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Adding Offline Data to Online Search

Adding Offline Data to Online Search Matt Naeger

Search has always been a dynamic keep-up-or-die industry, and it's about to take another one of those jumps that will change the industry forever. The use of offline data to support online line search marketing strategy and tactics will be a must-do for most savvy companies. 

Let's look at just one example of how this might work. We'll take recent advancements at Google and Overture, specifically their new local ad placement capabilities, and then combine them with a traditional demographic marketing technology in order to change the scope of a national search marketing campaign for a brick and mortar retailer into one using local targeting.

Let's begin by clearing our minds of the localized search positioning that has been done by the search engines that suggest that local ad placement and local search in general are designed to replace yellow page advertising.  Instead, let's look at these programs from a much broader perspective and think about how they can be utilized to allow for consumer segmentation within your SEM campaign.

For those not familiar with Google and Overture's local search programs, the concept is simple. In Google's case, you have the ability to purchase keyword phrases in your AdWords campaign based upon the location of the person that is performing a search for the specified terms. This means that you can buy paid keyword placement for a specific geographic area. If Google can identify the originating location of the searcher, and if it is within the area specified, your text ad will appear. Overture's program is a little different. It focuses more on the terminology used to search for a product or service and whether or not the search phrase contains a location specific term (Example: custom jeans Pittsburgh). The caveat? The bidder must have a physical location within the location term area.

Build and maximizing your campaign to incorporate the data that you have offline into your online search placement (on both the Google and Overture engines) is a three step process:

Step 1: Define where your best offline customer lives

Within your offline data, you have probably already defined who your best customers are. Now, in the online search arena, you want to get in front of a greater percentage of those people that fit your offline best customer profile.

For instance: a large national retailer has multiple store locations across the country. They want to drive more people to their stores from their Web site. They have loads of information on their customers that have been gathered via their CRM and Point of Sale System, indicating that their best customers are males between the ages of 25 and 34, married with children, who make more than $75,000 in yearly household income. When these best customers shop at the retailer's stores, the margin realized on purchases is 25 percent greater than that of an average sale.

By using geographic information databases from firms like Claritas, Melissa Data and Experian , you can determine which Designated Marketing Areas (DMA) of the country that have the highest population of consumers that fit your ideal best customer profile. 

Step 2: Determine what keywords to use

Just as you would in any search marketing campaign, you need to determine what keywords searchers are using to find your site, and if possible, which ones lead to conversions by your targeted marketing group. Rank them by usage and then pick the ones that have both a lot of searches and are likely to combine with a location term.

Step 3: Buy the best areas with the best keywords

After you have determined the keywords and phrases that your best customer group uses, you can set up your PPC programs within Google and Overture, using the DMA geographic boundaries determined in Step 1.

Google is location-centered, so along with radius and latitude/longitude placement options, Google allows keyword bidding by specific Designated Marketing Areas. Bid your best keywords on only the DMAs that fit your best customer profile.

Since Overture bases their local search on the combination of the keywords and location designator, include the keyword phrase and DMA name in your bid entry. Again, you must have a physical location within the designated area.

This is only one simple example of how companies can begin to use offline data to create more sophisticated SEM campaigns. This could go much deeper via more pinpoint targeting by zip and/or polygon selection on Google, to a breakdown of a DMA to smaller location names joined with keywords for Overture.

Now imagine how productive your search campaign might be if you were to do this type of segmentation and ad placement on a continuous basis.

Matt Naeger's primary responsibility at IMPAQT is management of IMPAQT’s Search Performance Management and Research Departments. Matt spent six years managing large scale direct marketing analysis projects for clients such as General Nutrition Cos., Eckerd Drug and Carnegie Library Systems prior to joining IMPAQT in 1999.  Since 1999 Matt has been instrumental in the development of the scoring metrics, keyword selection, bid management systems and research methodologies used in our client’s campaigns. Matt attended Duquesne University Law School and has successfully applied his training and knowledge to the search industry, specifically trademark and copyright issues.

What comes after great ranking?
The next step in the success equation involves clicks. Did you optimize your title and meta tags so that your results motivate searchers to click through? Is there competition that does a better job than you in the SERP? Are there local or universal results pushing you down the page?

