Searching for Better Returns
Economic turmoil. Tight budgets. Cautious consumers. With conditions like these, one formula for a successful year will be making marketing programs work harder than ever. A good place to start is search, because that's where your customers are most likely to start.
This month, T3's Anna Russell weighs in on getting the most from natural search and prioritizing unpaid and paid search as part of the overall mix.
BUY: Take Advantage of What's Free
Implement smart, simple tune-ups.
Anna Russell: The easiest thing clients can do is ensure their Web sites are set up to be search-friendly. Make sure your site is indexed, as fully as possible, by checking for duplicate pages, implementing an xml feed to Google and incorporating meta data for the top-tier pages. It's essential to ensure each page contains unique content, has a unique page title, and a url. If your site's pages aren't indexed, they won't be found when people search. Also, frequently update your Web site. Search engines love fresh content.
Jay Suhr: You're basically saying give your current site a good tune-up to make sure you're taking full advantage of all the natural search activity in the marketplace. It seems like a no-brainer, but lots of sites still miss some cheap and easy fixes.
AR: It's worth a look. For a large client with a database-driven or Flash-heavy Web site, some of these fixes are more complex to implement; but for many clients, these changes are simple, cheap and make a big difference.
JS: Another smart fix is to write to meet the needs of natural search. It's something that we're doing on the sites we build. While any content on a Web site should appear naturally (gone are the days of keyword stuffing), clients should incorporate key search words and phrases within their Web pages. A search engine cannot match a search result to a person's search term if that term is not prominently featured.
BUY: Balancing Paid and Natural Search
Paid search pays.
AR: While natural search has its merits, paid search is still worth retaining. I'd actually recommend pulling dollars
away from traditional media before tampering with paid search budgets. Paid search has the ability to simplify the path from consumer to product. It's one click, and you're there.
JS: It removes a barrier between what people are looking for and the answer. Speed in finding a product or service, even through a search engine, is now part of the consumer's brand experience.
AR: Paid search is also ideal for targeting a wider list of long-tail search terms. Natural search is stronger for brand and company names and the products they are known for.
Hold: Hop on the mobile train early.
AR: This new frontier is an area where I would put dollars for experimentation. With the iPhone, people can now tangibly see the benefits of mobile search. Brands who tap into this with functional tools or useful content will establish a strong early position in a growing medium as competitors sit on the sidelines.
JS: Is the left brain part of me screaming for utility, or is there a place for entertainment value in mobile search?
AR: So much depends on the brand. Brands have content and the mobile platform is hungry for content. However, trivial applications saturate the market, so brands need to make their applications relevant.
Bloated Keyword Lists
Slash the words without returns.
AR: Looking at 2009 budget-mindedly, it makes sense for clients to put all their keywords under a microscope: Work to understand what is truly drawing traffic and conversions, and what is simply too generic to be of that much value. Now may be a good time to cull underperforming keywords.
JS: In doing this, clients may also consider adding words that reinforce discounts, sales, e-coupons or search criteria for the growing numbers of price-driven searchers.