The Importance of Intelligent Site Search Function

Due to the increased functionality of search engines over the years, customers today have high expectations for the search results that appear within eCommerce sites. While on sits, customers expect to find exactly what they’re looking for and in a timely fashion.  The better they’re able to, the more likely they’ll convert. There is nothing worse then typing in a search query, to only discover the dreaded words: “No results found.” This is not only annoying to the user, but also detrimental to site owner; as no search results often pushes potential customers to shop competitors and sales are lost. For this reason, intelligent site search function is probably one of the most important components to increase sales or improved eCommerce success. So how can you ensure that our site search is optimized to where customers receive the best experience possible and find what their looking for? For starters, let’s discuss two common occurrences which are known for delivering those pesky no-results found pages.

According to many resources I’ve read, user misspelling is often the primary cause of no search results pages on eCommerce. Second to misspelling, comes over-constraining typically occurs. In brief, over-constraining is typing too many keywords within a search query.  To mitigate these two common occurrences, a robust partial match strategy should be implemented.

Partial match strategy is essentially a piece of a users search query that matches what is available online.  For example, if a customer types, “women’s size 8 tan ice skates”, the site output will show “women’s size 8 tan ice skates“. This is similar to Google, which bolds the relevant keywords on their SERP. Incorporating a robust partial match strategy into your eCommerce site is essential, because it often times keeps a user engaged on your site, even when a search attempt fails; for example, when zero matches populate. Often times what people initially search for, isn’t always what they end up at the checkout with.  A partial match strategy offers you the opportunity to show your visitors not what you can’t offer them, but, what you can.

Second to developing a partial match strategy, I’d also look into a search function known as partial match or auto suggest. This feature will speed up the process of search while also showing the visitor a full range of what your website offers. For example, if a user has the intent to search for Bobbi Brown lipstick, the moment they start to type Bobbi, a list of all product titles beginning with “Bobbi” will populate in a window below the search bar.  This auto suggest is basically partially matching the users search without the need to put on display the omitted keywords (as in the case with “size 8 tan” in the example above) that weren’t available.  Additionally, an added benefit is this feature will reduce the number of misspelled searches which deliver a no search results found page drastically.

Although this is just a taste of what comprises of an intelligent site search function, it is a start.  eCommerce sites today need a robust site search strategy because it means better usability; translating into increased sales, in addition to, higher conversion rates, increased site usage, positive customer experience, retention and loyalty, and finally, improved branding.

 

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Our Connected World & the Exponential Growth of Data

Today, American homes have more internet-connected devices than people. (NPD)

As the number of devices are expeditiously increasing, so too are the technological convergences they provide.  The tendency to use different technological systems (such as voice, data, and video) have become streamlined to interact with each other synergistically.  Through this technological advancement of connectivity, we have found that these global, industry agnostic solutions are altering the way our world works, lives, and operates.  The Financial Times states, “everything today is becoming more smart,” and righteously so.  Daniel Thomas, telecoms correspondent reports this for a FT video from the 2013 Mobile World Conference in Barcelona. 

As our devices are becoming more seamless, so must our marketing strategies.  The way we measure, monitor, and determine the success or failure of our marketing efforts has become a more complicated task than ever before.  We are being bombarded with the words, “big data”.  It’s hugely active, relevant, and wide spread.  According to a study from IBM in 2011, today we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data.  This is so much that 90 percent of the world’s data has been created in the last two years alone.  Think on what it must be today, in 2013?!

The difficulty we face is how do we analyze these massive quantities of data?  David Lewan VP of Sales Operations at ForeSee recently said, “you can’t monitor something you don’t measure,” – and he’s right.   We ask ourselves, how are we, Data Driven Marketers, going to break the topic of big data down to manageable, bite size pieces?  – Pieces that will point us in the direction to properly gain customer-centric insights that will improve our strategies and the way we do business to ultimately strengthen our businesses for our customers.

Some say that the smart integration of data, “requires a multi-pronged approach that aligns technology, company teams, and the various channels, then data to work toward common marketing goals,” (Media Postand perhaps they are right.  But either way, as we are advancing into the future and the data explosion continues to boom, we must become more prepared.

In a study conducted by IBM, when asked, “how prepared they were to manage the impact of the top 5 market factors that will have the most impact on your marketing organization over the next 3-5 years,” more than 1,700 chief marketing officers, spanning 19 industries and 64 countries 71% felt the most underprepared to handle the data explosion.  This was the highest concern of all predicted market changes surveyed.