There are many scenarios that lead to clicks (or lack of clicks), so not only can SEO give you an advantage of rank, but it can also help you stand out. Google SERP creativity can differentiate your listings from the competition.

Grab a user's attention by including a call to action in your meta description and focused keywords relevant to your target page. The example below illustrates this perfectly.

Note how Google bolds keywords for the search "Wooden Bread Bin." Also note the subtle call to action and marketing verbiage used in the meta description tab.

How do we measure clicks?
The key to the measurement of success is the utilization of a solid analytics package. Most hosting providers include basic tracking software that analyzes log files and presents visitor and click data in an easy-to-read format. Your hosting provider offerings may vary, but popular log file analyzers include Webalizer, Analog, and Awstats.

"Pixel" tracking is a little different, in the fact that it uses a small piece of code on your site, attached to a single-pixel image request, to track visitor metrics.

One of the most popular (and free) solutions is Google's own Google Analytics. Google purchased the Urchin software corporation in 2005 and then proceeded to take the web world by storm by giving away one of the most powerful (and simple to use) website analytics packages available. Google Analytics requires only a Google account and installation of a small piece of JavaScript tracking code.

There are many tutorials, books, and seminars on the use of Google Analytics, so I won't repeat those details here, I will step through the metrics necessary for measuring success.

Taming your analytics
To measure SEO or organic traffic, you'll first need to segment the traffic statistics. In Google Analytics, simply go to the top right and click on the "Advanced Segments" tab and select "Non-paid Traffic," deselect "All Visits." Click apply.

Your dashboard will then show you the traffic metrics for the organic search engine traffic -- the fruits of your SEO labor.

By themselves, the numbers can act as a quick checkup on site health,  but they become much more valuable when compared with prior data to highlight positive and negative changes. The following chart shows some data for a small corporate site comparing a four-week period in July/August 2009 against a four-week period in August/September 2009.

When comparing time periods, always try to compare the same days of week, as most traffic follows a very apparent 7-day cycle. In this case we're looking at four-week periods from a Wednesday to a Wednesday.


Defining Success

Looking at our visits metric, there can be no doubt our SEO efforts have been successful. A 90-percent increase in organic search engine traffic is an almost doubling of potentially valuable consumers who are ripe for our website's marketing messaging.

Share of search
Most site traffic is seasonal. With retail it may increase around Christmas; for travel it spikes in June; for weddings, spring is high season. Monitoring year-over-year changes can be effective in identifying trends; however, one more metric I recommend using is "share of search."

Share of search looks at the search landscape around specific keywords and illustrates the percentage of actual searches that may be coming to your site for those keywords. Google's Keywords Tool gives approximate monthly local and global search volume. I tend to normalize the data depending on the type of visit the site I'm optimizing for attracts. Generally, I recommend the local search volume for broad match on a keyword list. The keyword list comprises of the main keywords of each page's focus (this is normally the tracking list we use to measure site success). If the list is over 300 keywords, I take the top 300 by volume and use those. On really big sites, I may have multiple keyword lists.

Using the Google Tool's results of search volume, I then compare them to the "actual" number of visits from that keyword. Divide the number of visits by the total search volume, multiply by 10, and you have the "share of search" percentage for that keyword.

Watching the trend over time -- gathering the monthly search volumes from the Google Keyword Tool or using its "Search Volume Trends" -- can give a good indication of market awareness and share of search success.

For advertising-driven models, where eyeballs on pages equate to ad impressions, an increase in pageviews means more revenue (probably the most obvious metric of success).

A greater number of pageviews can also mean greater level of interest in the site content. For certain information-driven or information-dependant business models, additional pageviews can justify SEO impact. The example above highlights a couple of interesting points, reflected in a third metric: pages/visit. This is a simple calculation of the number of pageviews divided by the number of visits. In the example above, pages/visit actually decreased over the data periods, showing either less interest in content or that visitors found what they wanted quickly, thereby visiting fewer pages.

We look at many different metrics to see which of these two scenarios might be closer to the reality. In this particular site instance, we'll look at actual conversions, to see if the quality of traffic is better, meaning that a greater percentage is converting and a greater number are converting.

