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Putting the 'Search' in Research

hasty-herndon
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How much do you pay for research on your customers every year? Not just in terms of the in-depth panels, focus groups and customer surveys, but dues to organizations or one-off purchases of reports on industry trends and shopper behavior?

Knowing your customer is critical to reaching them effectively, and in creating the ideal environment in which to convert them to buyers. It's critical to making the right choices about advertising, site design, pricing, and future moves. And because it's that valuable and difficult to mine, that knowledge isn't cheap.

Whether you're using internal time and resources to dig through your own data or run tests, or ponying up for consultants or syndicated information, it can be difficult to make a business case to learn more about your audience. You have to make the most of free or inexpensive opportunities, whether your research budget is in the millions or the single digits.

Fortunately, your search efforts provide a great platform for learning about your customers through raw, publically available data, and inexpensive testing opportunities. And while focus groups, panels, and external reports can offer up gobs of very specific information, for the simplest and quickest of insights your search program and experts can provide a great supplement or outright resource for your business as a whole.

Keyword and Messaging Research

Want free access to general information about figures and trends on how people search, which can be leveraged for anything from ad copy to product naming, descriptions, or even new product selection? Effective use of Google's AdWords keyword tool can offer you insights into terms people use to describe the products you sell -- and thus the words that have clearly made a connection with them.

Do you sell "footwear" or "shoes"? Are they "grey" or "gray"? These can seem like small distinctions, but they all have traffic and audience implications that should be considered across your brand.

These can make a difference not just in your search campaigns (like your meta descriptions), but can help you determine the ways that they can be described in other copy. A broader view of how people are shopping for your products may also give you insights into other products that you should be offering: A seller of mainly black office chairs might find that, with the volume of searches (i.e. demand) for "white office chairs" versus "black office chairs," it'd be worthwhile to look at adding white to its product selection.

Further tools like Google Insights and Google Trends for Websites offer deeper insights on seasonal trending and geographic niceties.

Message Testing

Search ads are a great platform for testing marketing messaging across channels. By testing differences in CTR (and, ideally, conversion) across multiple messages, you can get relatively cheap feedback on major factors and unique selling points.

Testing these messages (on your branded terms for lowest costs) can quickly get feedback based on thousands of impressions, giving you a chance to see if people are more likely to be driven to your site or products based on subtle language changes like the earlier examples, or for broader points like customer service, wide selection, or price point.

Page and Site Design Testing

Similarly, by sending audience segments to different landing pages on the same ads, you can get a quick gauge of how a broader set of customers might react to a site-wide change by comparing interaction rates.

Did template A get more sales than template B? Were shoppers more likely to sign up for e-mail alerts with a new layout? Are they spending more time on the site with a slightly different layout?

This can be accomplished directly through AdWords by varying landing pages or by setting up a page-testing environment at the site, like Omniture Test & Target, Google Web Optimizer, or through a conversion optimization agency or consultant.

Infinite Possibilities

With free access to global search behavior, a pool of test subjects, and a platform to vary elements that's easy to use, large and small organizations alike can leverage search data and ads for customer insights. Whether it's supplementing other investments into customer research or making the most of slim(mer) budgets, small and large businesses alike should look to search's capabilities to shed some light on their customers' behavior, wants, and needs.

Large-scale search programs face complex challenges to operate as effectively as possible. Join us on Wednesday, September 9, 2009, at 1 p.m., for a free Webinar on tips and techniques to wrangle the most complex of programs.


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SES DenverSES Denver (Oct 16) offers an intense day of learning all the critical aspects of search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search advertising (PPC). The mission of SES remains the same as it did from the start - to help you master being found on search engines. Register today!

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