IBM Institute for Business Value
IBM Institute for Business Value

 

Forbes among many other resources are reporting that programs such as SAS make data analytics more useful.  As it is, data analysts are needed and are in extremely high demand.  One can only predict what will continue to become become in higher demand as our technological capabilities continue to explode.

So, for those interactive marketers who have not jumped on board the big data bandwagon, I ask you – what are you waiting for?

UMSL State of Digital Media Marketing Conference 2013

“Consumers are changing the way they communicate with and research brands. Brands are changing the way they promote and engage with consumers. We are embracing digital technologies to communicate in ways that were inconceivable just a few short years ago. We have shifted our attention from traditional media marketing to internet, wireless devices and other digital platforms…”

Today, April 2nd at 1-5PM (2PM EST) a live conference, “State of Digital Media Marketing” will be taking place.  Professionals from Google, Yahoo, IBM, Nielsen, Forsee, Nickelodeon, and many large agencies such as (Momentum, Twist, Fleishman-Hillard, + many others) will be speaking.

It is being held at UMSL, and was organized by a very knowledgeable and talented professor of mine Perry Drake.

The conference is currently sold out.  However, lucky for us, the conference will be streamed via the web live here.

“This half day conference will help you understand the latest digital trends that are shaping the future, how mobiles third screen is redefining the consumer experience, why search continues to play a large role in the marketing mix, how we are trying to understand and do better at measuring campaign attribution, ecommerce solutions being developed for a less “siloed” and more seamless customer experience across touch points, the changing role of the marketer in this new world of data, software and metrics, and last but certainly not least privacy issues and if we are succeeding at satisfying the FTC.”

Be sure to check it out today.  You can also join the conversation #umsldigital

Path Interactive’s Quick Guide to SEO

SEO Infographic

For those of you who are just getting familiar with SEO or just looking to re-fresh their skills – I thought this infographic might be of interest.  It was first given to me last year after taking a SEO information packed course at NYU.  Michael Coppola, the CEO of Path Interactive-NYC and an adjunct professor at NYU taught the course.  Path Interactive is a Digital Marketing Agency located in New York City.  They have done Search Engine Marketing and SEO for large companies such as Zagat, Adweek, Billboard, and one of my favorites, Birchbox.

A Video: TED Talks from Rohit Bhargava – Reinventing Marketing

Huge fan of this video. Rohit Bhargava is a marketing expert, professor (Global Marketing, Georgetown University, and founder of the Influential Marketing Group. Here he talks on Reinventing Marketing.  Like it, share it, re-tell it, market it.

PPC and the Negative Keyword

In the world of PPC (pay-per-click) negative keywords are often overlooked.  However today, being that everyone is buying-in to the market (with the exception of big brands such as amazon, who don’t need to rely PPC advertising) it can get pretty expensive.  The negative keywords you choose are just as important as the positive keywords you bid on.  In today’s world effective advertising is all about targeting the consumer.    But not just any consumer.  The right ones.  So, unless you work out a plan for managing negative keywords you could easily find yourself penniless when running PPC campaigns.

Negative Keyword Discovered

Negative keywords help advertisers (like you, or me, or anyone else who is using Google Adwords) filter out unwanted traffic.  So you might ask, isn’t traffic a good thing?  Well, yeah for the most part – it is.  But like anything in life – there are exceptions.  In Adwords, a negative keyword is marked with a minus sign at the start of the word.  For example, -blue -[blue], or -“blue” are all considered negative keywords.  Just like regular keywords, negative keywords can also use three match types.  For more on these, take a look here.

But for the purpose of keeping this post simple and to the point, let me digress – not all traffic is a good thing.  Especially, if you are having to pay for that traffic and likelihood of having a visitor bounce off of your site is at like 100%.  So, this is where negative keywords come in…

I’ll use a super simple example:

Say Sam has a flower shop.  It’s a small shop and he only carries a few flowers (say, roses and daisies).  Some flower shop, eh?  Well, Sam makes an Adwords campaign and uses the positive keyword flowers (broad match type).  Joe, a possible consumer opens Google and is looking for flowers for his girlfriend.  But Joe’s not looking for just any flowers. He’s looking specifically for international flowers.  (His lady likes them).  And so, one afternoon, Joe visits Google’s browser and types international flowers into the search query box.  At a drop of a hat, Sam’s ad pops up and Joe clicks on the ad.  Is it a win for Sam the flower shop man?

