Search and Web design go together
When I wrote for this column last year, I talked about how search campaigns need to be integrated into overall marketing plans and touched on how search can be used to inform Web design.
Working with clients over the past year, I’ve found myself repeating this trainof thought more and more, and my conviction has only been strengthened that search and Web design should be working more closely together. In fact, they should – should – be best friends (arguments over the use of Flash aside). This was one reason we started our own creative and Web design division, Steak Creative, in late 2007.
Working with our designers and coders, it is clear they love to receive feedback on their hard work – especially if it is analytics data that demonstrates how the public interacts with their designs. This inevitably spurs them on to further improvements that aid the consumer experience (and so sales).
However, designers are often cut off from a project after launch, meaning they have no chance to gather feedback via analytics and tracking tools, and cannot regularly work with marketing staff to improve sales further. The launch of a website, like the launch of a search campaign, is not the end of the process, but rather – cue a Churchhillian voiceover – it is the end of the beginning.
I’ve been lucky enough in 2007 to work on projects in which Steak Media was asked to put search at the heart of the site planning process. For these clients we used search data to help them design sites that provide exactly what their audience is looking for, planning from the top-level site structure down to the content of individual pages. This included using search volumes to prioritise content in editorial schedules based on traffic potential, ensuring the limited time and design resources available were focused on the potentially most profitable site areas.
Of course, these projects focused on search as major traffic drivers, but the principle holds true for sites with large non-search sources of traffic. Analysing search data and drawing agreed conclusions empowers site designers and search experts to produce sites that match supply with demand and meet a simple adage of business: give them what they want and they will buy.
Duncan Parry, director of strategy, Steak Media, 62-70 Shorts
Gardens, London WC2H 9AH. t 020 7420 3500,
Add a little local colour
The rise of local targeting in search campaigns could prove to be an unexpected evolution from the rise of social media, and one that large and small brands alike can take advantage of. By David Benady
Targeting consumers according to their location is one area of search marketing that has yet to really take off. Some believe geo-targeting is set to become a huge opportunity for advertisers in the future once certain technical problems have been overcome.
But the big question is which area of new media will be best suited to lead the way in geo-targeting. A battle for the high ground will be fought between search engines, social networking sites and mobile phone networks. All offer the basic mechanics to search and target through geographical location, but there are differing views on which medium will be most successful.
Social media and search engines are likely to battle it out for supremacy in geo-targeting. Google has offered regional and local targeting through search for some time, though there are limits to its accuracy and some believe that it has yet to mine the potential for localised promotion.
For instance, Google can allow a car dealership to target a specific county. But as VCCP Search managing director Paul Mead says/ “You can drill down into a particular area, pick a spot on a map and say I want to target the ads at people within a ten-mile radius. But the accuracy is developing – Google uses IP addresses and a number of different factors which have not been amazingly accurate so far.”
Until the search engines find ways of automatically combining the IP address with, say, Acorn data about local postcodes, the Holy Grail of geo-targeting will still be a long way off.
Google launched a revamped version of the AdWords location targeting feature in November last year. This allows areas to be excluded, for instance “the UK but not Wales”, and permits multiple targeting such as “UK and English-speaking cities in Europe”. A spokesman for the search engine says: “We are constantly working to improve the accuracy of local targeting. Advertisers can now draw desired target areas onto an integrated map, allowing them to target ads to a ten-mile radius and aim for individual towns, cities or even continents if they choose.”
Even so, some are looking to social network sites to provide the greatest geo-targeting opportunities as they hold a lot of specific information about users, including geographical locations that can be discovered through the user groups they belong to.
VCCP’s Mead is optimistic about the prospects. “Small and medium-sized businesses are really starting to grow in search, the potential of that market is enormous,” he says. “Think of the ad revenues of Yellow Pages moving to Google AdWords and Facebook applications. When a business sets up a Facebook page, it allows it to say who they want to target and how much it pays per click. You can select age, range and location. Facebook is very good from a regional or local targeting perspective.”
Searching for pizza
That said, others believe the biggest opportunity for geo-targetinglies in mobile search. One attraction is that it will be possible for amobile phone network to find out where a user is located within a few yards, providing the user gives permission for that information tobe accessed. If the user then searches for, say, pizzas, the network’ssearch engine would be able to provide the names of the nearest local pizza restaurants.
Paul Doleman of Spannerworks, which is being renamed iCrossing after its acquisition by the US company last year, sees a massive opportunity for local targeting through mobile devices, and believes this will take off over the coming year. “As we all share our computers, you can never be sure who exactly is searching on Google. But a mobile is a very personal device, you don’t tend to share it. There is a lot more information mobile users can give to advertisers and the networks can pin them down to exactly where they’re searching from.”
He acknowledges that there has long been talk about the possibilities of mobile search, but the technology has not taken off because it is slow and clunky. Mobile networks refuse to reveal the level of Web searches they carry, he says, because they are so low. He estimates that only 1% of total searches are carried out via mobiles.
However, Doleman adds: “People have talked about the year of mobile search for the past five years – but 2008 absolutely will be,” he says. Doleman points to a confluence of factors which are contributing to this, such as the launch of Blyk, last year, offering free calls and texts to people who agree to take advertising on their mobiles, and the launch of the iPhone, which, although not 3G-enabled, has created a huge buzz in the market. Meanwhile, practically every other new mobile phone being sold is 3G-enabled. “There are a range of factors converging to make this a year of significant uptake,” he says.
