Digital Marketing

Jul 23, 2009

Reading Your Customer’s Minds – The Value of Keyword Analysis

Have you ever wondered in the event of a sudden burst of gamma radiation or unexpected bite from some form of radioactive arachnid what kind of super powers you would like to have? I think I can speak for all business website owners that the ability to read your customer’s minds would be extremely helpful. We’ve all been there… you’re looking at your brand new website and admiring how sexy it is only to spend the next few weeks asking why all your hard-won visitors are leaving before becoming customers. Gaining insight in to their thoughts as they move through the site would have immeasurable value for any website owner looking to make a return from their online presence. Thankfully – in lieu of a Bruce Banner style scientific mishap – we do have a way to, if not read visitors minds at least discover their original intentions when they landed on your site. You’ll all ready be familiar with the means – the search terms by which people find your site – but it is surprising just how few people pay attention to them.

Most people tend to consider their keyword based traffic sources as evidence of the effectiveness of any PPC or organic search engine marketing they are engaged in. While there is some benefit in this kind of analysis the persuasion architect in me always feels it is missing the point. For my mind the most valuable lesson that can be learned from looking at what keywords your site was found under is to understand what your visitor was really looking for when they landed on your site, what was their intent?

The importance of intent can’t be understated. Intent is the goal that drives your visitors experience on your site. The internet is a voluntary, participatory medium. Search engine users are goal driven – they are seeking something from their web experience and it is your understanding of what they are seeking that allows you drive up conversion. If you are a regular reader of our blog or our New York partners Future Now you will understand that the most important ingredient in any successful conversion is relevancy. Now the threads should be coming together – if you can gain insight into what your visitor came to your website for then you can do a much better job of being relevant to that need.

Now we’ve established WHY examining your keyword traffic sources helps you get better conversions from your site it is time to discuss HOW it is done. Here are some of the questions you need to ask of your search keyword data.

Break-up of Branded vs. non-Branded Traffic

When we are looking at conversion issues on a site one of the first things we look at is the proportion of branded search term traffic versus un-branded. This can help you gauge how difficult of a sell the visitor experience will be. A person coming in on your brand is more likely to purchase off you than someone who hasn’t. Let’s presume we’re talking about a retail e-commerce site here. In the case of the branded traffic chances are they are already believers in your brand and only need to become confident that the product they are looking at is going to do what they want. In the case of unbranded traffic chances are the visitor not only needs to be convinced that the product in question is the one that they want but in addition that they have to become believers in your business as they have no loyalty at this stage. Understanding this break down gives considerable guidance in how you need to sell to your visitors and what needs emphasising.

Long Tail Terms

Despite the books focus on the product merchandising efforts of niche providers like Amazon, Chris Anderson’s ‘The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More’ held a number of lessons for search engine marketers particularly in the Pay per Click space with its lessons on the benefit of bidding on large numbers of low traffic, low cost, highly qualified (i.e. easier to convert) keywords. The lesson learned was that the more detailed the search term driving the visitor to your site the more likely they are to buy. That is that they are later in their buying process than someone using a more general search term.

Consider the terms ‘weight loss’ and ‘weight loss products’. The two sound very similar and a common mistake is to attribute the same value to them. However the latter search term is far more likely to sell to the visitor than the first one (assuming the site in question sells weight loss products). Someone searching for ‘weight loss’ is more likely to be at an early stage of their buying process. They are predominantly searching for information and you will have to tailor your approach to them accordingly – explain to them the importance of proper supplements in losing weight. They have not committed to using weight-loss products at this stage so they need to be shown that these products work and that using supplements is a great idea. A person coming in on ‘weight loss products’ is more likely just looking for proof that these products work, they have already committed to the idea of using supplements.

What Intent Do These Keywords Show?

The above two areas of consideration are both the result of the ability of keywords to inform you of what intent the visitor had when coming to your site. Let’s take another example. Let’s say you are running a website that sells felt material and you have done a lot of SEO around the word ‘felt’. Your traffic levels are high, you have nice compelling copy with solid calls to action but no matter what you can’t sell a thing online.

The answer may just be in your search terms. In the above case it is easy to imagine a situation (exaggerated as it is) where despite high ranking on the word felt people are finding the site under a range of variations such as ‘make your own felt’ and ‘felt making’. In this hypothetical case you, as the site owner, have a problem – you are not properly equipped to sell to these visitors. Their intent is not matching your site’s purpose. Of course nothing is converting.

So what do you do? Well in this case this knowledge of what keywords your site is being found under would enable you to make some important marketing decisions. It could be entirely feasible that as a result of this discovery you may decide to start PPC marketing on more detailed terms that are specific to people buying felt products. You may adjust your organic SEO strategy to focus on more detailed terms as well, using the PPC as a stop gap while you wait for your rankings to appear. Either way you are in a position to stop spending money on current strategies that are obviously bringing the wrong kind of traffic to your site.

It should be obvious from the above examples why looking at your keywords is important. It tells you the mind of your customer and how you should deal with them. It can let you know what is wrong with your site, it can even let you know what is wrong with your search marketing strategies.