Well, unless Joe decided to settle and not buy the international flowers…

With just one quick glance at Sam’s website – he doesn’t find what he’s looking for.  Joe leaves Sam’s website and performs his search again.  This time Joe finds an ad that specifically says international flowers.  He clicks on the new ad, finds what he’s looking for, and his girlfriend is happy.

Sam on the other hand, is not.  He just had to pay a dollar for the broad match keyword flowers and has found he keeps getting clicks but no sales (conversions).  Had Sam known about the negative keyword option – he could have saved quite a bit of money.

So let me reiterate, if you’re paying for traffic – don’t only pay attention to positive keywords.  The earlier you start managing negative keywords, the better your ad campaign will perform.  The better your ad campaign performs, the more conversions you will get.  It’s a win win with a negative keyword.

Where is YOUR Google Analytics Tracking Code?

The Google Analytics Asynchronous Tracking Code, where should you put it on your site?  Well, for starters lets have a look by checking out Google’s official recommendation for web developers…

The Analytics snippet is a small piece of JavaScript code that you paste into your pages.  It activates Google Analytics tracking by inserting ga.js into the page.  To use this on your pages, copy the code snipped below, replacing UA-XXXXX-X with your web property ID.  Paste this snippet into your website template page so that it appears before the closing tag.

Google Analytics Tracking Code

Right… so regardless of what Google’s official recommendation is – huge websites for really large companies seem to still have  (inserting a tracking code at the bottom of a page was once Google’s recommendation a long time ago) their tracking code at the bottom of the page.

Take Allure as an example.  (Open up Google Browser, At the top of the page click on the tool icon, highlight tools, click on view source, and then ctrl +f and search for Google).  Their tracking code is at the bottom of the page!

You see it?  Ok, let’s hope you do.

Anyways, what I find pretty surprising is how a large, high powered company (and there are many) such as Allure wouldn’t currently be using Google’s best practices.  Especially, when proper placement tracking code would be in their best interest.

Let’s take or Allure again for example.  When you visit the site, one can see that Allure.com features advertisements.  Some of these are from  DoubleClick (a subsidiary of Google which develops and provides Internet ad serving agencies).

So here we go… I think I’m ready to explain this…

So, say Allure.com runs a banner ad at the very top of their website.  And say, Allure has content on their site below the banner ad (such as a rich media file) that takes a long time to load (say 10 seconds or so) and the visitor to the site gets impatient and exits the site.  At this point in time, it is possible that because the tracking code was placed at the BOTTOM of the page, the tracking code did not load and thus, it was not able to count the visit.  However, while Allure.com was not aware that there was even a visitor on the page – the ad from DoubleClick was still served and received an impression.  This information would be valuable to a publisher.  Especially when they are getting paid for these Ad’s to be displayed.  Right?  Profit is in the numbers and it doesn’t hurt to make them as accurate as possible.

So, that’s my point on why it’s important.  Here’s a bit of a brief history on the new vs old code:

Google once had a non-Asyhchronous (aka: traditional) tracking code (prior to the 1st of December 2009), which was to be placed at the bottom of the page.  (As I mentioned above, they’re now recommending users to put the code into the portion of the code (the top of the page).   The non-Asyhchronous code essentially operated as any basic JavaScript code (think line by line).  So, with this – if Google code was placed at the top of a page and Google took 8 seconds to send that tracking code out it would take your site already +8 seconds before the actual website content could load for the viewer.  However, with the new Asychronous tracking code it no longer has to complete line one before taking on line two.  With the Asychronous code, multiple lines can be read at the same time.  (Keeping in mind cases like the Allure/DoubleClick example can sometimes occur).  Another perk of the new code is that it is served from your Cache (so it’s downloaded only once from Google and saved on your computer) – this also helps the code load much faster.

So, even if you are not using Ad serving agencies; from an SEO perspective, with Google organic search now penalizing websites with a slower load time, it’s important to keep your site running up to speed (if you want to remain at the top of that SERP).  Additionally, for those of you using Adwords the new code is also said to lead to a 100% accuracy in tracking data.

