Monetizing Site Search Queries

I believe once everyone starts thinking clearly again after the last round of Penguin updates and focuses on their actual business rather than trying to find ways to game the system and mass produce activities that are not scalable we can get down to action that can actually move the needle.

One of the ways to find large god nuggets are in your site search queries.   While most keyword research best practices suggest you take a look at them I have found very few companies that actually do it.   For example, at a recent search conference I asked a room of 250 how many had even looked at their site search queries let along mine them and only four people raised their hands.   Talking to attendees after I round most don’t think it will yield any value, did not know where to get the data and others just did not think about it.

Why are site search queries important?

Site search queries are the voice of intention of your customers.   Site search queries represent products, services or information the searcher expects you to have since they are looking for them on your site.

The following are some ways you can use site search data to improve your search performance.

Mining Questions

In my Big Data Mining session at SMX West I gave an example of a large tourist destination where we set up a process to mine their site search data looking for anything related to tickets.    In the table below are some of the key data points I will explain.

keyord_matrix

The first thing we did was look for any phrases that were questions such as how, can I/we, where, when and what are all the basic questions as shown with their volume in the screen capture below.   We looked for variations of these with tickets, names of passes and other ticket related phrase.   What we found astounded us.  There were over 27,000 individual questions related to tickets.   We them took those questions and extracted the never of searches done using them which identified 600,00 searches in the current year.

We then wrote a script to test the site search appliance to see if any results were generated for each of the phrases.   We also did a check of Google for the top phrases to see if there was anything externally as well.    What we found was 60% of the queries were not generating any results.  Meaning if a searcher came to the site looking for answers to their questions on how to purchase, upgrade, exchange for an annual pass etc. nothing was presented.

monitizing_keywords

 

The next step was to review the questions to identify which were actually merchandiseable.   We looked for questions such as the following:

  • Where can I purchase family pass tickets online?
  • Can I upgrade my day ticket to an annual pass?
  • Can I upgrade my single park pass be upgraded to full access?

Once we finished our review, we found that 15% of the questions and over 225,000 searchers we should be able to monetize them.   The idea was simple, if they want to upgrade from a day pass to an annual pass they should be able to click a link and upgrade online or at least be given instructions on where to go at the park or who to call online.

The Marketing Director of the company looked at conversion rates and average sale for these types of products, day passes to annual passes, single park to multi park passes and assigned a average conversion value of $200 and a average conversion rate of 10%.

We then estimated that is we can convert those questions at that rate and value it would represent  $4.5 million dollars in revenue.  Now, we did assume that even with the horrible state of site search that many would figure out how to do these transactions elsewhere so we cannot count all the revenue but at least we had a number we can work with.

They created a number of pages of new content to address these questions and updated their ecommerce booking engine to accommodate upgrades and were are now able to measure the number of transactions that are made due to a positive result in site search for money questions.

Site Search Queries Improve Navigation

A few years ago a large B2B site updated their international home pages removing many of the product links and replacing them with interactive links based on where the visitor mouse over.   We found that nearly 85% of the non-US users who came directly to the home page immediately went into site search.    Seeing the 85% and the words they were searching the UX team determined that the users were not recognizing or did not want to deal with the mouse over functions and were going into site search to find what they wanted.  They switched back to the original version and the site search rate dropped to less than 40%.   Little by little they adjusted the home page to include visual clues to the most common areas of the site which stuck the balance of creativity and function.

Identifying Non-Relevant Paid Search Queries

The second case I encountered recently related to paid search.  This B2B company was gating paid search visitors to only download a whitepaper.  The searchers clearly wanted something else with nearly 65% using site search to find what they wanted.   The PPC vendor wanted to remove site search from the navigation to stop this but it would only lead to increased use of back button.  We looked at the words and found the campaign was too generic and made adjustments to words and ad copy.  This did result in a decrease in clicks but a significant increase in engagement.   For those other words that were resulting in site search we increased performance in organic results and set up awareness campaigns to better interact with the searchers who wanted more specific information than getting the whitepaper.

Why Should You Organize Your Keywords?

Some people live to organize and we see all sorts of advantages in organizing everything in our lives. If you’re in that category, you probably have already convinced yourself that organizing your keywords is important, but what about the rest of us? We need convincing.

Some search programs contain hundreds of thousands—even millions of keywords—and you can imagine that it isn’t easy keeping track of all of them. Even if your program has far fewer keywords—10,000, say—you can be forgiven for not looking forward to organizing all of those keywords. In fact, you can be forgiven for not even believing that organizing your keywords is an important activity. Everyone knows that paid search keywords need to be organized by accounts, campaigns, and ad groups, but keyword organization can go far beyond that—and includes organic keywords, too.

