Thursday, February 24, 2005

Smart Surgical Search Engine Tactics

A new study indicates that multi-word searches are more valuable in terms of clicks and, by inference, conversions than single word searches. This makes a lot of sense.

Consider a search for "socks" on Google, far and away the leading search engine. Assume that the more generic the search equals the least valuable prospect. Why? Because the least sophisticated buyer will default to the broadest possible search term. Also assume that the broader the term searched draws the biggest number of potential competitive key word buyers because the monkey-see-monkey-do marketer bids on the plain vanilla terms in a mistaken attempt to outwit or outspend the competition.

The generic term "socks" yields 12.6 million hits and is a term heavily bid upon. Add the word "cashmere" and hits drops to 240,000. By adding a second word you reduce the prospect universe dramatically; most likely getting closer to real buyers. The more specific the search becomes, the more likely you will be in closer contact with people who have a need, the cash and a true interest in buying. (This assumes that a more determined buyer is a more sophisticated search engine user; an anssumption that may not yet be true.) Add "mens" to the search criteria and the number of hits drops to 139,000 which can be further winnowed by specifying a color like green to reduce hits to 43,200.

Then zero in on location. Here you begin to understand the appeal of local search. By adding "NYC" the total hits shrink to 6160. Specify "Manhattan" and the list is down to 3910 and if you punch in a zipcode, Google displays just 5 nearby sellers.

Assuming you are selling men's green cashmere socks in the 10017 area ( e.g. Bloomingdales), the more words bought yields the tighest results and presumably the most immediately interested buyers. The real question then becomes will the cost of buying a 7 word phrase yield enough searches and enough buyers to cover your costs?

If you want to end up in the top 5 natural search results above the fold or high up in the paid results running across the top blue bar or along the right hand margin, the best SEO tactics are to buy strings of words that correlate to the most popular items you are selling. Ideally each string of words might be phrases that your customers actually use or combinations of words that reflect the criteria your customers use to select merchandise.

The tactics work for B2B searches where generic terms like "ERP" or "blade servers" yield zillions of search results and are presented to everyone from kids doing school reports and aging investors to CIOs and operating IT managers with budgets and buying authority. Again the operating assumption is ... the more generic the search term; the less valuable the impression.

To get faster access to more likely buyers, sophisticated marketers are talking to their customers and buying descriptions or phrases that reflect how prospects and customers talk about or describe problems, pain points and needs. They are also researching how generic terms are embedded in prospect thinking and buying phrases that reflect how truly qualified leads might think about the product.

For example rather than buy "ERP" or "SAP ERP software" a more sophisticated marketer might buy "ERP in the software stack" or "ERP integrated with customer relationship management."

These are phrases less likely to be bid up and more likely to be used by qualified prospects. In this way the smart guys reduce the number of bidding wars over the generic terms, carve out potentially ownable terms and get top rankings on searches conducted by those most likely to be researching their product or service.

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