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SearchTHIS: Stupid Search Marketing Tricks

Kevin M. Ryan
SearchTHIS: Stupid Search Marketing Tricks Kevin M. Ryan

"Nothing you can't spell will ever work."
--Will Rogers

Despite the paid search marketing “Will users walk away?” stench surrounding last week’s Pew Internet & American Life Project report, search marketing in the paid realm continues on a bold path toward becoming smarter and more relevant. Google’s new affiliate policy (no duplicate domains) is a prime example of steps in the right direction toward a richer search experience.

The Pew report cited a comScore networks report that indicated that some 40 to 50 percent of all search queries now include paid listings, yet later warned that many users are not aware that listings are paid and if they were, they might just find another place to search.

Not aware? How could you miss the word “Sponsored” near the listings? Are they stupid or something?

At last, we reach this week’s topic. While search listings and marketing programs can be encouraged or forced to get smart, human nature will continue to prevail. That is, reaching out to people who can’t spell, think differently, or search irresponsibly can lead to big dividends if you do it right, but in order to effectively hunt and capture the stupid people you must first learn to think like your prey.

Foundational foolishness
Many paid search initiatives now have thousands of keywords, and program management is often assisted by complex bid/position/revenue management tools that may or may not accommodate some basics of human nature.

Oddball homo sapiens traits as they relate to search habits include:

Laziness: This form of stupidity is often a close cousin to one’s inability to spell anything correctly. It leads to misspellings of common words like “suite” entered hastily into a search box as “suit.”

Greed: Most aptly realized in the perpetual search for something cheaper, into the search box goes the phrase, promo code + commerce site name (e.g. Napster promo code)

Vanity: The most complex of all stupid search tricks, which requires a delicate understanding of brand tactics and site content relationships. A prime example of this is a user’s determination to find answers to product information questionnaires or sweepstakes entries (see also: greed.) 

All of these habits or needs affect search query behavior. The problem is, it’s difficult for keyword generating tools to suggest these words: they often do not exist in high frequencies or they represent complex variables that predictive tools don’t recognize. Worse, the revenue achieved by -- or desired activity realized from -- these keyword sets is often highly irregular, so it’s difficult for automated suggestion tools to keep up with them.

Difficult, but not impossible. The fact is, these keyword sets can put you in touch with targeted audiences and incite them to respond in a whole new way.

Beyond banal

The easy answer to handling stupidity in misspellings is the most efficient practice already created by search sites. Users who cannot spell or tie their shoes are often directed to a search result with the proper spelling. How many times have you seen this phrase in your Google search result? Did you mean: (insert correctly spelled response.)

Search sites don’t always suggest misspelled search words for you, and bad spelling leads to site visits more often than you might think. According to the online measurement company Hitwise, in a recent two-week period the following search box spelling train wrecks all resulted in successful site visits:

victoria secret, barnes and nobles, jc pennys, jc penny's, victoria secrets, nordstroms, best buys, jcpennys, cabellas, jc penneys, barns and noble, william sonoma, barnes and nobel, walgreen, curcuit city, wall mart, barnes & nobles, home depo, khols, jcpenneys, tj max, victoriasecret.com, barns and nobles, sketchers, overstocked.com, micheals.com, victoriasecret, jcpenny's, jcpennys.com, bloomingdale, circutcity, sport authority

Digression: Notice the number of “brand+dot.com” extensions in that list? And these are only the misspellings, folks. Remember this the next time you have one of those painful discussions with your CMO in which he decides that buying your own search terms in the paid search realm doesn’t make any sense because “people know our brand, and they’ll just enter our URL and come to us.” Actually, there’s a pretty good chance “people” will misspell your name and enter it into a search box, not a URL box.

Laziness or poor spelling abilities don't necessarily mean these searchers aren’t buyers. Aside from the data I have accumulated over the years relating to sporadic misspellings but consistent buying behavior from stupid searchers, I am a real life example of a targeted buyer who couldn’t word wiz his way out of a third grade spelling bee. I frequently make purchases from Nepster, Bluflie, and Amaxon, to name a few. 

Organizational obstinacies

The Internet “savvy buyer underground” -- combined with commerce sites’ tendency to offer special partnership discounts -- has led the search populace to enter the “promo code + destination or brand name” keyphrase into a search box in order to cheat the system.

Indeed, a cottage industry has sprung up around the promotional code urban legend. For example, try a search for “napster promotional code.” Your wish of free music once again will appear to be granted as site listings appear in paid results. Unfortunately most of these listings are affiliates trying to make a buck on you by simply directing you back to your own page after a brief stint on a “secret underground” promo code page.

You as a marketer have a few choices here in addressing the rising popularity of promotional code search activity. You can build a natural search optimized page (as Napster has) that indicates all the ways to receive promo codes. You can let your affiliates keep twisting users around with paid search listings. Or, you can pick up the ball and send traffic into these pages yourself, thereby avoiding consumer confusion and frustration with the inevitable runaround.

Do the right thing here folks. If not for me, do it for the senior citizens (ages 65+) who, according to The Pew Report, seemed most confused with listing labels, among other things, since many (20 percent) went the “Don’t know/won’t answer” route to answering the label question. Big surprise there. 

Creatively crazy

The vanity portion of our stupid search toolbox requires a bit more than simple disclosure or digging into how users try to spell your brand or product names. It requires specific knowledge of the user interaction with online and offline promotional and/or branding efforts.

While many marketers have included associative keywords along with brand and product names, all too often the connection between searcher and search target is lost when terms a bit more benign in appearance are entered in the big white search box.

Last October, I cited the example of the keyphrase “What year did Kleenex first introduce colored tissue,” popping up on the Overture search charts as a result of this question being placed in a quiz on the Kleenex brand Web site. Opportunities such as these are just the beginning.

A more recent example of attracting searchers with benign but branded terms would exist with the “Iwantmyvacation.com” parody site powered by Universal Studios. The online game “Bash the boss” is becoming one of those pop culture waste-time-at-work games everyone loves so much. The “are you at risk” content area offers hundreds of traffic building possibilities as well. Mark my words, there will be a spike in search queries for “bashing the boss” and “do I need a vacation.”

The opportunities for capitalizing on search vanity are endless. Whether or not beating up an authority figure effigy is a great way to sell more vacations remains to be seen, but the idea of choosing better to understand the interaction searchers have with your brand or site experience is becoming a requirement for an effective search marketing campaign.

Additional resources:

iMedia Search Editor Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations.

Ryan serves as Executive Vice President at the search engine marketing specialist agency, Did-it.Com.


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