The generic exception
In search and contextual advertising the so-called "generic" keyword is where the impression and click volume resides. There are more searches for "mortgage" than for "30 year fixed APR," more queries for "taxes" than "H&R Block," more text and copy published mentioning "cars" than "convertibles."
This volume comes at a price -- sometimes, too high a price. Conversion rates on generic queries are low, and the CPC on these terms can go through the roof. Many brands have reduced spend on these terms. Some have decided not to purchase these keywords at all. Others are able to use these keywords to drive the volume numbers, while the branded keywords and long tail terms drive performance.
Direct marketers rationalize poor results in these generic keywords with words like "high funnel" or "early consideration stage." Brand marketers who are getting residual value from all those impressions based on interest -- not intent -- don't have that excuse. However, brand campaigns will face these issues head-on as contextual becomes the ad model for social network advertising.
Because of the impact even a small lift in the conversion rate on generic keywords will have on your campaigns, focusing your marketing efforts here should be priority number one. This is especially true over the next two months into the holiday season. Gift shoppers are some of the most notorious generic searchers. And get used to this problem. The generic query is not going away. With mobile and social it will only gain more influence over your marketing ROI.
New platforms deliver relevance
Most landing pages I see from generic queries take users to homepages or category pages. There is a better solution. You have to build it, but the returns I've seen can be well worth it. Creating APIs or leveraging existing APIs can create powerfully relevant landing pages. When the content becomes free from the hierarchy and navigational structure of your site, it allows new delivery rules to be created that more relevantly align the content with the goals of your visitor.
These types of landings are highly optimized. The change in user experience and performance can be dramatic. Sending your visitors to a comfortable LAP (Landing Application Page) provides the ability to keep users in the flow and focused on their goal. These solutions work because they pick up on the generic nature of the query by providing an immediate ability to refine and target the user with content that is only contextually relevant. LAPs can also contain multiple dynamic conversion paths. Similar to static landing pages, the presentation and delivery of the content can be multivariate and split tested. The clearest example of the benefits of Landing Application Page is Google's Universal Search.
The universal corner
Not too long ago, the goal of Google's SERP (Search Engine Result Page) (aka landing page) was to deliver relevance to the query that would get users off the page as quickly as possible (the same goal that your homepage should have). With Universal Search, that goal has changed. Google is now embedding applications -- widgets -- on the SERP -- Maps, Video, Finance. Success is now measured by keeping users engaged on the SERP, rather than getting them off Google.
If you've been listening to Gord Hotchkiss of late, what we're finding out from eye-tracking and testing is that this kind of SERP changes users behavior and experience -- for the better. This widgetized page improves the user experience because it delivers relevant content closer to the user. Since user experience drives Google's product strategy, many expect that success in delivering relevance closer to the user on the SERP will soon extend from publisher side to advertising side. And why shouldn't it? Why shouldn't you think the same way about your product strategy?
The relevance shift
APIs and the widgetization of the web is a fundamental change in the way the web will be built, searched, and navigated. What we need to take away from Google is that performance is dictated by the content that is delivered. Nothing matters more than the technology powering the experience. Not creative, not messaging, not your brand. Nothing. Because of that, our ideas and definitions around how we -- as marketers -- use the web need to change.
There was an early lesson from Web 0.5. Pulling data into users' hands to deliver relevance can redefine an industry. Travel agencies booked 75 percent of travel until the mid 1990s, but 77 million people will purchase airline tickets online in 2007. Your business, whatever it is, will be changed by the emergent use of platforms and APIs. Start thinking about your site as a platform. Start thinking strategically about content delivery. Start creating landing pages that leverage your data to deliver dynamic and targeted experiences to the vast majority of consumers.
Long live the generic queries! May the web soon deliver enough relevance that I never need to input more than two words again.
Jonathan Mendez is founder and chief strategy officer of OTTO Digital. .