While search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search are often seen as independent processes by digital marketers, the consumer sees a search results page as a single experience, and research shows that paid and natural search do impact eachother. Savvy marketers can leverage search results pages as holistic marketing vehicles, planning and measuring their SEO and PPC efforts together to bring the separate sciences of paid and natural into harmony.
As we head into the critical holiday season for retailers, here's a look at 10 key force-multipliers that leverage search results pages to maximize the impact of both your PPC and SEO efforts.
1. Follow proven SEO best practices
There are many standard SEO best practices, but avoiding duplicate content is a vital SEO rule for retailers. Duplicate content is a term used in the field of search engine optimization to describe content that appears on more than one webpage. Retailers plagued with duplicate content can see thousands or hundreds of thousands of their detail pages become excluded from the search indexes because a search engine has determined that these URLs already exist in their web index.
Here are few examples of duplicate URLs situations:
Embracing the "canonical tag" is an elegant solution for avoiding duplicate content. Back in February of this year, Google, Yahoo, and Bing announced their support for this new tag, which was designed to eliminate duplicate URLs for a given website in search engine results. The tag marks a select URL as "canonical," which means that it is the predominant URL for a page, even if there are two or more similar URLs leading to that same page. Canonical, by definition, describes the master copy of something.
With the canonical tag, search engine marketers can more effectively control the URL returned in their search results. More importantly, the page will do better in search results because the master URL will consolidate all of the authority that was previously distributed and diluted between multiple URL versions of the same content.
2. Evaluate your paid search campaign structure against your own site architecture
Following your site's architecture when setting up your campaigns and ad groups can help reveal untapped opportunities for your paid search efforts. Do you have an ad group for each of your product categories and promotions? Walk through your site map and compare it against your PPC campaign to make sure you cover all the bases. Then refine these groups based on the highest margin categories or product groups, allowing for more flexibility of budgeting against these groups to maximize the most critical opportunities.
3. Take a holistic approach to PPC bidding and ad creative
Running paid ads that include timely promotions and a call-to-action alongside natural search results for your brand can actually increase overall click-through rates (CTRs) on natural search listings, providing higher ROI across your search efforts.
Search optimization technology provider SearchIgnite conducted a study for a leading financial services provider to quantify the impact on a marketer's conversions, revenue, and spend when paid search is run alongside top-ranked natural search results.
Results showed that natural search clicks were 17 percent higher on days when paid search ads were running, garnering more "free" clicks simply by running paid search ads alongside natural search results. In addition, total conversions and revenue on both paid and natural terms dramatically increased on days when paid search ads were running.
Revenue increases more than compensated for the cost of the paid advertising as well. For every dollar spent on paid search for the brand terms tested, incremental return in revenue was 900 percent higher than when no paid advertisements were running. This study showcases the impact that natural and paid search have on each other.
Ensure that your paid search ad creative aligns with your enterprise-wide promotional calendar so that the consumer experience is seamless across various offline and online channels. In addition, be sure to leverage and test different calls-to-action and offerings ("Free Shipping," "Limited Offer," etc.) to see what works best during a giving time period, and especially during peak seasons.
4. Optimize landing pages
Landing page optimization should be status quo for most sophisticated search marketers. For retailers, advanced optimization efforts can propel a search campaign from good to great. For example, retailers can set up inventory-based optimization that automatically pauses and re-allocates paid search spend when inventory is low for a specific product query. Alternately, users clicking on paid search ads for those products could be sent to a higher level category page, thereby opening up the product options available to them. These optimization techniques serve to provide a better experience for the searcher and drive more efficient spend and higher ROI for retailers.
5. Develop a content diversification strategy
Universal search results -- i.e., non-text listings such as images, videos, and maps -- are growing in prominence across all of the engines as consumers seek out diverse types of content on the engines. As such, brands should incorporate content-building into their SEO strategies and seek to diversify their content types as much as possible. These types of content could include, but are not limited to:
- Blogs and microblogs such as Twitter (join the real-time search revolution)
- Reviews and ratings (gain trust with and help educate your consumers)
- Videos (show off product demonstrations and more)
Broad, non-brand queries often trigger universal results or, in the case of Bing, "decision paths" to help consumers refine their search. Review the most critical "head terms" in your keyword portfolio and keep an eye on Google and Bing's universal results/decision paths to determine when and where to build out your content.
6. Think locally
Get mapped if you have a brick and mortar presence. This helps capture consumer interest when looking for physical locations and can aid in drive-to-store efforts. Make sure you have a local landing page strategy that includes a unique landing page for each location and a specific URL with details and content that is unique per location.
For a more holistic and complete search strategy, leverage and incorporate these detail pages into your paid, natural, and feed initiatives as well.
7. Know your seasonality
Learn from last season's data and identify what worked -- and what didn't -- from past years' efforts. Have an evergreen SEO strategy to gain relevance year round.
For example, don't actually eliminate your winter apparel sections during summertime. These off season category URLs or product detail URLs can simply reside away from the primary site navigation, in a sort of "hibernation" stage where they are perhaps only discovered through sitemap navigation. They can be put back up into the primary site navigation when the winter season returns. Keeping these URLs unchanged will solidify their authority in the natural search engine indexes year after year.
If your retail business hinges on key holidays, build out special landing pages and integrate them across both paid and natural search. Investment in your "holiday" URLs can also provide evergreen search relevance for future holiday seasons, as mentioned above. Simply bring these pages back to life when needed, but make sure that your URLs for these pages remain unchanged!
8. Analyze your analytics
Improving search performance largely hinges on the level of data you have and your ability to understand and act on it. Spend quality time with your analytic tools. Evaluate your current level of quality control, as well as your existing segmentation of paid, natural, and other marketing programs. Are you properly attributing credit across all of the marketing channels that contribute to a conversion? It's easy to just ignore the moving parts, but fine tuning your attribution strategy will provide more accurate data for critical business decisions.
Also, review your internal search applications query logs -- the searches or queries that users perform once they've arrived at your website. This data can provide insights that often reveal missing content sections or keywords that should be considered more heavily for paid programs.
9. Know the competition's strategy
The best defense is a good offense, and this is especially true in search as competition for top natural links increases across the engines. Create a process to monitor the search programs of your competitors, including their messaging, positioning, and price listings in ad creative to see how you measure up. Keep an eye on potential threats by assessing how your competitors differ in both natural and paid, especially by product category.
10. Be an early adopter
Becoming an earlier adopter of coding techniques for structured data delivery can separate you from the competition. Leverage emerging solutions like rich snippets or "SearchMonkey" bring more value to the search results listing and could improve quality CTR.
These innovations from Google and Yahoo, respectively, allow for micro-formats or RSS feed delivery to enhance your natural listing results. This may include user reviews, pricing info, inventory levels, images, or other relevant data that helps users make a more informed click from the search result page. These listings also stand out against the competition.
The search landscape is evolving quickly as the major search engines continue to innovate. This creates both new challenges and new opportunities for marketers. Whether it's fundamental tried-and-true best practices, getting your hands dirty in the data, or trying something new, search opportunities for retailers are plentiful. All of the strategies discussed here can help add some needed horsepower to your holiday campaigns and prepare you for the fast-approaching 2010.