Guest Comment: Six tips for search success during a downturn
- May 08, 2009
With budgets feeling the squeeze, how do you prioritise your SEM activities? By Neil Jackson, Director of Search, Tamar offers six tips to get the most out of search on a shoestring.
When times are good and marketing budgets are plentiful, it can be easy to adopt a ‘if it’s not broke don’t fix it’ mindset. However, the beauty and sometimes frustration of search marketing, is that individual tactics and overall strategy must be frequently reviewed and refreshed. As the current downturn continues to bite, online marketing directors like ordinary consumers on the High St have become ruthless in their pursuit of value. The question of how best to allocate finite search budgets is coming under increasing scrutiny, so what should be the priorities for maximising returns in the year ahead?
1. Analyze This
Do you have all the data you need to really measure the ongoing performance of your search strategy? Now more than ever, measurement and analytics are the shield and the sword of the online marketer, essential in both defending budget and cutting out the fat. If you a working with a number of digital agencies, it is essential that they are sharing data with each other and refining their approaches accordingly. Analytics, like the work being conducted by your agencies, needs to be fully integrated and a standard part of the service, rather than an expensive optional extra. Only when armed with that data and insight can you confidently answer the question of when and where to allocate your search budget.
2. Holistic Search
In the current climate, it is essential that a multi-faceted and integrated approach is taken to search. This is not the time to increase risk by putting all your eggs in one basket – investment must be made in both natural and paid search. There is unfortunately no golden ratio for how much should be spent on SEO vs. Google Adwords, but an approach which relies solely on PPC, however sophisticated, can’t really be described as strategic. Both search disciplines need to play specific roles, with natural search investment broadly used to build a strong foundation of organic search listings on a brands key terms. Adwords can then be used selectively to mop up the long tail and generate volume traffic – though at a cost.
3. Search conversion
Today, the role of search is to take customers through all the stages of the sales funnel. So getting traffic to a site is only stage one. Effective search conversion means continuing to prioritise and investing in website usability. This doesn’t mean paying specialists thousands for detailed reports, but making proven techniques such as A/B user testing routine. Tweaking and testing key elements such as language, page layout, graphics etc, can lead to refinements and incremental improvements which can dramatically increase conversion. It’s worth remembering that how well a web page converts is the ultimate barometer of its relevance to the user, and the better a page’s relevance, the better its search ranking will be.
4. Fresh content
Fresh relevant web content is the fuel which powers great search engine optimisation, but is more often than not the one area where online marketers fall down. Most companies are producing a wealth of content every week from customer advertising and marketing materials to company news and press releases. This issue is that so little of it usually makes it on to the website in a search friendly format. As customers are seeking out more information online and looking to form a dialogue with the brands they trust, an effective content strategy is now not only key for search marketing, but for a brands marketing communication strategy as a whole. One approach to this problem which is proving successful is the creation of the role of company Web Champion. This isn’t necessarily the same individual as the web master, but involves finding an internal brand advocate to take ownership of sourcing content and communicating news and information to external audiences.
A corporate blog can provide a convenient format for regularly updating content and as we know, from an SEO perspective Google loves blogs. To ensure that you get both rapid inclusions in search results as well as longevity, a combination of blogs and updating and creating additional web pages on a site is the best approach. Keeping content updated is both an inexpensive and effective way to boost your search efforts, and should be on the radar of employees across an entire organisation.
5. Video & Images
Google’s roll-out of Universal Search continues unabated but many brands have been slow to take advantage of the SEO opportunities offered by video content in particular. In recent months Google has be unveiling new video advertising formats to monetise the loss making YouTube and using search results to drive traffic to the site is a clear part of Google’s strategy. It’s therefore not surprising that some search terms are returning as many five video results. What is surprising is how slow some brands have been to take advantage of video to give their search strategy and edge over their competitors.
Video content hosted on a company website is again first and foremost a great communication and marketing channel. Creating professional looking short films is today very simple and cheap to do; it’s not about spending thousands on high production values but focussing on content which is ideally both entertaining and informative. Having created compelling content, the next stage is to ensure that it’s both seeded on the most appropriate online video platforms as well as ensuring that individual videos are optimised in terms of titles and key word tagging for natural search.
The same rules apply to the use of images on websites and blogs, some brands, particularly those in the retail space have found as much as 20% of traffic being driven through image results. Optimising images of specific products and items of clothing should be a no brainer, but only the minority of brands are prioritising what is another quick win for boosting search effectiveness.
6. User-generated content
My final tip for improving search success again doesn’t cost the earth, and is about empowering your customers so that they become your online brand advocates. As with the use of video, encouraging real and independent product reviews is first and foremost good marketing. Numerous research studies show the positive effect the genuine product reviews can have on sales. Hosting reviews on your own site is great, but it’s also about encouraging reviews on third-party sites and blogs as well. The impact of positive brand reviews on the first page of Google can provide a massive halo effect on the effectiveness of a search strategy. Think about how you can openly incentivise your customers to talk about your brand online and show enthusiasts some love by keeping them updated on what you are doing.
By Neil Jackson
Director of Search
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