As every bride-to-be knows, weddings take a lot of planning. From big issues like the date and location to smaller but no less crucial elements like deciding between cake flavors and wedding favors, every detail is worked out in advance to ensure that the day is one to remember for all the right reasons. But one element that can make or break the big day is the weather. A summer wedding in San Francisco might sound idyllic, but what about the fog that rolls in each August without fail?
At The Weather Channel and weather.com, we focus on the role weather plays in people’s lives, tracking international, national, and local weather conditions on a 24-hour basis.
For example, our Wedding Planner section (weather.com/weddings) offers tools, tips, and tricks to help brides plan their wedding days around weather factors. Did you know that when planning a summer outdoor wedding, it’s preferable to choose marzipan icing over traditional butter cream, as it’s less likely to melt?
At The Weather Channel, the challenge we face is how to leverage our content to stand out from the plethora of weather forecast sites available on the Internet. While we attract people looking for weather forecasts, we’ve also seen the potential to attract additional visitors seeking information on various topics, including health and travel. We’ve also recognized the opportunity to offer live traffic reports and event-related weather data helpful in planning related to weddings, golf outings, graduations, and reunions.
Some time ago, we also saw that search engines were key to attracting visitors to our site based on the range of content we were able to provide. For example, someone entering “golf weather” into a search engine would ideally come to us to learn how the weather conditions might affect his golf game.
Having realized the importance of search engines to our online strategy, the next step was to identify where improvements could be made to increase traffic to our site from search engine queries. We enlisted Coremetrics, a provider of on-demand Web analytics and precision marketing solutions, which worked closely with us to identify how our search engine rankings translated into actual site traffic and consumer behavior.
The first step was to understand how our current search engine terms were performing and how many visitors were accessing the various specialty areas of the site. This activity was vital in that it provided a benchmark that could be used as the basis for comparison and further improvements. For example, the site offers updates on rush-hour traffic conditions, but during the initial research phase, we discovered that we weren’t receiving any referrals from search engines to that kind of content. As a result, we knew that we needed to make improvements in this area.
After an in-depth analysis of our search traffic, we found that we needed to improve traction from seasonal and event-based natural search terms, as the majority of our search referrals were for generic weather terms or for The Weather Channel brand. Consequently, we added a search engine-friendly “Current Events” section to the bottom of every page and kept it fresh with up-to-date links. Because of its presence on every page of our site, the footer allowed us to be better indexed by the major search engines for search terms such as “July 4th weather” and “World Cup weather.”
The solution also enabled us to measure the increase in traffic resulting from the influx of new search visitors. The data highlighted not only the number of incremental referrals from these search terms, but also the number of pages consumed through the user’s entire visit.
By keeping the footer timely and relevant, we saw an immediate spike in natural search rankings for less obvious weather-related search terms, such as “wedding planner” and “US Open.” In fact, search terms that previously brought no traffic to the site now account for thousands of referrals a day. For example, after we added “Traffic Reports” to the footer, referrals to the site’s “Rush Hour” section increased from zero to hundreds per month.
In addition to measuring the immediate impact of the changes made to the site, year over year, our analysis was also able to show that weather.com has experienced a 45 percent increase in total search referral sessions and a 26 percent increase in the percentage of all sessions referred by search.
The project has helped us understand more about our users, which in turn helps us make the site more intuitive and user-friendly. We learned that referrals via the search keywords “outdoor weddings” consumed 40 percent more pages per visit than the average site user, and that referrals via the term “wedding planner” consumed 40 percent less than the average site user. This demonstrated that people referred from the search term “outdoor weddings” were more engaged with our content and focused on what they were searching for, whereas the “wedding planner” referrals were looking for different content.
So we focused on optimizing the landing page for the search term “outdoor weddings,” since that was more relevant to our users. In fact, we experienced a 144 percent increase in daily page views of our Outdoor Wedding tips by putting a link in the footer, and nearly a 600 percent increase in search referrals to that page.
Ultimately, we realized that increasing visibility for our specialized vertical content helps set us apart in a very competitive market. Behavioral data helped us learn what content is most popular with our users, and we focused on making that content easier for our users to find.
Search engine rankings are key to the success of any online business. They can be instrumental in helping drive the right type of traffic to your site, ultimately optimizing conversion rates and therefore sales.
Ask any bride and she’ll tell you that even the most unpredictable downpour can’t dampen the big day. But it always pays to be prepared.
Derek Van Nostran is the director of marketing at The Weather Channel Interactive. (DVanNostran@weather.com)