Bounce rate
Bounce rate determines the number of "one-page wonders" -- visits that result in just one pageview and then the user either leaves the site or closes their browser. Like many statistics, depending on the amount of change, this could be perceived as either good or bad. Are people not finding what they want, or are they?

To see whether a change in this metric is good or bad, we look at the landing page (which page the search engine directed them to for their keyword query) associated with the visit and whether that page contained a conversion opportunity (and did they convert). Example: If this was a form page, did they fill out the form?

In this particular case, a roughly 4-percent negative change in bounce rate is more than offset by the new traffic.


Average time on site
For the metrics above, I'd definitely want to look deeper into why the time onsite dropped 20 percent over the time period. Time on site often equates to interest and relevance. We tend to find that a decrease in time on the website mirrors a rise in bounces when interest is waning in the site content or that the site's content is not relevant to the searchers' expectations.

Refocusing landing page content and testing and reviewing user behavior in page interaction can often give clues as to why visitors are spending more (or less) time on your site.

A great tool for seeing user click behavior on your site is ClickTale. This tool gives you an actual video recording of how users are interacting, offering insight into how you can improve the user experience and keep them engaged.

New visits
New visits are calculated as the percentage of visitors who have never visited the site before. This is measured by placing a cookie on the visitors' browser. Because some users do not allow cookies, this metric is approximate. Specific to our example, the interesting point to note is that although organic search engine traffic increased substantially, overall the percentage of new visits did not. This means users possibly returned to the site more than once by typing specific ranking keywords into the search box.

I tend not to focus on new visits, because a visit is a visit regardless, but certain sites need to consider this metric as a loyalty indicator, which can have additional value and justification for loyalty-driven business models.

Most analytics packages allow you to see which keywords are driving traffic. If you optimize pages and sections around specific keywords (as you should) you can see the effect of that optimization as more traffic is driven by those keywords.

In our example site analytics, I reviewed a list of the top 500 traffic-driving keywords during our four-week sample, comparing them against the prior four-week period. There was a distinct upward trend around some recently optimized keywords, such as "ecological footprint," that appear to be the main lift in organic traffic.

Utilizing Google's Search Volume Trends, note that actual search volume for those terms appear to have dropped over the time period.

Our stats below, however, illustrate the power of SEO in driving targeted traffic to websites by focused optimization (in this particular case, an optimized section with the topic of  "ecological footprint").

Measuring SEO success can be a challenge. The basics noted in this article will get you well on the way to utilizing success metrics to quantify the value of SEO initiatives.

Understanding the basics of search, together with an understanding of the core metrics and how they relate to SEO success, can allow the SEO practitioner to demonstrate solid gains in search engine traffic, which equate to an increase in quality visitors to target websites.

For those working on their own sites, this can lead to greater revenue. For those working on behalf of clients, it can mean justification for continued engagement. For both, good SEO, combined with actionable analytics, offers opportunities to leverage traffic to increase conversions through usability and conversion path optimization strategies.

Grant Simmons is director of account management for The Search Agency's SEO department.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

Boring Vines

As with any marketing medium, one of the worst offenses you can commit on Vine is to be boring. This happens often with new platforms simply because brands get so excited -- soooooo excited -- to dive in and start experimenting that they don't put enough thought into the actual results of their efforts. "Six seconds of watching paint peel? Who cares? We're on Vine. Whoooooooo!"

The offender: USA Today
Big props to the publisher for diving into Vine headfirst. But it's time to show some restraint, as evidenced by the below Vine. The intention was good: "Let's give a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the editorial process!" But you know what it ends up looking like? A bunch of people sitting in a meeting. That's it. Most of us have to endure enough conference room monotony of our own. Please don't subject us to yours as well, USA Today.

[vine hzW3FzTHTji]

The publisher should stick to its unique concept of teasing the day's news via a quick scan of the headlines, as seen below. Some of the executions are a bit rough, but it is a clever way to tease out the day's content in a way that might ensnare some readers who are taking a spin through their morning Twitter feeds.