So, for those using the traditional code, I suggest jumping on board with the new.  (Though funny enough, spy on my source code, and you’ll see I’m missing Google Analytics entirely) I probably need to get on that in 13′.

Tis’ the Season… to get Scroogled or Binged?!

Online shopping is becoming more prevalent than ever before.  According to Google, 80% of holiday shoppers will research online prior to making a purchase this season.  Research will begin with leading search engines and according to comScore’s November Explicit Core Search Report – approximately 69.4 percent of organic search results are from Google.  Coming in second, was Microsoft’s Bing with 25.4 percent of searches powered by Bing.  The rest of the search engines are rather insignificant.  So, while Google and Bing aren’t neck and neck, they seem to be the consumer’s search engines of choice and in turn will be most used to aid in holiday shopping.

Which brings me to Scroogled.  Yes, that’s right:

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A campaign recently launched by Bing to educate the average consumer about what Google has done with their shopping site.  To get a general idea – check out: T’was the story of Scroogled and Are you getting Scroogled?

Here Bing is essentially attacking Google over its shift to a pay-to-play shopping search model.  With a start of October 17th merchants had no other choice but to pay in order to “play” or appear in the search engine within the US (said to go international to select countries in February 2013).  Payment is decided upon the number of clicks and the amount the merchant is willing to pay for a click.  So, if a merchant is bidding a higher amount, the ad (yes ad) is more likely to appear first on the SERP (assuming that the keywords are relevant to the search query).  But what if the merchant is not bidding at all?

Which is exactly what Scroogled is all about and what the concerns were back in May 2012 when Google announced it’s paid inclusion shopping model.

Questions arose such as:  If all merchants weren’t bidding then weren’t shopping results going to be skewed?  Is there suddenly a bias to Google search engine results pages?  Would merchants have to increase the product price to make up for the new pay-to-play model?  And what about previous comments made by Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page?

“In general, it could be argued from the consumer point of view that the better the search engine is, the fewer advertisements will be needed for the consumer to find what they want.”

“Furthermore, advertising income often provides an incentive to provide poor quality search results.”

Not to mention that later, many found that Google shopping did not increase the user experience as origionaly promised but seemed to become one giant mess.

So, essentially what I am getting at here – is it’s not really a big surprise that Bing decided to jump on this opportunity to knock Google.  The reality of Bing’s Scroogled campaign however, is that Bing isn’t in the right either.  The truth is, Bing hardly has the right to be lecturing Google about poor disclosure and it’s pay-to-play policy.  In fact, Bing gets it’s own shopping search products from shopping.com and in order to be listed on shopping.com the merchant must agree to pay.  So is Bing actually much better than Google?

You decide.  In the mean time, good luck with your holiday shopping.

The Benefit of SEO Friendly URL’s with Longtail Keywords

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So for months upon months the small company I’ve been working for has pulled pounds of dough out of their bottom line in hopes of pumping it into their top line.  For a small company, we’ve dished out quite a large sum month after month in hopes of increasing our organic search presence on SERP’s (search engine results pages).  While this is all good and dandy, when you’re not seeing a great return on investment after patiently waiting for months (it’s already been 3+ months – traditionally the minimum amount of time to see SEO improvements) it can be pretty frustrating.

You ask yourself, do sit back and wait a bit longer as the agency suggested?  Or should I start digging around myself?

I say, if you see an opportunity that the SEO’s haven’t touched and you know what your doing then go for it.

So check it out.  See the image above?  Essentially, month over month of seeing no no organic search impression pick-up – we were able to boost our organic query impressions by 53.85% ( and clicks 88.89%) by working on creating more seo friendly URL’s for our product pages.  This was done with a bit of keyword research and cleaning the links up (so, say, taking out the weird symbols like % and replacing them with dashes) and also with a bit of keyword research.  Keyword research was done with the focus of longtail keywords.  Essentially, pairing a highly competitive keyword with a lower searched volume keyword in an effort to create a longtail keyword.  In terms of SEO longtail keywords are magical.

(My one bit of advice is check out the part of the URL you are changing – especially if you work in a content management system.  You want to make sure that the old links that your making a new are not going to be broken.  So when someone searches your website before the new links have been indexed, they click on the link (that takes them to the old link) and it’s no longer there.  (Which is seen as a no-go in the eyes of Google).  So in this case, a 301 redirect will come in handy.)