Attract, Engage, Convert: Focusing on Searcher Intent

Search marketing has created a unique opportunity to connect with potential customers. As marketers, we can guide those prospects through stages that we set. We educate visitors about our products and hopefully lead them to a conversion. Unfortunately, many advertisers and their agencies have become fat and lazy. They’ve taken the opportunities of search riches for granted — and are only achieving a sliver of what is possible.

Marketers need to move beyond just focusing on picking the right words, creating single action pages, and ranking No. 1, and put their efforts toward a deeper understanding of the real intent of the searcher.

When we understand the searcher’s intent — where a searcher is in the buying cycle or even the type of search he’s performing — advertisers can better intersect with the true needs of the prospect, resulting in significant increases in conversions.

In a perfect world, we would have a landing page for each keyword phrase to precisely match the searcher’s intent with highly relevant and engaging content. Unfortunately, we live in a world of limited resources, sites that match our company’s organization, and business rules inflexible to the laser-focused needs and interests of our search prospects. So, with ever-constrained resources, is it possible to start the process of matching interest to content without hiring a gaggle of offshore content wizards?

Decrease Bounce Rates for More Engagements

An advertiser’s failure to engage searchers with non-relevant content is demonstrated very clearly in the bounce rate reports available in site analytics. Your bounce rate represents the “one-click wonders” who come to your site only to click the back button and leave because you did not effectively engage them.

Various studies suggest the average search marketing programs have bounce rates well over 60 percent. Strangely, many advertisers are actually fine with that number when they should be devastated — or at least remotely curious — as to why less than 40 percent of those who clicked a targeted search listing are staying on their site and engaging further.

The most common problem is that the advertiser is bunching too many varied keywords into a single batch, pointing visitors to the same landing page and then expecting that page to magically meet the needs of a varied searcher community.

As an example, I encountered four paid search results with my Google query of “waterproof digital camera.” In two of four results, when clicked, I would expect to land on a page showing me waterproof digital cameras. When I clicked on the Target link, I went to a landing page that presented me with three cameras that were “special offers,” plus 14 additional digital cameras that were waterproof — mined from their product database.

When I clicked the Kmart link, I arrived at the home page for video games, with no obvious way to get to digital cameras. Data suggests that I would take three to eight seconds to realize I was in the wrong place and click back to the results page, never to be seen again.

If I were a marketer and reviewed my campaign in detail, I should see that a large percentage of people using these keyword variations are hitting the back button. While motivated, the searchers are not being engaged properly.

The other two listings in the example prove my point that advertisers can be lazy and do not effectively manage their campaigns.

The Home Depot “weatherproof” listing is inexcusable, and Sears is just lazy — which I don’t find surprising since they own Kmart, and I suspect the same agency is managing both programs.

Advertisers can fix this problem by better segmenting the keywords into smaller, more relevant categories.

Base these segments on refinement, considering buy cycle, branded and unbranded products, and feature keywords — all matched to landing page experiences that complement interest and intent.

I strongly suggest that you deploy strict landing page optimization best practices and closely match words to searcher intent. Then test different messaging options on them.

It’s understood that you won’t be able to do this for all of your words and pages, so segment those that are the most likely to convert, drive current sales goals, or have performed strongly in the past.

In the end, bounce rate can be a great diagnostic tool to measure relevance and how well we are connecting with our prospects.

It can work equally well as another agency performance metric to encourage improvement.

For marketers, a 10 percent decrease in bounces will result in significantly more opportunities to connect with high-quality traffic. Plus, you’ll realize value from click fee you paid to get them there.

Ask the Tough Questions and Employ Strict Standards

So far, we’ve discussed fairly obvious points: pick the right words, write enticing ad copy, and bring searchers to pages that engage and encourage conversions.

While it can be easy, far too many advertisers are not implementing the fundamentals to ensure they’re maximizing opportunities.

Advertisers who want to get the most out of search engine marketing (SEM) need to establish stricter measures of success for their campaigns and monitor them to ensure they’re capturing more of the right traffic and avoiding the wrong traffic.

So I challenge all marketers to take a few minutes and ask the hard questions about your campaigns: What are your bounce rates? Which are your poor performing words? You should even experiment and click on your ads.

You must fully evaluate the experience you are presenting to these high-quality, ripe-for-the-picking prospects, and see if the experience you are presenting is optimal.

SEM, unlike any other marketing activities, is changeable and scalable; it offers the single best returns on your advertising spend. The opportunities for significant conversions are there, but only to those who take the time to understand what searchers want and then engage them as they want to be engaged.

This was originally published December 2009 in

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