Communicating Search Success

  |  December 7, 2009   |  Comments

Juggling the expectations of senior managers from different departments isn't easy. To grow your practice, see search as others see it.

You certainly have your hands full. You track enough keywords to fill five dictionaries. You juggle budgets that fluctuate more than a healthcare bill in Congress. You drive people to landing pages designed either by an agency addicted to winning awards, a freelancer with only a passing knowledge of the English language, or a multivariate testing tool programmed to act like an infinite number of monkeys.

You try to please marketing directors, product managers, public relations supervisors, advertising executives, new media marketing mavens, and the CMO. You do your best to shut down your laptop before midnight.

Amidst all the demands, the deadlines, and the dread that you'll never have enough tools or people to really do your job, it's understandable that you tend to focus on those things over which you have direct control:

  • Keywords searched
  • Key phrases searched
  • Search results position
  • Links clicked
  • Ads displayed
  • Ads clicked
  • Landing pages served
  • Landing pages seen
  • Landing page engagement

But the more you explain what you do to those around you, the more you talk about click ratios and differential keyword traffic generation, the less time senior executives seem to have for you, the less attention you get for your team, and the harder it is to get more resources.

The most important metric of all routinely gets pushed to the bottom of your priority stack: business outcomes. The key is to start looking at things from the other end of the spectrum. It's time to start at the ultimate business objective and work top-down.

Start at the Top and Tailor Your Message

The business objectives that matter are connected directly to profits. Clearly, the search-specific metrics listed earlier are profit divers, but they're exclusively the language of the search professional. And as a metric, profits are crucial, central, and fundamental to business -- but are not directly controllable.

When talking with, working with, or simply reporting to senior managers, stick to the language they know. The secret to success here is that the language they know is different from company to company and from executive to executive.

Those in advertising or with a Madison Avenue background still want to talk about eyeballs. They want the raw numbers of reach and frequency. They want to know if search is the best way to get the word out to the masses or if they should push even more dollars into television or fire up that old direct mail machine.

Sales-oriented individuals want to know about the cost and quality of leads. You can get a billion people to show up on a landing page because you have this minute's hot YouTube sensation. Good for you, but so what? They want to know if any of them are leads worthy of the sales representatives' efforts and how much each one of them costs.

Customer-centric types are somewhat interested in the number of contact center calls you helped avoid, but they will be delighted that your work has improved customer satisfaction. Yes, that's right. You are expected to do such a great job at search optimization that prospective customers routinely say information on the company Web site is easy to find. What's that? You didn't know you were in the satisfaction business? You didn't think that measuring customer satisfaction was important? It is if you want to communicate in terms that senior managers already understand.

If you live in an e-commerce world, your task is deceptively simple: Deliver the sales. Ring that cash register. Bring in the orders. But the people managing the shopping cart are well aware of tweaking the persuasion process and segmenting it by lead source right down to the keyword level. That means they expect you to be well aware as well. They want to know what the searcher searched for, what he clicked on, how long he stayed, whether he came back, and more. Yes, you are going to have to get to know Web analytics better.

Oh, and don't forget about those image managing, media manipulating, spin doctoring people in the PR department. They want to hear how their press releases are impacting site traffic. They want to talk view-through just like the advertising managers. Everybody wants credit.

Find Out What They Need

Your best defense is a strong offense. Don't wait for them to beat down your door with specific requests. Instead, expect them to show up, unannounced, at the most inconvenient times and ask the most off-the-wall, ill-considered, and senseless questions that need answers yesterday. So be proactive. Take them to lunch.

When you've got your colleagues or clients in a relaxed, non-meeting, non-political environment, do not ask them what they want. Given the choice between A, B, or C, they will, in all sincerity, tell you, "Yes, all of them. Thank you."

Instead, ask them what they are trying to accomplish. Get them to talk about their business goals, and then go for the gold: Ask them how their boss is evaluated. If you can help your fellow diner make his or her boss look good, you will make a friend for life, make the company successful, and make yourself indispensable. That's golden, but it's not the end of the story.

Deliver the Goods

People consume information in a variety of ways. Some read spreadsheets at a glance. Some can look at a chart and intuitively grasp the relationships between elements and spot dangers and opportunities by shape and color. Others absorb information best by reading a couple of paragraphs.

Until you know how each of your internal customers consumes information -- and their supervisors -- your best bet is to deliver reports that include a:

  • Spreadsheet
  • Graph or chart
  • Couple of paragraphs of insight
  • List of three or four bullet points

Make sure that each of these elements only delves down into a few issues. Overwhelm executives with data, and they will take you off their Christmas card list. Don't give them data -- give them an analysis.

That "insights" item above is the kicker. They want your opinion. The rest of the report is there to back up your perspective. You, after all, are the expert. Tell them what the numbers are -- by all means. But then be sure to tell them what the numbers mean and what they might do about it.

Give them an opinion, a frame of reference, and some options, and they will reward you with more tools and more people. Someday, you'll amass enough to find yourself turning off your laptop before dinner. Stranger things have been known to happen.

This was originally published December 2009 in SES Magazine.

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Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne is an international consultant who focuses on measuring the value of the Web as a medium for creating and strengthening customer relationships. Sterne has written eight books on using the Internet for marketing, is the founding president and current chairman of the Digital Analytics Association and produces the eMetrics Summit and the Media Analytics Summit.

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