Objective of This Paper
Online marketing technologies, ranging from search engine to social networking site and microblogging have given marketers a powerful mix of online channels to reach their target audience with accuracy and influence. The shift from push-based to pull-based promotion and then evolving into a direct consumer-to-consumer communications has created a new promise of marketing satisfaction. At the same time, new knowledge and practice are required for managing such new marketing mix for better execution, and most importantly, more accurate measurement in a marketing plan result.
To use China as the background market, this paper is written mainly to introduce a best practice for search and social marketing integration. It will explore the basics of how to engage target audience using search engines as well as how to tap into the growing number of conversations and consumer influence over the social media.
Shortcomings of the Online Marketing Practice in China
Data is always the center of an online marketing strategy. In fact, the planning process of such a strategy can be as scientific as solving a mathematic equation.
Unfortunately, most of the public information available in China to assist online marketing planning is largely about market share of the media, which in my opinion is the least relevant for making a marketing plan. Does a search engine in China that has over 80 percent market share mean its effectiveness is equally over 80 percent? Or does a social networking site that possesses the largest user base mean the word-of-mouth influence is good for all products? The answers are negative for both.
So, does valuable information exist in China? How can we find it? As a matter of fact, there are different kinds of analytics provided by quite a few big e-commerce websites in China. However, the user adoption of web analytics remains in a very basic level. Most of the advertising agencies or advertisers are only concern with clickstream and neglect the actionable analytics items such as Dimension (it allows you to understand how your visitors interacted with your website content or the attributes of your visitors) and Segment (it contains more than one dimension) on the marketing reports, which reveal another major shortcoming of online marketing in China: Insufficient understanding of data analytics.
Although Application Program Interface (API) is widely released by search engines and social media that enable third-party access to the media data, using API for marketing data mining probably will never be a common practice because the implementation will pose technical complexity for the advertisers as well as advertising agencies.
Search remains the number one online application in China with the user adoption rate of 81.9 percent (according to a Jan-2011 CNNIC report). Knowing their target audience search on the Internet every day, it's a no-brainer for marketers trying hard to engage them with "search." Indeed, an effective keyword marketing campaign can generate massive traffic or even sales to the advertisers' websites.
Nonetheless, an integrated marketing plan doesn't necessarily come to its end when visitors have acquired the product information or eventually made a purchase. Once a purchase is completed, the advertisers should start cultivating customer loyalty and listening to the customers' feedback. And this is the time when a social marketing plan should be in place.
It is noteworthy that if we make a comparison with conversion funnel of search marketing and social marketing, you will notice that the conversion funnel of search marketing is a funnel-shape reversed triangle, while the social marketing's is an upright triangle.
Why are the two different? It is because the circumstances of one's conversion funnel is dissimilar to the other's from engagement to the goal. Since the goal of search marketing is to look for new conversions, it must reach as many target audience as possible (reversed triangle). Social marketing, on the other hand, aims at cultivating customer loyalty and attracting repeated customers. The size of the target audience being aimed at initially is smaller than that of search marketing, but after word-of-mouth and amplification, the number of target audience will expand (upright triangle). Without prior strategic planning, marketers might have created two separated marketing plans instead of an integrated one. It not only misses the benefit of continuity, but also wastes marketing budget.
How Search can be integrated into Social
Search marketing is not about how many people are searching; it is about how much information people can find with value. Generally there are two ways to execute search marketing campaign: The first one is SEO, and the second one is SEM. In short, SEO needs much longer time to optimize the website for organic ranking, whilst SEM is a paid keyword advertising that brings traffic to the website instantly once the ad placement on the search engine starts. Both search marketing practices share common characteristics though: engage with relevancy first and then result clicks.
Social marketing, on the contrary, is not to get target audience to click, but to feel. In fact, marketers are able to know how their target audience feel about their product by observing audience's conversations via social media. They also can measure how a single conversation is broadcasted, amplified, and even spread all over the social space.
SEO and Social Integration
The most common search and social marketing integration that comes to a marketer's mind is to generate traffic to her website using social media. It usually involves posting a link in a message, such as a blog post, a short post on Weibo, or a message on the wall of a social networking site. In doing so, the links posted on social media might give marketers leverage to improve their site rank on search engines.
In the Western market, the SEO link bait tactic using social media has widely been discussed because search engines such as Google are picking social media content as a signal to evaluate the site rank. Nevertheless, any professional SEO should tell you that whether or not your site will benefit from establishing a link in social media is subject to the hyperlink attribute setup determined by the social networking site.
