The evolution of search

Nick%20JonesWith the pressure on, marketers need to safeguard their budgets, and search-engine marketing is the perfect way to demonstarte accountability for their results. By Nick Jones.

The business climate is extraordinarily tough right now and there is massive pressure on the consumer pound. Competition for sales has never been fiercer and companies are scrutinising return on investment (ROI), cost-per-order (CPO) and cost-per-action (CPA) as never before, so marketers need to safeguard their marketing budgets against further cuts.

The fundamental principles of search-engine marketing mean that both disciplines – paid and natural search-engine marketing – are highly analytical in their approach and therefore highly accountable for all results.

Every click can be tracked to the resulting sale or sign-up, and it is clear to see, through a number of techniques, what elements of the campaign are driving its success.

Employing basic paid-search strategies will no longer satisfy the ROI needed to grow and maintain marketing budgets.

Today, search-engine marketers need to analyse all aspects of their campaign andkeep up to date with developments in technology, while providing actionable insights and strategies to drive search marketing campaigns forward in this increasingly competitive medium.

I%20SpyMaking your PPC budget work harder
In a paid-search campaign, a single click can no longer offer much value to a brand. Analysing the customer behind the click and their actual journey to sale will mean you can justifiably grow your search campaign in this increasingly expensive medium. By looking at the buyer decision-making process, it is clear that consumers carry out research first with highly generic and costly search terms, and generally come back to purchase using brand terms. This means that while expensive, generic keywords are playing a vital part in the research phase of a purchase, on paper they deliver a low ROI because they do not receive correct credit for the conversions.

Any new campaign tactic will ideally be subject to a vigorous testing and optimisation plan that will be ongoing throughout the year. As part of this testing plan, it is essential that organisations advance to using multivariate testing in place of traditional A/B testing. Here, every single element of the user experience, from click to sale, can be tested to determine the ‘best fit’.

Bid management has also made some big advances. As with landing pages, bid changes should never be looked at and adjusted in isolation. Bid management should now be viewed as quality score management. Here, all elements that affect the quality score of the campaign (keyword, ad copy and landing page), need to be analysed and adjusted, instead of simply altering maximum cost-per-clicks (CPCs). Relevancy is now the key driver and, if all elements in your campaign are highly relevant to the search term, you will pay a lower CPC.

In-depth competitor analysis can go some way to shedding light on your competitors’ bidding activity, and useful tools can be implemented to monitor your competitors’ behaviour. These tools are already widely used, but it is the analysis and application of strategy as a result of the data that will keep you one step ahead.

Advanced SEO techniques in practice
While tactics for paid search campaigns can offer a fast, immediate solution to improving the number of visits and conversion on your site, search-engine optimisation (SEO) takes more time to build vital key positions and improve the overall ranking of your site. However, neither should be looked at in isolation, and as paid-search campaigns have developed, so too have SEO capabilities and methodology.

SEO has steadily evolved over time so that techniques applicable two or three years ago are no longer effective. Perhaps the area that has seen the most significant change is link building. Previously it was simply a case of submitting links to a handful of directories, requesting reciprocal link deals from key sites, while also paying other highly ranked pages for a link. However, site owners now have to be extremely careful about the quality of links to their sites. This is increasingly important in order to avoid any poor link neighbourhoods or link buying, which is now considered a black-hat practice.

Today, the practice of link building focuses on ‘natural link building’. The most effective method of building quality links involves creating stories that are newsworthy or by having a content-rich site so that other websites naturally want to link to you.

Blogs are also another way that businesses can create more interesting, non-commercial content that is much easier to build links to, as opposed to the main commercial website. The blog can then be linked to the main site to pass on the link equity.

On-page optimisation is also evolving. Harnessing user-generated content is one of the most important ways to create interesting, engaging and unique content that puts your site in favour with the search engines. However, increasing user-generated content can have its downsides when it’s outside the control of the brand owner. A growing number of businesses are facing a reputation management challenge to reduce the effect of negative comment on other websites reviewing their product or service.

It’s not all about on-page copy now either. Universal search has given web owners the ability to get all kinds of content appearing on the first page of Google. From images , to map listings, to videos and books, there is a whole range of ways to drive traffic to your website.

Integration with other media
All these tactics will help to maximise the ROI of your search campaign. However, if search marketing tactics are not leveraging other online and offline media activity, it is unlikely your campaigns are working to their full potential. Search marketing messages and scheduling need to be synchronised with any other media to ensure a consistent brand offering and identity. Using the paid-search channel, day parting can be used to push bids to support offline media scheduling and meet the demand that TV, radio or print will drive online. Similarly, key phrases from offline media can be optimised for natural search results to gain traffic from longer tail, less competitive keywords.

In uncertain times, when marketing has to generate a good ROI, a holistic approach to search-engine marketing, utilising the latest tactics and features available, will offer the most robust solution for any marketing budget allocation. This will keep you, the board and your customers satisfied during the tough times to come and help your organisation ride out the economic storm. 

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