So, here’s the simple reason why everyone needs to organize their keywords far beyond the standard accounts and ad groups—money.

If you aren’t categorizing your keywords according to myriad criteria, you’re missing out. Here are just some of the benefits of organizing that can jump start your keyword optimization:

  • Separate categories allow separate analysis. If you’ve ever performed market segmentation, you know the power of organization. Segmentation allows you to identify the keyword groups that convert the highest, produce the most loyal new customers, produce the best return on investment, and many other prized segments.
  • Organization allows optimization. Understanding those prized segments allows you to optimize your approaches—better keywords bidding strategies, more time spent on optimizing organic pages, common messaging to persuade similar targets, and many more.
  • Common categorization helps co-optimize paid and organic. If you’ve only organized your paid search keywords, you’re missing a big opportunity. Focusing on both organic and paid keywords with the same categorization approaches allows them to be optimized together rather than separately.

So, what kinds of categories can be helpful? Anything that allows you to consolidate your message across groups, rather than keyword-by-keyword:

  • Target market. If you have already segmented your markets based on other criteria (B2B vs. B2C, demographics, industry, or others), you can use what you know about your segments to identify which keywords appeal to each segment.
  • Purchase funnel. Search keywords reveal exactly where in the buying cycle searchers are. There’s no reason to offer a coupon to someone in the initial research stages, so organizing by purchase funnel stages allows message optimization.
  • Benefits. Some keywords reveal which benefits the searchers desire—“cheap flights” or “five-star hotel” or “quiet restaurant”—and that lets you target the messages to match. Grouping keywords for value, luxury, or other benefits allows you to scale your learning as to which messages are most persuasive.

Don’t settle for one-dimensional keyword organization that does nothing to optimize your messaging. How you organize your keywords can make the difference between an average search program and a great one.

Why you should Organize your Keywords

Some people live to organize and we see all sorts of advantages in organizing everything in our lives. If you’re in that category, you probably have already convinced yourself that organizing your keywords is important, but what about the rest of us? We need convincing.

Some search programs contain hundreds of thousands—even millions of keywords—and you can imagine that it isn’t easy keeping track of all of them. Even if your program has far fewer keywords—10,000, say—you can be forgiven for not looking forward to organizing all of those keywords. In fact, you can be forgiven for not even believing that organizing your keywords is an important activity. Everyone knows that paid search keywords need to be organized by accounts, campaigns, and ad groups, but keyword organization can go far beyond that—and includes organic keywords, too.

So, here’s the simple reason why everyone needs to organize their keywords far beyond the standard accounts and ad groups—money.

If you aren’t categorizing your keywords according to myriad criteria, you’re missing out. Here are just some of the benefits of organizing that can jump start your keyword optimization:

  • Separate categories allow separate analysis. If you’ve ever performed market segmentation, you know the power of organization. Segmentation allows you to identify the keyword groups that convert the highest, produce the most loyal new customers, produce the best return on investment, and many other prized segments.
  • Organization allows optimization. Understanding those prized segments allows you to optimize your approaches—better keywords bidding strategies, more time spent on optimizing organic pages, common messaging to persuade similar targets, and many more.
  • Common categorization helps co-optimize paid and organic. If you’ve only organized your paid search keywords, you’re missing a big opportunity. Focusing on both organic and paid keywords with the same categorization approaches allows them to be optimized together rather than separately.

So, what kinds of categories can be helpful? Anything that allows you to consolidate your message across groups, rather than keyword-by-keyword:

  • Target market. If you have already segmented your markets based on other criteria (B2B vs. B2C, demographics, industry, or others), you can use what you know about your segments to identify which keywords appeal to each segment.
  • Purchase funnel. Search keywords reveal exactly where in the buying cycle searchers are. There’s no reason to offer a coupon to someone in the initial research stages, so organizing by purchase funnel stages allows message optimization.
  • Benefits. Some keywords reveal which benefits the searchers desire—“cheap flights” or “five-star hotel” or “quiet restaurant”—and that lets you target the messages to match. Grouping keywords for value, luxury, or other benefits allows you to scale your learning as to which messages are most persuasive.

Don’t settle for one-dimensional keyword organization that does nothing to optimize your messaging. How you organize your keywords can make the difference between an average search program and a great one.

