Category Archives: Search Engine Marketing

Ways to fulfill the 1-to-1 Future’s ideal, where customers “advertise” their interest for products and services precisely when they’re ready to consider a purchase

Boomers aren’t immune to the branding power of user-generated content

User-generated content (UGC) is a major force in influencing buying behavior among the young and habitually online. That’s irrefutable. But this morning a friend who is neither made the argument that its power ends with that generation. He said that bloggers and such don’t reach people like him — and that’s a serious problem for marketers like me.

He said his generation (the very recently retired) possesses the most disposable income of any age group, and also has plenty of spare time to spend that money. It’s a huge and important audience, and one completely lost to anyone who puts too many eggs in the UGC basket. He almost had me convinced. Then, nearly in the next breath, he completely blew his theory.

This all happened over an early morning coffee. My friend explained that he was recently looking to buy a sailboat. I’ll call this friend “Pete” (although I don’t know why I’m disguising his real first name, since he says he doesn’t read blogs).

Pete loves to sail, and it’s clear he’ll never have a better opportunity to live out a lifelong dream than right now. So he started shopping last month for a 36-to-40-foot used sailboat. The length of a boat dictates a lot about what it has and how you can use it, so every foot or so is an important consideration.

He excitedly told me about his search for, and eventual purchase of, the ideal boat — one that’s reliable, fits his lifestyle and is at a price he can live with. In his explorations, he found a promising model, built by a good manufacturer. It was a 36-footer and seemed to have it all. Then he did what anyone with an internet connection and a favorite search engine would do. He checked the boat out online.

He didn’t go to user groups or blogs. But they came to him. When he typed in the name of the boat along with words like “problems,” he found four or five accounts of a defect that was big enough to be a deal-breaker. Worse, it was a problem that the manufacturer had not yet publicly acknowledged or tried to correct. In fact, when Pete went back to the broker with this knowledge, instead of the broker taking the problem seriously and trying to negotiate a solution that wouldn’t kill the deal, he got defensive and then angry. Naturally, Pete walked.

The story ends happily of course. Pete found his boat, a 39-footer, and it sounds wonderful. I hope to travel down to see him and his wife this fall or winter, and hopefully join them for a sail.

As you might guess, Pete’s new boat wasn’t built by the same manufacturer as that 36-footer, and it wasn’t purchased through that same pugnacious broker. The sale was, however, facilitated by mostly anonymous boat owners who cared enough to share their frustrations with the internet world.

We all know UGC is influential, but we may underestimate its reach, for the following reasons:

  1. Thanks to search engines and the ubiquity of web connectivity, this type of persuasion finds people at pivotal moments in their purchasing activity, regardless of their age or their inclination to regularly read blogs or other UGC.
  2. Conversely, a surprising number of people do regularly read UGC — at least 2 out of every 5 web users. I say at least 2 out of 5 because the latest research on blog readership gives that proportion, and blogs are a subset of total UGC*. And this new statistic is no idle guesswork. According to a recent phone survey by Pew Internet American Life Project, conducted with over 7,000 people, 39% of U.S. internet users read blogs. That’s a really big number.

Those statistics mean that roughly 57 million Americans would say they read blogs if they were surveyed today on the phone.

As for Pete? If he was one of those 7,000 surveyed, he’d have said he never reads that type of content, and never will. But the truth is slightly different. A search engine will likely point him to UGC again. It will happen the next time he’s considering an important purchase.
 
*I define UGC as the freewheeling “public” content on blogs, discussion groups, folksonomies and wikis (most notably Wikipedia, the site I just used to define folksonomies).

Are you handing too much control over to search engines?

We have to stop thinking of our home pages as the main point of entry to our sites’ contents. That distinction is slowly trending toward the search results pages of major search engines. In his excellent Mine That Data!, Kevin Hillstrom reviews his own site’s traffic statistics, and then poses some questions for your business site:

Assume twenty percent of your traffic arrives via a search engine. You have essentially given control of one-fifth of your business to Google, Yahoo! and MSN. How do you feel about that? … How do you regain control of your business if that percentage significantly increases, or if the search engines decide to use an algorithm that sends less traffic to your site? Online retailers need to think hard about how much control they have ceeded [sic] to search engines. On the surface, the traffic that comes from search engines seems like it is all incremental business. I highly doubt that it is.

His point is excellent. This search traffic should not be perceived as incremental icing on the cake, unless you are quite comfortable with the idea of handing control of these visits completely over to the search engines. If you aren’t being proactive about taking strategic search engine results pages as your own (through search engine optimization), this steady flow of traffic could be diverted tomorrow to your key competitors.

The stakes can be considerable. Since search engine visits have been shown to convert more often to customers, compared to visits from other sources, losing this flow of traffic could be devastating to your business. If you don’t have a search engine optimization plan in place yet, start one now. It’s not a guarantee that you’ll be protected from the caprices of a search engine’s ever-changing algorithms, but it can reduce the risk to your bottom line.

What if the contents of your home page was ultimately controlled by Google?

I’ve noticed that the growing power of search engines has brought about a new way to look at the design of a commercial web site. The old approach was to design a site starting with the Home Page. That was the presumed entry page — at least much of the time.

Paradoxically, the new paradigm suggests we should design our sites with pages beyond our direct control in mind. 

Today I’ll focus on the entry pages to your site that a very important set of prospects uses. I’m talking about search engine results pages (SERPs) on important search engines, for specific, relevant search terms.

You know what you want to say on your home page. But what about what is said on a search results page? If you consider that you will be getting 10% to 15% of your total site traffic from search engines (a norm we’ve witnessed with many of our commercial sites), can you afford to ignore the influence that these SERPs have on consumers who click through to you? Or worse, the influence they have to cause other prospects not to click through?

I suggest we all regularly check to see what descriptions are showing up for our sites on important SERPs. What’s more, consider setting up a way to find correlations between the best descriptions in these organic listings and those consumers’ chances of converting from visitors to customers. It can be done, and could yield better ROI from those visits. Remember, these folks are pre-qualified and are often your very best prospects!

By the way, I’m talking here exclusively about “organic” results — the results that are generated by a search engine’s true search algorithms. Much has been written elsewhere about testing and tweaking text listings for pay-for-click ads. My point is, why not apply this same discipline to refining your organic results descriptions?

You may even eventually want to optimize key pages that are most likely to be visited from these organic search click-throughs, to ensure that was is stated on the SERPs’ descriptions is restated on that landing page. It could be the difference between a new, satisfied customer and a frustrated, departing visitor.

Speaking of not frustrating your site visitors, my plan is to follow this post with one about the easiest and most sure-fire way to improve your site’s navigation. Stay tuned.