Targeting by geography may still be in its infancy, but, if search engines and social networking sites find a way of narrowing down their understanding of customers to the micro level, it could provide a huge boost for small and medium-sized businesses. It would, in effect, be a version of Yellow Pages on the Web.
According to Chris Seth, European managing director of social networking site for 13- to 16-year-olds Piczo, geo-targeting will one day be a major force for social media. “We don’t think there is an awful lot of demand from the market, but I think it will happen. In the same way search has revolutionised what small and medium-sized enterprises have been able to do, with owner-operated businesses that did not advertise before because it was hard to measure, so social media has the same opportunity.”
On Piczo, users often list their postcodes on their profile pages, allowing a club night organiser, for instance, to target people in a local area. Seth adds: “What’s interesting is the combination of self-completed data with psychographic data, so we are able to target through the content that people put on their profile.For example, in the case of someone organising a grunge club night, it would be possible to target people in certain postcodes with grunge music on their profiles.”
Rebecca Ward, head of digital at Equi=Media, says geo-targeting is especially effective for small brands on tight budgets as it allows accurate targeting of limited areas. But she adds: “Large organisations can also use it to their advantage. Sites like Facebook already allow people to opt into regional networks that can create a word-of-mouth buzz. It also helps bigger corporations soften their messages and appear more personal to their customers.”
But there are other possibilities for local targeting opening up which could provide a boost for small businesses. Mark Tomblin, strategy director at Web agency TBG London, thinks one of the biggest opportunities for small businesses to target people locally will be through regional newspaper websites. “I have been struck by the fact that these sites are turning into mini TV stations. The marginal cost of sending out a reporter with a TV camera is dropping and you’re getting an extraordinary growth of Web-based newspaper TV stations. This is of great interest to regional advertisers. The cost of production of video commercials is as low as it has ever been, so you are going to start seeing more people using video who haven’t used it before on regional newspaper websites,” he says.
It seems incredible that justa year ago, most people had never even heard of Facebook. To some, this might suggest that its popularity is a temporary trend that could easily fade away, in the same way Friends Reunited did in theearly part of the decade. But such social networking sites have laid the foundations for some seismic shifts in the way brands are promoted through new media.
Brands have conducted a series of experiments and dummy runs on social media, for both brand building and to influence search campaigns, and there has been success and failure in equal measure. There will, no doubt, be more blunders and mistakes, and some brands might prefer to hang back and wait to learn from their rivals’ mishaps, rather than risk taking the plunge themselves.
This has left many brand owners scratching their heads and trying to work out the best ways to make use of social media as part of the search mix. Spannerworks head of content and media Antony Mayfield says that last year there were numerous attempts by brands to exploit social media. His agency works hard with brands to help them understand how social media can be used effectively to help support search campaigns, but points to their power as a channel in their own right to reach consumers.
Mayfield praises H&M’s Facebook page where users can upload photos of their faces onto a model then try on different clothes. And he is impressed by the NSPCC’s use of social network sites Bebo, Habbo and Piczo to promote its “Don’t hide it campaign”, which encourages children to report abuse. The charity created tools to make “Don’t hide it” badges for children to download and display on their own sites. However, he is less enamoured with Sony’s MySpace page for Vaio users, which he says displays a lack of understanding about what motivates people on social network sites.
Mayfield believes Bebo is a good example of what social networking can achieve. “They are very respectful of their responsibilities towards their users. That is a principle that Facebook could learn from, putting the users first. It is about marketing for people, rather than marketing to people. Ask not what online networks can do for your brand, but what you can do for them. Then you will reap benefits.”
This may also go some way to unravelling the conundrum of social networking sites. They may be incredibly popular with some of the most important consumers around, especially young, well-off professionals, but they seem resistant to many of the blandishments of advertising.
One example of a small business using a social networking site to put tself on the map is the Illicit Still pub in Edinburgh, which has been refurbished, relaunched and restaffed using the pages of social networking site Facebook. The bar chronicled its recent overhaul through a page on the site, and spread the word about its relaunch among Facebook users living in the area.
As part-owner Brian Cunningham explains, invitations to become friends on the pub’s profile page were sent to Facebook members living in the Toll Cross area of the city who had included addresses on their own Facebook profiles. The site allows such levels of targeting, though it does not reveal the exact addresses of users.
Many of the residents replied and the pub attracted more than 180 friends, many of whom became regular customers. They have been sent information about events such as live music nights at the pub. The local rugby club got in touch via the social networking site and now uses the pub for meetings. Cunningham says: “Many people see Facebook as a bit of fun, but it is also great for local businesses. It was something of an experiment, as we hadn’t heard of anyone else doing this sort of thing. We are trying to be a local pub with traditional values, and we find the site keeps us in touch with locals. The best thing is, it is absolutely free.
Unexpected ways of using social networking sites to promote brands are more than likely to arise. Local targeting could turn out to be an unforeseen consequence of the rise in social media – just ask the locals at the Illicit Still.
David Benady is a contributing editor at Marketing Week