81% of Paid Ads do not have a Corresponding Organic Listing

Hopefully that headline got your attention!   Yes, you did read it correctly – Google’s research shows that 81% of the time the paid search advertiser does not have a corresponding organic ranking.  So the opportunity of 1 + 1 = 3 actually rarely happens.   I believe this is primarily due to many companies not being aware of what is happening between their paid and organic activities but that is another post.

I had commented on their original research that incorrectly stated that if you have paid and organic there is an 8% increase in traffic.   In March Google put out their “revised” research on the impact of organic rank on paid clicks. I wrote a pretty scathing review of the research which I would like to think helped encourage them to go back to the drawing board.    The part I objected to what that they did not account for those words where the advertiser was not ranking.  Of course if you don’t rank for a term you will see an increase in paid search clicks

In the updated research titled “Impact of Organic Ranking on Ad Click Incrementality” they looked specifically at what happens when they have organic rankings and take away the paid.  This helps show the collaboration or cannibalization of the two.   They even did a neat info graphic that I will dissect to help explain what they found and the implications to search marketers.

Source: Google http://googleresearch.blogspot.com/2012/03/impact-of-organic-ranking-on-ad-click.html

81% of the Advertisers DON’T HAVE an Organic Listing

Yes, that is what they found.  Of the words in the test, the advertisers that had a paid search ad running “did NOT HAVE an associated organic result 81% of the time.”   At first I was shocked by this but then we see this on nearly every data load we do into our Keyword Management Suite.  We often find the typical company only actively manages a fraction of the words in their paid campaigns in their SEO campaign.

Clearly, if you don’t have an organic listing then you won’t get additional consideration and the ONLY opportunity for interaction is “renting the traffic” via the paid listing.  They continued with the analysis and found that only 9% of the time the advertiser also had the #1 search results position, 5% of the time the advertiser was ranking in the 2 to 4th position and 4% of the time they were in a position #5 or greater.  So clearly, there can be a case made for rank checking to make sure that you do have organic results especially for high value terms.

I have talked about this recently in How do your Expensive PPC Kewyords Perform in SEO? after finding so many companies do not even know how many of their highest Cost Per Click keywords are performing in SEO.  We are updating our application to look for this anomaly specifically.  In preliminary tests we are finding that in some cases it is much worse.  We have found a few cases where it is as much as 98% of the time there is no corresponding organic listing in the top 5.

66% of the clicks happen when there is NO Organic Search Listing

So if we don’t even have an organic listing 81% of the time when there is a paid listing how does this impact the click rate.   Google found that 66 percent of the clicks occur when there is no organic listing for the advertiser.   Duh, that is the only thing they can click.

So what we all want to know is what happens in the 9 percent of the time when we do have both paid and organic listings.

  • 99% of ad clicks with no organic results are incremental.  – Duh!  You can’t get a click from Organic if you don’t have organic so any clicks from paid are incremental.
  • 50% of ad clicks with #1 organic result are incremental – this is what Google wanted to hear to counter advertisers that if they have a #1 listing then they don’t need to use paid search.
  • 82% of ad clicks for advertisers ranking in organic positions 2 to 4 are incremental
  • 96% of the ad clicks for advertisers ranking in organic position 5 or greater are incremental

Google does call it out specifically but do concede that while statistically there are 50% incremental clicks – the rate of incremental clicks varies by advertiser and I will also add that it is the context (query type or buy cycle) and type (branded or non branded) of keyword plays an important part in which is clicked.

My goal is make advertisers aware of the 50% incremental lift in clicks but more importantly ensure advertisers work with the SEO team to ensure that they do have a corresponding organic ranking.  Our research shows that few advertisers even know where they rank in relation to their paid terms.  What we want to clearly understand is how and when can an organic listing be a substitute for the paid ad?  That is the work we are doing now to test different situations like branded and non branded as well as phases of the buy cycle.

You can read my previous article on that attempts to answer the question “Should you buy your Brand Terms when you Rank #1?” where we look at a very specific case where a company was over paying by $24,000 a month for their brand name.

 

The Cost of Not Ranking

We already had a “Cost of Not Ranking Model” in our tool based on the Excel file that I write about in this post from 2010 on “The Cost of Not Ranking Organically” on my personal blog.  Based on this research I will update the logic in our tool to show the incremental cost.  Again, it should never be a PPC vs. Organic but a Paid + Organic and once we have the alignment then we can work on the messages to make sure they are collaborative.

 

What is your situation?

How many keywords do you have in your paid campaign that do or don’t have an organic performance.  As Google noted, without organic listings your paying for 100% of the clicks for people interested in your products and services.   If you don’t know what your situation is you are a perfect candidate for our Keyword Management Suite or new Search Performance Analysis Solution.

