Connecting with Customers through Search Market Research

Want to learn to improve your customers’ experience, pinpoint buyers’ exact interests and reach prospects at every phase of the buying cycle? Look to your search logs to mine this crucial market research data.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference, August 2-5, 2004, San Jose, CA.

A longer version of this story for Search Engine Watch members goes into more detail about the process of search market research, presenting the findings of case studies and providing specific, actionable tips and tools for effective data mining and other forms of customer research. Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

During the session “Using Search for Market Research” at Search Engine Strategies San Jose, industry experts Ron Belanger from Carat Interactive and Kohn Klimstra from iTraffic discussed how to transform data details into behavioral marketing gold. Rather than discussing the merits of a page-one versus a page-two listing, the pair stressed that data mining helps Web marketers understand their customers’ motivations and needs.

“[Marketers” need to think beyond rankings and traffic and think about why someone buys,” says Belanger. “The more data you collect, the more you can mine for post-sale analysis.”

What are your customers searching for?

Belanger launched the discussion by reminding the audience that the first place marketers can review raw data is through search queries. This “pre-click” behavior helps site owners construct search campaigns that target their customers’ interests and extend a company’s online branding.

“Determine what percentage of search queries are brand-related and what keywords are related to your brand,” says Belanger. “Then ask, ‘Currently people associate our brand with what products and services?'”

Belanger recommended companies evaluate their keyword qualifiers (such as the word “cheap”). Although “cheap” may be effective for Best Buy it would not be effective for a luxury brand like Mercedes.

“It’s important to know what adjectives are used for your products and services,” says Belanger.

Klimstra added that reviewing customers’ search queries helps pinpoint where they are in the buying cycle. Then, site owners can serve content targeted towards those queries.

Combating search marketing “conversion-itis”

What if a landing page sees sluggish conversions, and customers click away rather than buy? Or a keyterm isn’t driving traffic that makes the hit counters click? Does it mean that the keyterm or page should be tossed on the search marketing landfill? Both Belanger and Klimstra argue that a campaign’s greatest failures can provide the most intriguing – and possibly profitable – data.

Marketers rely on conversion metrics to determine a campaign’s effectiveness. If a campaign is not performing adequately, marketers typically discontinue terms without reviewing the data first.

“We tend to cut our failures rather than learn from them,” stated Klimstra.

According to Belanger, marketers should move away from a conversion-only focus. By stressing conversion at the expense of information, marketers may not learn about their audience.

“A lost sale does not mean that you are targeting the wrong audience,” Belanger says.

For example, low landing page conversions may not mean that a site owner is driving the wrong traffic. The page may require change in messaging or a different landing page layout – and making a few simple tweaks will jumpstart sales. Or, customers may research a product or service online – but purchase offline.

“Search marketing is driving offline sales, but we aren’t getting credit for it,” Belanger says.

If a keyphrase or campaign is not performing up to par, Belanger recommends that marketers mine those lost sales for additional information. Armed with more complete data, site owners can determine how a campaign is actually performing and learn how to more effectively reach their customers.

Leveraging landing pages with customer-centered communication

Klimstra stressed that marketers should continually review their data and determine if their messaging is hitting the mark, or not connecting with customers.

“You must look at click rates and determine how well your site interaction meets [your customer’s” needs,” says Klimstra.

Detailed data mining helps site owners interact more effectively with their customers. By reviewing raw data, such as site search logs and search queries, marketers can maximize their marketing campaigns and provide targeted product offerings. The more data that is measured and quantified, the more that companies can provide their customers the exact product, service or information they need, when they need it.

“You can be the next superstar of your company by just mining your data and giving customers what they are demanding,” says Belanger.

Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the Are You Paying Attention to your Visitors’ Needs? discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.

Heather Lloyd-Martin is the President and CEO of SuccessWorks Search Marketing Solutions and author of the ebook Successful Search Engine Copywriting.

A longer version of this story for Search Engine Watch members goes into more detail about the process of search market research, presenting the findings of case studies and providing specific, actionable tips and tools for effective data mining and other forms of customer research.Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

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