Are there search geeks? Spend a day at this year’s Search Marketing Expo (better known as SMX East) and you’ll have no doubt. And any publisher curious about what it takes to connect directly to book buyers would find a motherlode of information here. For the fourth year Internet marketers swarmed the 55 sessions at the Javits Center September 13-15 where 125 top experts selected by the editors of Search Engine Land shared best practices, actionable tactics, and case studies on search engine optimization (SEO), paid search (PPC), local and mobile search, social media marketing, analytics, and related marketing topics.
Hands-on and cutting-edge define SMX and the organizers claimed that nearly 75% of the sessions were all new. Fresh research showed up in nearly every session. Shari Thurow, author of Search Engine Visibility, reminded everyone that search begins with good website design. What’s the main reason visitors choose a competitor’s site? According to a Harris Interactive study, 31% say it’s because of “navigation difficulty,” 30% blame “endless loops preventing transactions,” 22% because they’re “kicked off the page” and 14% because of error messages. “Whatever someone’s looking for should be easy to find before AND after they’ve arrived at your site.” She cited Nielsen and Loranger’s famous finding from 2006: “once someone has abandoned your site there’s only a 12% chance of their revisiting“(unless of course they’re retargeted – see below).
Thurow recommends using two forms of site navigation: one for visitors and one for search engines, which primarily follow text links. Search keywords – the words you expect people to use to find your products – should be prominent on your pages: most importantly in titles and visible body text, and secondarily in anchor text, meta tags and alternative text. Trends change in web design. The mega-menus that were so popular several years ago have all but disappeared because they were found to lose up to 15%-20% in revenue. Category pages, which display images of multiple products and link to product pages, now dominate navigation. Another tip: Our eyes are drawn to empty dialog boxes, which is why, Thurow warned, you should not put “prompt text” in search boxes.
Several sessions lamented the siloing of SEO (also known as organic search) and PPC (pay-per-click). SEO usually reports to IT or product development while PPC is always part of marketing. Because PPC knows what converts (and SEO doesn’t), PPC gets the budget. Yet numerous presentations revealed magical results when they work together. Tim Mayer from Trada cited a recent Google study (July 2011) that showed that, when paired, PPC and SEO can generate 89% more incremental clicks. Brad Geddes from Certified Knowledge reported that he has increased search traffic simply by reorganizing who reports to whom. David Roth from Yahoo wrestled with the big question: why should a site buy ads for its brand if it’s already #1 in organic searches? He shared a test case using Yahoo Mail that showed that when ads appear alongside organic results you do get incremental impressions and clicks.
George Michie, the CEO of RKG, highlighted an ad category that has experienced dramatic growth in just the past two months: product listing ads (PLAs). These are paid ads with product images and text that appear in a group on the right-hand side of the search results page—they look a lot like the shopping results (with images and text) which are displayed from organic searches (try a search for “mini book light” to see an example). Prior to December 2010, PLAs were not under AdWords control. Now they are and you can have hybrid ads with standard AdWords ads appearing on the same page as PLAs. Michie cited graphs showing that from July to September 2011 the number of impressions and clicks that PLAs have received has more than doubled. What is even more remarkable: for some searches PLAs have pushed organic shopping results below the fold (try a search for “eBook reader”), and the searcher will likely consider the PLAs the organic search results. This may explain why Frederick Vallaeys from Google reported a 100% average CTR lift from ad blocks of PLAs.
Geddes and Vallaeys were both bullish on “product extensions” – large display ads that appear only when the user hovers over the “>>” to the right of a standard AdWords ad. Vallaeys noted that text ads that included product extensions had an average CTR increase of 6%.
Geddes echoed many other presenters and attendees in expressing appreciation for Google’s introduction of the “broad match modifier” to AdWords last year. By putting a “+” before a keyword in broad matches AdWords users can now better target who sees a keyword. The ad will only appear when all the keywords show up but, unlike with phrase match, other words can appear in between. Thus “+enhanced +edition” matches not only “enhanced digital edition” but also “enhanced eBook edition.”
A hot and somewhat controversial marketing topic was retargeting, also known as remarketing. As Chris Sukornyk from Chango described it “retargeting/remarketing is a display advertising technique for engaging someone based on a very specific “action” they have taken online sometime in the past.” That action could be a user coming to your site but leaving without buying anything. By applying a bit of code to a page and assigning an ad to that code, you can retarget anyone who visits that page. When they visit a page elsewhere on the web on which you advertise, that bit of code (a cookie) will cause your ad to appear. Sukornyk outlined seven types of effective retargeting with search being by far the most versatile: you can use it both for retention and upselling current customers and for prospecting for new ones. Popular pages for retargeting within a site are abandoned shopping cart pages and email landing pages.
Bill Leake from Apogee Results tested retargeting with one B2B client using just 20% of its PPC budget and found 33% more online forms being filled out and a 25% increase in sales.
One of the most persuasive arguments for retargeting appears in a recent article by Charles Nicholls in ClickZ. Nicholls analyzed the behavior of more than 600,000 people and 250,000 online transactions to understand why people abandon shopping carts. Among the surprising results: “42% of abandoned carts were abandoned by ‘serial abandoners’ – visitors who had abandoned more than once in the last 28 days. . . But what is astounding is that almost one in two from this segment will buy (48%) when remarketed, compared with only 18% of those that only abandoned once. And when they buy, they spend 55% more.” Abandonment, Nicholls concludes, is a “step in the decision process.” And one effective way to get them to buy from you is by retargeting.
New companies are emerging to help publishers with offsite retargeting. They collect data based on content a user shares socially, what someone searches for, a specific action a user has taken, or by the content a user has browsed. Alan Osetek from Resolution Media told of a “wildly successful”campaign for a retailer that mined the databases of three search retargeting companies–Chango, Magnetic, and Simpli.fi—to locate prospective customers. These companies aggregate data from referral URLs, Tier 2 search engines, and the search bars on data providers’ sites and use search behavior to determine a customer’s intent.
Bibi Mukherjee from Curve Trends Marketing offered a refreshingly even-handed perspective on retargeting by including in her presentation a comment from a customer in India: “While I appreciate your efforts to stay ‘top of mind’ I truly resent and am annoyed by your website constantly popping up! I feel like I have an online stalker for God’s sake!!” How to take advantage of the promise of retargeting without “being creepy,” as one speaker put it, will clearly be one of this area’s major challenges.
Publishing Trends thanks content developer and marketing consultant Rich Kelley (@rpmkel) for his reporting on SMX East.