Should you Buy Brand Terms When your Rank #1?

So you have a #1 ranking brand term should you also buy it in paid search?  I recently wrote the article about the 81% of all paid ads that don’t have an accompanying orgnaic listing.  That was a byproduct stat from teh main purpose of the research which was to reassure advertisers that running paid ads for high ranking organic terms is still an excellent strategy – which I agree with 100%.

Why does Google care if you do or don’t?  Well, it is all part of Google’s Profict Maximization – this, in m,y opinion is the siggle largest budget waster only second to braod matching terms.   For many adverisers, their top ranked terms are their branded terms and where a significant share of the click volume goes.  For one of our clients it was as much as 83% of all of their paid search clicks.   This means there is significant click volume (Google Revenue) that would be lost if they just turned them off.

There are some key strategies where you need them.  Back in the day were you could really protect your trademark this was not a big issue but now that you can’t there is often a stragic way to do it but there is also a right ans wrong way.  The following is a case it shows you need to do the research and it also shows the financial impact to Google if you just turn it off.

This is a major national brand in the travel space who was buying their company name “Acme” in paid search both in broad and exact match. Their average paid position fluctuated between #1 #2 and #3 but typically wanted it in the #3 position.    They obviously rank #1 for their brand name and have 6 highly relevant site links.

Company Name – Broad Match vs. Organic Performance
Source: Back Azimuth Search ROI Analysis

Scenario 1 – Broad Match Brand Name

Organic Performance:

They received 409,872 visits from Google via the organic results (94.35% click rate based on paid search impressions and ranking #1) that resulted in a 4.06% conversion rate generating $7.3 million in revenue.

Paid Performance: 

They had 434,531 impressions for which received 19,191 clicks (Average CPC was $1.28) for a media spend of $24,541.   They had a 4.42% click rate and a 1.19% conversion rate generating just over $9,000 in revenue.  This resulted in a negative Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) of -$15,535.

Analysis:

The problem in this case was they were running a “price match offer” along with copy that indicated “they offered he cheapest airfare” which did not sync that well in with the searchers intent for a broad-based branded navigational phrase.  At first the agency wanted to just change the ad copy to make it more in line with the navigational query but ultimately after looking at scenario 2 below, they opted to kill the broad match and go with exact match terms since we had identified 2,387 exact match variations including nearly 2,000 misspellings.   The result was putting just over $24,000 worth of click costs back into the pool for other words.

This is the prime reason that some advertisers want to turn off these ads.  The paid team argues that they have to be there for branding purposes but in this case the paid actually pushed people into the organic.  The learning here is as quickly as possible you want to get words into exact match situations and then make sure the context matches.  In the scenario below the advertiser swapped their broad match of the brand to over 2,387 exact match variations taking the average CPC from $1.28 in the broad match to between $0.04 to $0.32 for the exact match terms saving nearly $30,000 a week thereby allowing significantly more clicks for other words where they had budget restrictions.

Cost to Google: 

About $24,000/month or $288,000 a year.  Note: Google will ultimately make this up n other keyword clicks but this helped increase the media efficiency of this advertiser exponentially.

 

Scenario 2 – Exact Match Brand Name

So while in scenario 1, buying a #1 ranked branded term using broad match did not make sense what happens with an exact match for the same term? The paid search ad in this case was a reference to them being a leading travel site and having the lowest prices.

 

Company Name – Exact Match vs. Organic Performance
Source: Back Azimuth Search ROI Analysis

Organic Performance:

Using the same 409,872 organic visits this means that our organic click rate was 55.27% with a Conversion rate of 4.06% generating the same $7.3 million in revenue.

Paid Performance

In this exact match case the paid click rate was 42.36 percent (nearly 10 times that of Broad Match).  The Average Cost per click was a negligible $0.04 per click.  We drove 314,229 visitors from paid search The conversion rate was 3.43% which is great resulting in sales of nearly $300,000 generating a positive ROAS of $285k.   So with paid in exact match and the #1 organic listing Acme had nearly a 97.63 percent share of clicks.  This my friends is the definition of 1 + 1 = 3.

Analysis:

For half the paid search media budget they achieved a significant increase in visits from paid search.  This gave them the brand protection they wanted along with an increase.  The following months have shown that in this case of exact match the paid and organic seem to be working together.  Due multiple competitors also showing up for the brand name and to the collaborative success of paid and organic the client will not turn off or day part the paid to see what share of traffic would go to organic without the paid.

 

What is your situation?

If you don’t know what your situation is you are a perfect candidate for our Keyword Management Suite or new Search Performance Analysis Solution.