[vine hzZF7hjYiBd]

The offender: Trident Gum
OK, so you're a gum brand. Your videos will likely involve people chewing gum. But there's really nothing -- nothing -- interesting about a person unwrapping a piece of gum and shoving it in his mouth. It's boring. The end.

[vine bQZLKAA2151]

That said, I can give Trident Gum grief because I know the brand knows better. That is obvious from almost all of the rest of its Vines, which at least explore unique ways of getting that gum into the person's mouth:

[vine bjJtOne3rpl]

Neglecting sound

A lot of people and brands forget that Vines record sound while they record video. And given that the interface doesn't allow for any fancy editing, you're pretty much stuck with the background noise that occurs when you press "record." That can be problematic for videos with lots of fast cuts and stop-motion elements. In those cases, the safest route to go is to simply try to keep things silent while shooting. However, if the whole point of your video relates to music or accompanying sound, you'd better figure out how to handle that hurdle.

The offender: General Electric
Econsultancy called General Electric out on this sin first. (And we don't have to feel bad about it because, overall, General Electric is one of the best brands on Vine, hands down. So it gets to have the occasional miss.) But, if you turn on the sound on the below Vine (sound is disabled on Vines by default), you'll see why this execution just didn't work:

[vine bvdXevrLW5p]

If you're going to post a Harlem Shake Vine, the Harlem Shake song really needs to be a part of it. But given the stop-motion effect on this Vine, it just wasn't possible. It would have been best to go with standard online video for this concept, which would have allowed for proper sound editing. Otherwise -- skip it altogether.

The offender: Malibu Rum
Malibu Rum used Vine to promote Malibu Play, a monthly music mix created by guest DJs. Unfortunately, the audio heard in the Vine is fragmented, awkward, and jarring -- certainly not what you would expect from a playlist touted as "audio goodness to keep you and your friends smiling all night long."

[vine bTiAEj69jQH]

But the sound on this Vine isn't the only misstep the brand made. You can easily argue that it also commits the aforementioned sin of being boring.

Using video when an image would suffice

I know, I know. You're having fun making Vines. You want to make them for everything. The problem is, not everything is Vine-worthy. Sometimes an image will do just fine. And in many cases, an image would be preferable. This is especially the case when a decent amount of reading is involved.

The offender: Wheat Thins
The below Vine just doesn't need to be a Vine. It is, essentially, a print ad being shuffled into view. It forces the viewer to speed-read that ad and then provides no additional pay-off.

[vine bP2KqMT5e56]

If Wheat Thins wanted to illustrate these cracker-theft testimonials in some way, it should have done just that. A short snippet of a devious toddler? Vine-grown gold. But the text-only treatment just doesn't deliver. To boot, there's some random noise happening in the background (if you turn the sound on, of course) that is just loud enough to make you wonder whether you're supposed to be hearing something important. (But you're not -- double fail.)

Cramming too much in

Everyone's definition of "too much" is different. But here's a rule of thumb: If you require a motion-sickness bag after watching a Vine more than twice, it's too much.

The offender: American Apparel
At first watch, the below Vine might not seem too bad. But let it play more than once, and you'll start to go cross-eyed. Within the span of six seconds, the video cuts at least 16 times. In itself, that might be OK. Except that each of those 16 snippets has a little bit of unnecessary movement in it, the result of which is an uncomfortable viewing experience.

[vine b2Mam3q3Jpu]

The offender: NASCAR
Econsultancy named NASCAR as another Vine offender based on the "too much" principle. And indeed, a dose of Dramamine is required to make it through more than two plays of the below video.

[vine b6lAOTIFVn1]

In conclusion, brands shouldn't expect that every Vine they produce will be mini-Oscar worthy. But if they avoid the above missteps, they'll be putting themselves in the top 1 percent of today's Vine producers in terms of quality.

Drew Hubbard is a social media strategist and owner of LA Foodie.

On Twitter? Follow Hubbard at @LAFoodie. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Textured grunge green background," "Ink splash background," "Cracked wall texture, "The hot summer sun-grunge version," images via Shutterstock. 

Matt Naeger brings more than 15 years of experience in both the direct marketing and advertising industries and 10+ years of experience directing client Search Engine Marketing strategies for IMPAQT. As the Executive Vice President of Strategy, Matt...

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