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Reaching the Golden Mean of Branded to Non-Branded Traffic

Raj De Datta
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golden-spiralConsumers are spending less time on traditional search engines and more time on shopping engines like Amazon.

Thirty percent of all product searches now begin on Amazon as opposed to 13 percent on Google according to Forrester Research, and according to a separate report from comScore, product searches on Amazon have grown 73 percent over the last year while shopping searches on Google have not kept up.

This is a trend worrying many companies that are facing an uphill battle getting their brand and products in front of customers.

With an unmanageable amount of noise on the Internet and ecommerce forcing many brick-and-mortar retail locations to shrink, digital marketing is the differentiating factor for staying competitive, whether they are online-only or not.

Strong brands should be attracting up to 40 percent of non-branded visitors to their website, according to SEO expert and RKG President Adam Audette. That percentage may vary by industry, but the point is that if a brand isn’t receiving a substantive volume of non-branded traffic, then it isn't harnessing its full potential.

It’s critical that search marketers differentiate between branded and non-branded traffic to better assess performance and avoid missing new, more valuable customers down the road.

Typically, branded traffic is cheaper and converts at a higher rate than non-branded traffic because these searchers seek out your brand and show strong intent to purchase your product.

Upon first glance, the lower cost and higher conversion rate might convince some to invest solely in branded traffic. However, this strategy only targets customers who are already seeking you out using your brand, which means you're missing out on many potential new customers from non-branded traffic that offers a potentially higher lifetime value.

Marketers from strong brands are pursuing the 60 to 40 percent ratio of branded and non-branded traffic because they recognize the value of long-tail visitors, whose net-new traffic spikes traffic by 50 percent or more.

Non-branded traffic grows the size of the pie rather than changing how you slice it. In that case, going from 10 percent to 40 percent is actually a 50 percent increase in total search traffic.

Growing the size of your market requires attracting new customers, and those customers’ searches are likely non-branded. Here are a few tips to get to the 60 to 40 ratio and attract new customers:

  • Conduct a test. Try reducing your spend on branded paid search, and determine if there is a difference between your traffic and conversions. From there, you can allocate that budget into testing a bunch of non-branded paid-search terms. It’s important to note that with non-branded terms, you should expect the conversion rate to be lower, but analyze and determine if you are getting a larger percentage of new customers from these different campaigns. If you're simply increasing sales from existing customers, then you wasted a rather large investment. You could have engaged with them through lower-cost options like email campaigns or promotions.
  • Conduct a thorough analysis of the search on your own site, and try bidding on non-branded terms that are popular searches within your own data.
  • Create links on your category pages to deep pages with popular terms that you’ve gotten from your site search or referral traffic. For example, a clothing retailer may determine that a popular search term on their site is “summer dresses,” so create and link to a deeper page from your category page that has a selection of “yellow” or “ v-neck” or whatever types of summer dresses that are relevant and most likely to convert. Also, it’s important to factor in any information available on that customer if possible. Do they normally purchase mediums? Do they purchase items under $100? Or, most importantly, is the item even in stock? A retailer that populates a page with a bunch of large dresses with a $500 price tag will probably aggravate and lose a customer on the spot. The point is to link based off of internal intelligence in order to help consumers discover deep, yet relevant content.
  • Take a look at your competitors. What are the search terms that they are bidding on? There a number of tools available to help you determine what is relevant for your customers and influence your site.

These are just a few tips, and you can do it manually. However, the challenge of each is executing them at scale for the long-tail, which represents 7 out of every 10 queries.

If you're bidding on five keywords have five products and are targeting five users, then that’s 125 combinations – it is possible to manually optimize your site. However, any larger, and you’re approaching a big data problem.

In addition, non-branded searches are often semantic in nature and while its collective volume is massive, the individual terms may only come in ones and twos. Optimization for the long-tail is resource-intensive at the scale and speed required to yield meaningful return on investment.

To effectively attack this problem, marketers should optimize reach and demand-attraction, while freeing up marketing resources to return to what they do best – inject the human element of imagination and quality control. The harder legwork is ideal for algorithm-driven technology like natural language processing and data analytics offloading.

It takes an enormous amount of data to analyze and act on web-wide consumer behavior, alternative consumer product descriptors, and search optimization best practices. Compounding the problem is that consumer demand, market conditions, and inventory management are in constant flux.

In today’s marketing world where resources are limited and giants like Amazon have a technology and brand-loyalty edge, it may seem like those who have the most data will win. However, this isn’t necessarily the case.

The marketers who best leverage the data they do have and work toward achieving the 60/40 ratio by optimizing for the long-tail take a big step toward extending reach, driving growth, and competing better.


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