On Wednesday I will be moderating a panel at BrightEdge Share 12, on the theme of a "New Direction of SEO" and will be joined by Raj Rao, VP of Global eTransformation at 3M, Leo Haryono, SEO Director at Macy’s and Andy Johns, Product Manager of User Growth at Quora.
What's exciting about this panel is that the challenges these brands face represent the entire range of challenges facing our industry – from B2B search targeting, to consumer facing e-commerce, to growing a startup by leading with content. The role SEO plays in the growth of these brands is both critical, yet nuanced, and part of a broader marketing strategy.
The SEO Challege Facing 3M
I had the chance to catch up with Raj Rao, by phone, ahead of the event to discuss the role that he sees SEO playing at 3M.
Most likely, you probably already know 3M through brands like Scotch Tape and Post-it notes, but what you might not know is that 3M is actually a diversified conglomerate of six different business models powered by 45 technology platforms. The other five business units are all business-to-business divisions, focussed on health care, safety, graphics and industrial materials.
In all, 3M patents and technology are used to make inhalers, stethoscopes, H1N1 masks, fire retardants, high tensile cables, autocare products, Post-it notes and industrial strength glues that are used in high-rise buildings and even for building airplanes.
All of these products are invented and designed by a team of 16,000 scientists and the 45 core technologies owned by 3M. The scientists all collaborate within an internal online forum to exchange ideas and discover solutions that enable 3M to bring new products to market at a faster pace.
However, perhaps unsurprisingly, the current state of web search still poses challenges for 3M Rao said.
"The challenge we have is to understand how people are using keywords to describe their problems – and how our scientists can address their issues – this is both an issue with our internal search appliances and with consumer search engines like Google and Bing."
For example, a search for "industrial strength glue" is a relatively nondescript query that fails to identify the needs of the consumer or target the hundreds of different types of glues 3M provides for specific purposes. To solve this, 3M uses a collaborative filtering technology to optimize product recommendations in real time and according to the source of the query.
Describing the process, Rao said, "Google indexes our pages based on the keywords used on the page, but that is only half the story in terms of our quest to understand consumer intent. When the user lands on our pages, we use a big data platform and heuristics to get a better understanding of what the initial query meant.
"For example, a query for a 'flat bed liner' means a different thing to someone from a Ford IP address than it does from a visitor from the trucking industry. Where possible, we optimize our product recommendations around the IP address of the visitor."
Why Does 3M Invest in an SEO Platform?
For 3M, organic search traffic accounts for 70 percent of all traffic to their properties and "the highest bounce rate is from paid traffic," Rao said.
"We know that the net present value of search is $1.6 billion if we assume that the web only influences 30 percent of our customer purchase decisions (which is a skeptical assessment)," Rao explained. "We use a customer satisfaction scoring system and have found that we greater satisfaction contributes significantly to our revenue and, in particular, repeat purchases. Furthermore, we have found that when we intercept our customer with intent based offers and combined with retargeting we generate higher returns. This is all based on SEO. For us, our online marketing strategy is about driving the second click, which we call the 'second moment of truth' but SEO is crucial for driving that first click."
3M's strategy is to be smart about retargeting and understanding customer intention Rao said.
"We cant ignore that we have to bring back the customer on our own and not rely on search. With better content, design and search technology we are seeing better direct traffic. We're optimizing on-site search to increase average order value. We think of SEO as being a double-edged strategy: We use BrightEdge to manage our keyword portfolio led to engage with Google at the algorithmic level, and then when the customer lands on our own site, our on-site technologies like BazaarVoice, Data Xu and Adzinia help us to complete the end-to-end SEO experience and improve customer satisfaction."
As we all know, an improved end-to-end experience from search to conversion is good for both the search engines and customers, which in turn drives visibility in the organic results. But for 3M search also drives visibility where they lack a physical presence.
Rao continued, "we also use SEO to optimize for distribution weaknesses – where we don't have stores, we send those customers to our digital stores." This strategy works for both business and consumer products and by intercepting the customer via search, 3M has found "our own outbound stuff is not as effective," and they are able to stimulate new purchases and educate the market with an online content strategy targeting the first click from search.
On consumer products "we use content to give ideas to our customers and use genuine product reviews to illustrate the benefits." For example, decorating for Halloween is important to a lot of families but this isn't something that can be done easily with Scotch Tape yet equally the most common solutions that people think of for decorating, such as nails and pins, will damage their homes. These are all potential customers who had "no idea that 3M does removable self-adhesive hooks" but with a content strategy supported by reviews, 3M were able to deliver drive interest in the product both in their local and online stores.
Learn More at BrightEdge #Share12
For more stories like this tune into to our coverage of BrightEdge Share 12 on Wednesday, September 12, which SEW will be tweeting on the #share12 hashtag and writing up over the next few days. We'll be joining brands such as Facebook, Quora, Marriott, American Express, Gap, Macy’s, Yelp and Skype to discuss "the CMO agenda" and future of marketing automation for websites, search engines, and social media.
BrightEdge today also announced record growth as revenues have increased 300 percent Year-over-Year (YoY), from end of Q2 2011 to end of Q2 2012. Brands such as Marriott, Teleflora, and Amtrak that have fueled their rapid growth join BrightEdge's list of customers using the company’s S3 platform that includes seven of the 10 largest retailers and eight of the top 10 digital agencies in the U.S.
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