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Search Marketing Is A Game Of Resources


A lesson I learned many years ago (the hard way), is that the “free traffic” from organic rankings (SEO) is anything but free.

Even something as basic as rewriting your vendor’s product descriptions to create unique content takes time – or you have to pay someone to do it. And if you’re getting traffic, you still need to do something with it…convert, convert, convert!

You’d better believe that your competitors aren’t sitting still and neither should you. Ultimately, all other things being equal, those websites that make the most profit from appearing on search results, will be best funded to compete and win – whether that’s in organic search, paid search, social media, or any other channel.

Writing content, marketing your business, handling public relations and press releases, and reaching out to webmasters for links – these are all areas that must be tended to, if you plan to maintain top search engine rankings. See, I told you it isn’t really “free.”

Pay-per-click traffic is “obviously” not free, and what I’ve noticed over the years, in speaking with many e-commerce store owners, is that those who spend the most on paid advertising are also the most disciplined when it comes to improving their site’s conversion, and the overall efficiency and profitability of their business.

If you’re going to buy the top ads in Google Adwords – as I did for several years before selling my stores, you need to do everything you can to make sure your site converts those leads (with some at dollars per click) into many more dollars in profit.

If you’re going to hold top rankings in Google and other search engines (as I did) you’re going to need resources to ensure that you’re converting all that traffic you enjoy. Because if you don’t, where will the funding for continued marketing come from?

Is Your Site Search Killing Profits?

If your site has more than one page, you probably need an internal site search function to help visitors find what they’re looking for. If you’re running an e-commerce store, it’s an essential feature – one you’d be a complete fool to operate without.

But is your site search really doing the job?

The truth is, anywhere from 10-30% (if not more) of your site’s visitors will use the search functionality, and with most stores, they’re going to have a hard time finding what they want.

For most e-commerce store owners, the search function of their site is an afterthought, at best. Big mistake. I know just how big – because I once made the same mistake.

Before we get into that story, and the solution we found, let me introduce you to an important metric, that I will talk about again and again: value per visitor (VPV).

In simple terms, value per visitor is the amount of money the average visitor spends. Not to be confused with average order value (AOV), which is the average order your site gets on any given day or month. For your site overall, there’s a value per visitor.

For every marketing channel, whether it’s “organic SEO” or even individual keywords you’re bidding for with Adwords, there’s an average value per visitor that you can determine with your site’s analytics. In Google Analytics, this will show up in your reports as “Per Visit Value.”

You can also apply that same metric to your site search: What’s the VPV of the people who reach one of your site search result pages? What’s the VPV for the most popular search queries on your site search? What percentage of your site’s visitors are using the search function?

Case Study: Site Search Improvement = 3 Times The Sales!

Okay, I confess – that headline’s just a little dramatic, but once I “got religion” about conversion and decided to tackle our site search, we literally did see the sales made by our site search users increase that much – from under 3% of our sales, to over 9%.

This “little success story” occurred in 2007, when I owned a wedding gifts and favors store called American Bridal. This was already a multi-million-dollar business, so you can do the math for yourself – the increase in sales was more than enough to cover my salary for the year.

American Bridal was, and is, a Yahoo! Store – a great platform for business people who don’t want to get their hands too dirty with technical stuff, while still having the ability to do some pretty sophisticated stuff, if need be. And don’t believe the hype – Yahoo stores are as SEO friendly as any other shopping cart.

While Yahoo’s built-in site search isn’t terrible by any means, we looked at the value per visitor from our site search, and thought that there is opportunity for improvement.

The solution we chose to deploy was SLI Systems’ “Learning Search” – which starts off more or less like any other site search, but learns from user feedback, and quickly improves the quality of search results.

In the first month, we went from a VPV of around $1.20, to $1.50… then to $3.00 in the second month, and during peak season, nearly $6.00. The average for the first year of using this improved site search was a clean 3x improvement in VPV, and along with that, three times as many sales from our site search.

With results like that, I’m glad I decided to “open up the hood” of my store, and install a better site search tool.

Site Search – Key Requirements

Now, although SLI’s solution worked great for me, this isn’t intended to be an advertisement for them – as I am sure there are many other great solutions like Nextopia, which we also employed on the other sites that I had owned.

A few key requirements to look for in any internal site search system are:

  • Analytics Support.
    It should go without saying that your site search should provide reports for you on what keywords people search for on your site, and how much they spend – but it should also integrate seamlessly with your analytics solution – whether that’s Google Analytics or something else.
  • Usability.
    Your site search should handle misspellings and offer suggestions, no matter what people search for. It should fit well into your site’s design and if it brings people off-site, they shouldn’t notice a change anywhere but in their browser’s address bar.
  • Adaptability.
    Whether it’s a “learning system” or not, your site search should give you the ability to “fix” certain search results, and pin the products of your choice at the top of results for certain keywords. We were able to make even bigger gains by making sure our top sellers were prominently featured in search results.

Okay, What Now?

Once you’ve got your site search humming along, don’t overlook the opportunities that an improved site search gives you.

Search terms that people use frequently on your site – especially those with a high value per visitor – are great candidates for a little extra love in your SEO and PPC campaigns.

Using your site search data, with Google Analytics, you can also discover some interesting opportunities to improve your store’s merchandising.

If people who search for “red baby shoes” are clicking certain products in your search results, those products may deserve more prominent positions in your “red baby shoes” product category too.

Finally, I can’t stress enough how important it is to integrate your site search – and all of your other marketing campaigns – into your analytics solution. Google Analytics makes this very easy, and even though their Site Search feature has been available for nearly 4 years now, I rarely see e-commerce store owners taking advantage of it.

That’s another big mistake, which we’ll tackle in my next article.

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