strategic key phrases, write the text ad, develop your bidding strategy, monitor bids, and track and fine-tune changes. Here, too, there?s a Title and Description that shows in the SERPs.

Your landing page is an important ad element for both SEO and Paid Search campaigns. Copy and creative should be strategically composed as an extension of your ?search ad? on the SERPs, with the landing page focused solely on the desired action. Ideally, these marketing elements should be prepared by SEM pros with advertising expertise.

Measuring Search Branding

How do you measure the effects of branding in a search engine marketing campaign? A web analytics program can do more than simply report statistics. These systems for compiling data will analyze your web logs to effectively manage your SEM campaign and measure your brand effectiveness. Below are some of the data points that can be used to measure the brand impact of an SEM campaign.

  • Average Time On Site: The longer your visitors browse your site upon arrival from a search engine, the better chance you have for future conversions.
  • Page Views Per Visitor: The more pages your prospects visit and read, the greater the odds of communicating your marketing message. This contributes to branding awareness.
  • Path Views to Registration or Subscription Sign-Ups: This is the same as the visitor giving you permission to form a business relationship. It starts a dialog and allows you to continue building your brand, moving the visitor closer to conversion.
  • White Paper Downloads: The more interest is shown in your products/services, the more branding takes place, and the user moves closer to conversion.
  • Navigation Report: This shows where visitors go next, pointing prospects to distributor or retailer sites. When search listings result in a click to a seller site, there is likelihood of purchase and proof of branding.

Maximizing Branding Efforts

With such value in your search listings, it?s wise to extend your branding efforts through well planned SEM campaigns. The coordination of SEM and advertising expertise ensures that all critical ad elements work together for both conversions and the elevation of your brand.

Competitor Intelligence Helps Protect and Elevate Your Brand

By · August 20, 2005 · Filed in Search Engine Guide 2005-2007 · No Comments »

An SEO Competitor Intelligence Report can give you all the information you need to best your competitors in the search engines. This detailed report tells you how well designed your site is for both visitors and search engine crawlers, as compared to your competitors. It reveals how popular your competitors are and how easy it is for prospects to find you versus them. Most reports provide a comparison on keywords and links, as well as a search engine position ranking report and recommended plan of action.

SEO competitor intelligence research can give you a competitive edge in achieving your business goals. It can boost your listings ahead of the competition in the SERPs (search engine results pages), and it also works to protect your brand.

Why Protect Your Brand?

In today?s competitive environment, many advertisers resort to using competitor trademark names as keywords in paid-search advertising. These trademark names appear in the SERPs for Google, Yahoo! and affiliates and partners when you buy Google AdWords or Yahoo! Search Marketing sponsored listings. Therefore, it?s possible for your competitors to drive substantial traffic to their web sites by virtue of your trademark name, using your reputation to attract visitors.

You can protect yourself from competitors raiding your trademark by hiring an SEO consultant to identify your competitors and research their search engine advertising activities. Your legal department can subsequently use the SEO research data to protect your trademark and reputation. This step can prove invaluable toward defending your future and ongoing business.

Most often, it will be the smaller, ?wannabe? companies riding on your coat tails by using your trademark terms as keywords in their advertising. These companies will generally avoid the threat of legal action upon receipt of a cease and desist letter.

B2B Firms Need Online Visibility

Research (Enquiro/MarketingSherpa 2004) shows that search engines play a dominant role in B2B purchases. The study reports that search is used in the early and mid research phase of the buying cycle, taking place at least one to two months before the buying decision. The study also reveals that position is a factor, with over 60 percent clicking on the top three listings.

B2B firms that want to meet and exceed their business goals must be listed prominently in the major search engines to keep their competitors from eating their lunch. Yet research shows that about 80 percent of corporate websites are not optimized for favorable positioning. The scenario below illustrates how competitor intelligence can help B2B firms serve customers better while improving their own profitability.

Setting the Scene for Competitor Research

Competition is keen in the communications field of voice and data services. That?s partly because new technologies and standards are still emerging. There is also a bit of confusion about the various services themselves, as well as the middlemen involved in the process of delivering services to consumers.

Major carriers such as Sprint, AT&T and Verizon provide network infrastructure and services to enable MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators such as Virgin Mobile USA) to offer consumer services. For instance, Sprint sells Mobile minutes of use (MOU) to Virgin, which packages and sells them to end-users.

Suppliers like Boston Communications Group, Inc. offer products and services that enable MVNOs to deploy and manage voice and data services for subscribers with access management, billing, payment and network services.

Let?s see how Boston Communications Group fares in branding and lead generation from search engine traffic.

Since Google is favored over other search engines, I started there. Did I find BCGI anywhere in Google for the term ? Sadly not.

Instead, I found prominent organic listings on page 1 and 2 for Lucent, Cisco and Intel. These companies may not be direct competitors; however, their mere size and genre result in a crossover in marketing objectives.

There are plenty of design engineers searching Google every day. These people are a target audience for Cisco, Intel, and likely others, such as Boston Communications Group, Inc., Intervoice, Inc. and Comverse Technology, Inc., to name just a few. Below is some information I gathered online about three mid-sized companies: BCGI, Intervoice and Comverse.

Information Gleaned Online

Recently, Boston Communications Group announced a reorganization focusing on diversification across product lines. Its products and services enable wireless operators to fully realize the potential of their networks. BCGI’s access management, billing, payment and network solutions help operators rapidly deploy and manage innovative voice and data services for subscribers.

A direct competitor of BCGI, Comverse Technology, which makes communications systems and software used by telephone companies for voicemail, recently said its revenue for the current period rose to $272.8 million from $221.4 million reported in the comparable quarter last year. Do you think Comverse has optimized its website to capture its target audience on the web? Nope — it doesn?t appear that even the slightest optimization effort has been made.

Another direct competitor of BCGI is Intervoice, Inc., the world leader in converged voice and data solutions. Are they search optimized? Evidently not.

But I did find press releases announcing that Intervoice and Carrius Technologies, Inc. recently formalized an OEM agreement in which Intervoice will use the Carrius Compleat-200(TM) as a media and signaling gateway component for its Omvia? family of network products. This leverages Intervoice?s telephony capabilities while reducing internal development costs. Omvia network solutions help leading companies realize operating efficiencies, customer satisfaction and increased revenues.

Are They Found in the SERPs?

I used the key phrase ?voice and data services? but did not find BCGI, Intervoice or Comverse on the first three pages of Google or Yahoo!. Will the online target audience for these firms ever know that they provide voice and data services? Probably not. Does it matter? You better believe it! (If interested, write to me for support data proving this point.)

This type of naivet? about search engine marketing is penalizing emerging technology firms and mid-size companies every day. It also opens the gate for giants like Cisco and Intel to dominate the market and stifle competition, which doesn?t benefit consumers.

Elevating Your Brand

Detailed competitive analysis reports provided by a qualified search engine marketing firm, can act as a significant leverage point for many mid-size companies. BCGI, Intervoice and Comverse Tech — Wise up! You are losing potential business by falling off the charts online. Your competitors are literally eating your lunch and walking off with your business 24/7.