While studying your keywords won’t give you the ability to leap over buildings in a single bound like a certain infant refugee from Krypton gained but it is the closest thing to a mind-reading superpower for website owners and it is easily obtainable.

Pay Per Click Vs Organic SEM

Organic Search Engine Marketing

When we talk about search engine traffic it is important to realise that it is not a homogenous unit. Search engine traffic comes in two very distinct flavours; organic and pay per click (PPC).

When people talk about search engine results, often they are talking about organic rankings. An organic search engine ranking is one that is decided by reference to the subject website and its defining features such as link structure, text content, META tags, link popularity and so on.

Organic search engine rankings are difficult to maintain since the various search engines keep the algorithms they use to decide where a site will appear based on a particular search a strict secret. The ultimate organic position your site obtains is largely out of your hands.

Fundamentally organic optimisation is about ensuring your website makes itself as 'search engine friendly' as possible in the expectation that search engine friendly content is significantly more likely to see the site gain good rankings.

At this point it is important to raise a critical distinction between organic search engine results and what you find on human edited directories like DMOZ. A search engine is a considerably automated beast. It actively seeks out web content by following links to other sites and indexing the web that way. To appear in a directory you need to submit your site manually whereas a search engine will find you so long as a site already in its considerable database has a link to yours.

Pay Per Click Search Engine Marketing

Pay Per Click (PPC) traffic is effectively the opposite of organic traffic. With Pay Per Click the vast majority of the factors that influence your ranking position are controlled by you. The easiest way to think of PPC traffic is as bought traffic.

PPC advertising is effectively a keyword auction. The idea is that people bid for their ads to appear on certain keywords, the higher the bid the better the chance of getting the top position. Advertisers also compete with advertising creative as those ads that have a greater percentage of people who have seen it clicking on the ad (click through rate) are given a position boost. The final position being effectively a balancing of keyword bid amount and click through rate.

It is important to remember that the advertiser is only paying for people who click on the ad creative. One advertisement could get viewed a million times a day but unless that advertisement is clicked on the advertiser is not charged.

One final feature worth mentioning is that PPC allows geographic targeting to limit your presence to those people who are your target audience. Through the use of appropriate keywords and geographic targeting you can make sure that you never pay for an inappropriate site visitor.

Organic vs Pay Per Click

Despite their mutually exclusive definitions, Organic and PPC traffic do not operate in isolation. On most search engines around the world search engine results pages (SERPs) provide both organic and pay per click listings on the same page. The degree to which PPC traffic is easily identifiable differs from search engine to search engine. Some bury PPC amongst their organic listings but most will alert the user to the sponsored nature of the link in one fashion or another.

Of the two types of listing it is organic listings that currently generate the most traffic but that does not mean the PPC has no place in a well rounded search engine marketing strategy. The diagram below is an eye tracking heat map developed by EyeTools ( displaying the way people interact with Google. The areas that are red in colour indicate a greater concentration of users focused their attention in these areas, grey spots received little to no visual attention from users. In Google the organic results fill the majority of screen space with just the side bar devoted to paid advertising and occasionally a small header section above the organic results.

As you can see there is a definite preference exhibited by users for organic results over PPC results but this is not to be taken as an indication that one is necessarily better than the other. For a better examination let us visit the advantages and disadvantages of both systems.

PPC Advantages

  • Listing content and positioning is controllable by the advertiser.

  • Only pay for clicks, not impressions

  • Changes are immediate.

  • Custom creative allows advertisers to pre-qualify visitors prior to them clicking on an advertisement.

  • Can guarantee results assuming the search volume is large enough.

  • Allows geographic targeting down to immediate locality in many cases.

Organic Advantages

  • Traffic from search engines is free.

  • Search engine visitors currently show a preference for clicking on organic results making for a larger pool of potential traffic than exists for PPC.
PPC Disadvantages
  • Traffic comes at a cost.

  • Increased competition on certain keywords can inflate the cost of traffic.

  • Organic listings make up a higher percentage of total clicks on a SERP than paid listings.

  • Restrictions on the keyword bids and creative content put in place by PPC providers.

  • Smaller pool of potential traffic than organic.

Organic Disadvantages

  • Traffic from search engines is free.

  • Traffic may be free but labor and other costs associated with ensuring good organic positioning can be quite high.

  • Organic optimisation is reactionary, not proactive.

  • Minimal control over results, organic optimisation is more focused on influencing rankings, not dictating them.

  • Can't guarantee performance.

Ideally a solid search engine marketing campaign will see efforts made with respect to both types of traffic. By having your site appear in both paid and organic listings you increase your brand equity in the eyes of the search engine user, increase the chances one of your links is clicked on and ensure that you don't exclude either people who prefer organic or people who prefer paid listings.

As a final point PPC advertising can also be used in some measure as a way to supplement poor organic results. If there are critical terms your site is not appearing under no matter what you do from an organic standpoint, PPC can ensure that your have some form of presence on those terms despite poor organic performance.

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