For example, if a social networking site, which you have added a link to your website, has set up the hyperlink attribute as "NoFollow," even if the link to your website is picked up by the search engine, the link will not be processed as a factor that affects your site rank.
In China, using link leverage of social media to benefit SEO is even more impractical because many social networking sites do not share any content with the search engines.
Here are some examples:
Renren.com has the following setup in its Robots.txt (a web server file setup to prevent web spiders and other web robots from accessing all or part of a website content):
Kaixin001.com also has a similar setting:
Although Sina Webo has not set up a strict policy in its Robots.txt, its entire outbound links are going through the URL shortener that will not pass any link value.
That simply says placing a link on these China's leading social media for SEO will not be very effective. Marketers should merely expect leverage for a more conventional PR exposure instead of a search engine algorithmic value.
SEM and Social Marketing Integration
As for the SEM and Social Marketing integration, connecting your paid search keyword advertising with the social media is not as direct as posting a link in social media for SEO. You must do it indirectly through your website.
Before making an integrated framework, let's examine the key attributes of search and social marketing first:
In this session I will provide you with a top-line strategy according to the above attributes.
Search is always the starting point and relevancy produces clicks
First of all, I suggest you to take the social context into the keyword research once you start doing research for your search keyword campaign. It will facilitate your content creation of your website as well.
When you study your keywords for paid advertising, don't rely solely on the search engine semantic data. You should also use external data such as product search data on E-commerce sites to understand how consumers search for products. In China, data on E-commerce sites is more valuable than on search engines because it reveals not only the search trend, but also the products that people have purchased and the conversion rate.
It is also important to use social media listening tool to create a list of keywords you can use to find and analyze conversations related to your business. Despite these social media listening tools generally cover most of the major social media, they won't cover the communities of specialized professions. A simple way to work around is to turn to your own web analytics. For instance, you can analyze the referring sites and find out what sites that your visitors went before landing on your website. Once you dive deeper, you may uncover the online communities that are most relevant to you. In addition, you may analyze the content of the referring sites and make better understanding of your audience's social context.
If you are doing B2B marketing, I advise you to pay more attention to the traffic report. Although the size of target audience of B2B is relatively smaller and will not produce many clicks, you may be able to explore potential business opportunities through the referrer on the report. It is because companies get on the Internet, especially foreign companies or overseas buyers, generally use private line with registered name. That means you can uncover the host name of the visitors and their locations from the report, which are very valuable to business development.
You will be able to create a proper keyword list and tone of the copy for your paid search advertising campaign that appeal to your audience through the above exercise.
Next, you should use the same keyword result to build a mini site tailored for the campaign where you can add social elements using the API that enables you to integrate the social media content and then add them into your own website. You can also provide social login to encourage the target audience to sign up using their social media account.
Social media makes listening easier and conversations produce spread
You may ask why you need to build a mini site just for a campaign. The answer is to induce your target audience's conversations and then listen to them. You should let your visitors to post messages to their social media account without leaving your campaign website. Since your visitors are still on your website, your analytics will tell you how they interacted with your content. With proper tracking plan, you will be able to listen and analyze your audience thoroughly.
Look forward to the future: A mature social marketing
Comparing with search marketing, social marketing is still an infant in the marketing world. Scientific methodology has yet fully developed for marketers to realize the value of social media traffic. To be frank, I even doubt how the so-called sentiment analytics works. Sentiment is a very complex issue that sometimes even we, human beings, cannot interpret accurately, not to mention machines!
The exponential growth of people using social media is indeed affecting the way we do marketing. When you know millions of your target audience are spending hours of their time on social media, you know you can't miss out social media in your marketing plan. Yet, search is still the highest influential channel for online purchase today.
Marketers' thirst for doing more aside from listening. Unfortunately, before a better methodology is developed, to combine search with social, leverage the scientific measurement of search marketing for a combined metrics to measure social marketing campaign is considered the best approach for our online marketing plan at the moment.
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Eddie is the founding partner of Frontiers Digital and the Executive Director of Milton Exhibits Group. Although Eddie studied classical theory of sociology in college and has a MBA, technology always has been a passion with him. He believes that a combination of technology and communication is what the modern marketing is heading towards in the future. Eddie is a member of Search Engine Strategies Global Advisory Board.