Thanks to marketing consultant Rich Kelley for this piece.
“Ever-evolving engines” was the theme of this year’s Search Engine Strategies conference in March in New York—but finding the tactic that gets the best results was much more on the minds of the 5,000 attendees.
“Traditional direct mail generates conversions of two to three percent,” noted bestselling author Bryan Eisenberg of WiderFunnel in a typical packed session. “But why be satisfied with that when people are searching for your product online with an intent to purchase?” The best online retailers show what’s possible. In December, Amazon.com had a 25.1% conversion rate—and that ranked fourth. Online grocery store Schwan’s was #1 with 45.9%, followed by Harry and David at 30%, and coffee maker company Keurig at 28.8%. What’s their secret? Eisenberg offered no less than “21 Tips from Top-Converting Web Sites” (a presentation that is available online at MarketMotive). One of his key points: Marketers must be in control of every aspect of the customer experience. All forms should continue the “scent” of the site: its colors, graphics, and voice. The average shopping cart abandonment rate among online retailers is around 70%—in many cases because their registration forms were designed by what Eisenberg calls “bpus” (business prevention units).
One spirited panel pitted pay-per-click (PPC) paid search proponents against advocates of search engine optimization (SEO), also known as organic search, in a search marketing smackdown. SEO partisans maintain the best bang for the buck is in optimizing a website for natural or unpaid traffic from search engines. “PPC is for people who don’t get SEO,” according to Todd Friesen of Position Tech. SEO folks concede that PPC converts one to two times better, but note that SEO gets seven times the traffic. “I’ll take the greater traffic any day,” says Friesen. The PPC folks counter that you could spend your entire budget on SEO—and then wait six months for results. While the debate rages on, the evidence is that the two work well together: tests show that a paid ad on a search results page increases organic search traffic. “First get your site ready,” urges Rae Hoffman of Outspoken Media, “then work on the marketing.”
“Let’s face it. Your site probably sucks” was a recurrent theme. Keynote speaker and popular blogger Avinash Kaushik offered a tutorial on how to use Google Analytics to find out “how much you suck.” He advocates using bounce rate and the number of visits until purchase as metrics. Tim Ash of SiteTuners.com focused on five free or inexpensive tools you can use to identify problems with your site. For example, Crazy Egg can create a heat map of your site to show where visitors are looking and clicking—it’s often not where you want them to. ClickTale not only offers heatmaps but also in-page web analytics reports on where people are hesitating or getting stuck—they can also record a user’s path through your site that you can download and play back. Both Ash and Eisenberg cited UserTesting.com. For just $39, the site will find a customer matching your requested demographics and deliver a video of the user testing your site and a written summary of the problems he or she found. Ash also included his own free AttentionWizard.com, which generates a predictive heatmap that can even be used with prototypes.
Sarah Smith of Facebook offered a seminar on the advanced features of Facebook ads. While Facebook has no plans to introduce a CPA model, it has recently enabled conversion tracking. You can now insert an SKU into the tracking code for your Facebook ad to generate reports on the revenue it generates. And Facebook now prompts you with suggested interests when you create your ad. The best performing ads, according to Smith, include clear calls to action, but logos tend not to perform as well as photos of people.
In one of several panels on social media and search, Leslie Reiser of IBM cited the recent finding that “70% of the content read online by under-40-year-olds was written by someone they know.” This finding was echoed in other panels that reported that user-generated content increases natural search traffic.
What can search teach us about e-mail? Lots, according to Stephanie Miller from Return Path. Are you using your search keywords in your e-mail subject lines? And are you enabling social media in your e-mails? In a recent test, the average e-mail that used Forward to a Friend was only forwarded twice—but when SWYN (Share with Your Network) buttons for Twitter, Facebook and other SM sites were enabled, the e-mail was shared thirty times!
And take advantage of targeting, Miller urges. Sephora sends welcome e-mails to its new signups based on what they clicked when they signed up. One caution: many e-mail recipients never unblock the images in the preview, so make sure your call to action is readable when images are blocked. Get more tips from Miller in her recent ClickZ column.
Developing a content strategy to build links and draw search traffic were themes of several panels. Byron White of ideaLaunch outlined a ten-tip approach to content performance that began with using free research tools like WordVision, SpyFu, Compete, and Raven SEO Tools to identify hot topics and keywords—and then using a separate set of tools (Page Grader, Content Grader, Website Grader) to score your content for SEO strength. It’s important to then track how your content affects traffic, repeat visits, decreased user acquisition cost, time on site, and leads to sales.