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Tracking and Measuring Search Engine Marketing Success

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A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2002 Conference, March 4-5, Boston, MA.

It's not enough to simply optimize your web site and hope for high traffic. You need to use tools techniques to assure success, according to a panel of search engine marketing experts.

Panelists on the "Tracking and Measuring Search Engine Marketing Success" panel included Bryan Eisenberg of FutureNow, Brian Induni with NetIQ's WebTrends, Steve Stacy of Envision Technology Advisers, and Laura Thieme of Bizresearch.

Panelists stressed the importance of having goals for your program. Even if the campaign will initially establish name recognition, most marketing executives and business owners need the advertising campaign to result in new revenue. Search engine marketing is no different from any other advertising or marketing campaign.

Eisenberg said, "Your Web site's conversion rate is a measure of your ability to persuade your visitors to take the action you want them to take."

There are many tracking tools in order to assess whether or not a search engine marketing campaign is resulting in new revenue. A partial list of these tools, recommended by panel participants, appears below.

To illustrate the various techniques discussed by panelists, we decided to measure the effectiveness of a search engine marketing campaign performed for a real client.

With the approach of summer vacations, board games are in demand as families look for things to do while traveling. A company selling board games online hoped to increase online sales for its board games. While they had great visibility for some products and a 5% conversion rate, they realized they needed to beef up their search engine marketing campaign to attract new customers. The company had a limited budget. Whatever it spent, it had to see a near immediate return on its investment.

When promoting a web site for different keywords, the strategy often changes depending on the search engine and corresponding search phrases. In our previous SearchDay report (link below), we discussed how to target search phrases for your search engine marketing campaign. Some of the phrases we chose to target were "Risk board games", "monopoly board games", in addition to other types of board games.

Five search engines were targeted: Yahoo, Google, MSN, AOL and AltaVista, as research indicated these and AskJeeves are some of the most frequently used search engines by online users.

To measure the success of the search engine marketing campaign, there were several types of data needed, including:

- Search engine submission and ranking reports
- PositionTech click-thru reports
- Overture click-thru reports
- Google AdWord click-thru reports
- WebTrends monthly traffic reports, indicating unique visitors, search phrases with engines detail, entrance and exit pages
- Site administrative reports indicating number of users viewing Risk, Monopoly, and other board games.
- Monthly sales data, specifically Risk and Monopoly board game sales

Previous tracking revealed that a first page search listing could be achieved in MSN & AOL for "risk board games", and "monopoly board games" within a relatively short period of time, due to the advantages of paid inclusion. Google rankings would take longer to achieve as they do not yet have any paid inclusion program. In order to achieve top ten rankings at Yahoo, Overture keyword buys were purchased for the same keyword phrase.

In reviewing this information, which can be a daunting but valuable assignment, we learned the following:

- Despite keyword research, and first page listings in MSN & AOL, we found very little click-thru traffic for "Risk board games".

- We noticed singular and plural versions of our games had very different rankings, and different click-thru rates.

- Despite top rankings in AOL, unfortunately dynamic URLs did not resolve correctly at AOL, resulting in a re-direct error. Notice was sent to AOL to hopefully correct this problem.

- Few sales had yet resulted from this effort, however, three months of tracking would determine whether to continue with the advertising campaign for this particular product.

- Rankings for "Monopoly board games", while not as good as "Risk board games" were sending significant daily traffic.

- Noticed some visitors were looking for online versions of the game.

- Noticed several visitors were looking for specific types of Monopoly games.

- Verified traffic and resulting daily sales.

- Determined search engine marketing campaign for this keyword phrase would be continued.

- Refined search engine marketing campaign to bring online searchers into category or specific product pages, bypassing the home page navigation and search tool.

- Verified search tool would easily enable online visitors to quickly locate the specific product.

In summary, the panelists stressed the inherent value of search engine marketing. Our test of the procedures and tools they recommended confirmed the value of their words. A good, well conceived search engine marketing process enables a company to track the success of their online advertising efforts, and refine their strategy through ongoing research and analysis.

Optimizing Keywords for Search Engines
SearchDay, June 11, 2001
http://sewatch.com/searchday/02/sd0611-keywords.html
Effective optimization for search engines requires more than just fiddling with web pages -- you need to carefully select and focus your efforts on specific keywords for maximum success.

Tools for Measuring Rankings:

WebPositionGold
http://www.webposition.com/
Offers U.S. search engine position tracking.

TopDog
http://www.topdog.com/
Offers global search engine position tracking.

Tools for Measuring Traffic:

WebTrends from NetIQ
http://www.netiq.com
Offers server-based software to determine how many visitors are coming to the Web site, where they're coming from, what they're doing on the Web site, and which search engines are sending the most traffic, along with which phrases drive the most traffic from each search engine.

HitBox from WebSideStory
http://www.websidestory.com/
Uses a different data collection method, by enabling site owners to add code to their site. Tracks the same type of information that the WebTrends product does.

Urchin
http://www.urchin.com/
Another useful measuring and tracking tool.

Tools for Measuring Rankings Combined With Traffic:

PositionTech
http://www.positiontech.com
PositionTech's submission tool shows the number of click-thrus to each page submitted to the Inktomi search partners, but also shows keywords searched on to reach the page submitted, and the average search position in the Inktomi search partner index.

DoubleClick's DART
http://www.doubleclick.com/us/advertisers/adserving/dart5/
DoubleClick's DART paid placement and advertising ROI tracking tool generates web-based reports on cost per click, number of clicks, overall media cost, conversion rates, gross sales, return on investment (ROI), and net profit.

Custom built site administrative tools should also be used. Typically these enable e-commerce sites to track number of product page views, number of times a product was added to the shopping cart, number of times product was purchased, total sales and corresponding conversion rates.

Laura Thieme is the president and founder of Bizresearch, a search engine optimization (SEO) and Web site traffic analysis company.

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