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Search is Not Enough

flaiz-william
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It's no secret that I, and many others, make a good living as search marketers. The profession is thriving and attracting new talent all the time. It's also interesting, challenging and -- dare I say -- exciting.

Search marketing evokes a feeling for many a practitioner and client alike akin to what the ad men of the early '60s must have experienced: the electricity in the air, the sense of limitless possibilities, the thrill of discovering new ways to resonate with people.

But sometimes search just isn't enough. Marketing has grown fairly sophisticated over the decades, and it would be foolish to view search as anything more than a component of a much more comprehensive marketing plan.

The goal of a marketing funnel is take a consumer on a journey from awareness to product loyalty, using all of the tools at our disposal (it also doesn't hurt when a product is actually good). Paid or organic, we all focus on search as a way to attract users to our Web sites. Once they get there, however, a lot of us tend to forget about them.

We're marketers at heart, so we should look beyond the top of the funnel when thinking about our search and marketing campaigns. As marketer first and search marketer second, I'll explain the entire funnel, noting how SEO should interact with other online campaign components.

Attract

Attraction is the sweet spot of search. Whether organic or paid, getting people to the Web site is what search is all about.

Search does a good job of filling out the top of the funnel and beginning the process of pushing people through to the next phase, consideration. It's here where we must tailor the messaging and experience to fit the appropriate audience. A user experience team may be able to help with vital research and target user personas. This helps ensure that both user attraction and consideration have a fighting chance at success.

In paid search, we often look for the optimal landing page on which to place the person who clicked on the ad. At this point, we're well aware that we shouldn't send everyone to the home page. The same goes for organic. We target keywords to specific pages on the site in hopes that they will rank highly when someone searches on those terms.

Optimize

Once we've secured strong listings in organic and paid search, we better hope that users find what they're looking for on the page we send them to. Web site owners need to look at their analytics and determine where people enter the site most often. Then, they can evaluate how well those pages are optimized.

One of the easy metrics to look at is bounce rate for the page. How many people immediately leave the page after landing there? If it's a form page, how many people start the form and don't complete it? Your analytics package should allow you to do some form field analysis to understand where on the form people drop out. Or maybe you need to do some A/B testing of the on-page offer.

At a base level you need to continually look at these entry pages -- or even common user pathways -- and evaluate them for optimization. The user took the time to click on your search link; you must give them a reason to stick with you and hopefully buy your product.

Analyze

Once you've gotten people to the Web site and they've either completed a transaction or the desired action, you need to analyze your data. This will improve the experience for most future users and (hopefully) increase your conversion rate. I say most users because nothing is a one-size-fits-all solution.

Having your analytics team look at Web site data can be very insightful. Their findings will help inform your marketing campaigns, content strategy, and Web development priorities.

For example, if you perform an attribution analysis of on-site transactions, you may find that although paid search received credit for the sale it was the three visits via organic search that really sold the product. Or you may discover that the most popular section of the site is the FAQ section and want to develop a content strategy around this to funnel users into the buying process. Analytics doesn't just report the success of your search marketing; it's the key to refining it.

Retain

It's cheaper to keep a customer than acquire new ones. Popular online shoe retailer Zappos doesn't succeed simply on its successful search coverage. The site knows its audience -- shoppers who crave variety.

Zappos has a diverse array of products and a wide assortment of ways to shop, including by brand, search, department, traditional navigation, and even lifestyle. Payment follows the same user-centric mantra, with the site offering Google Checkout and Bill Me Later services in addition to traditional credit card payments.

Though its appearance may leave something to be desired, Zappos is a great example for customer retention because they appeal directly to the users' interests. This is done across all marketing components and requires the coordination of SEO, paid search, user experience, analytics, and Web development. Users return to the site because their experience was agreeable on all levels, which requires all disciplines acting in concert.

And there's more you can do. Once you've analyzed the data and discovered the optimal customers you want to make sure come back, a CRM program is necessary. E-mail offerings and newsletters can also help achieve this goal on the Web (Zappos has this covered as well). Examine what is most appropriate for your audience.

Search is Only the Beginning

Gone are the days of "if you build it, they will come." So are the days of thinking that our only job is to drive customers to a Web site. Examine the entire marketing funnel, not just the search component, to maximize your marketing dollars.

Join us for a Search Engine Marketing Training in Boston, November 6 at the Hilton Boston Back Bay. Not only will you walk away with the knowledge and skills to be a successful search engine marketer, you'll also jumpstart your career and enhance your professional know-how.


The Original Search Marketing Event is Back!
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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