Does Your Web Site Stink?

How well does your site preserve the scent trails visitors follow?

Creating and preserving intentional scent trails on your site translates to improved ROI (define) for your paid and organic search terms.

Hot on a Scent

Every scent trail starts with a search.

A prospect types into the search box the search term she believes will give her the desired result. Then, she willfully follows the scent trail of that specific term from the starting point, usually the search results page, seeking a specific answer. She frequently returns to the starting point for orientation. If she doesn’t find the answer after several clicks, she starts a new scent trail. She repeats this process until she finds her answer.

People hunting for online data behave remarkably like animals sniffing out prey. It’s the most effective means of finding a teensy-weensy squirrel in awfully big forest.

Understanding this process allows you to measure and optimize the scent trails people follow, both on your site and in marketing campaigns. Losing the trail is one reason 80 percent of visitors leave a site after three pages.

Most SEM (define) is about getting found. Problem is, most SEM does little more than put signs on every tree that read, “Squirrels in the forest.” Though true, the signs don’t help the hunter a lot in the quest to actually find the squirrels in the forest.

Worse is the marketer who doesn’t have squirrels but nevertheless lures squirrel hunters. Then, tofu is served on the landing pages.

The search terms a user keys in then follows reveal her intent. The more specific the term, the more transparent the intent. Your site must serve the content, pages, and path that match the intent if you want to convert her.

Measuring Scent Quality

How do you measure your site’s effectiveness at this? It’s a simple matter of using metrics to follow user scent trails and see where they drop off (special thanks to Steve Jackson for helping to outline this):

  1. Start with a fresh spreadsheet.
  2. In the first column, list your top 100 search terms/phrases (both paid-placement and organic).
  3. In the next column, place the number from one to five (five being highest), indicating the relevance with which the AdWords or listing term matches the landing page.
  4. In the third column, list the single-page-access or bounce/reject rate from the landing page.
  5. In the fourth column, list every conversion goal (call to action) from that page for each term.
  6. Calculate the bounce rate from each step in the scent trail, from landing page to call-to-action pages.

Depending on the sale’s complexity and the amount of information a prospect needs to convert, you can begin to uncover the state of your scent trails. You’ll see where they break down and where there’s a disconnect between what a prospect is looking for and what content you place on her path.

To optimize scent trails, make sure when the intent is transparent, the scent trail on any chosen term matches that intent.

It doesn’t matter if the trail starts with PPC (define) or organic search. When a prospect clicks, she hopes to find one of two things: the answer she seeks or a link that takes her to the answer.

Echo the search terms a prospect uses. When she sniffs your marketing and online efforts, she’ll find a relevant scent trail to follow to conversion.

A Real World Example

Google Search Results
Click to view full size Google Screenshot

Last week, I searched for “web analytics consulting” on Google and Yahoo Though we don’t have access to the metrics, let’s look at the search results to see what kind of scent we find.

The first result in Google’s sponsored section is for NetTracker. Take a look at the screenshot. Do you see any scent related to “web analytics consulting?” How about this one for SiteBrand (the sixth sponsored result on Google)? And what about this result from SEO Inc., in the top spot of Yahoo’s Sponsor Results? There’s just no scent or payoff.

Yahoo Search Results
Click to view full size Yahoo Screenshot

Check out this result from Stratigent, in the top spot of Yahoo’s Search Results. The landing page has the scent for “web analytics consulting,” but it’s lost when you try to figure out what to click next. The site seems concerned only about getting people to sign up for newsletter.

I repeated the search again today, looking for a good example of scent. A ZAAZ ad linked to a page that offered a lot of scent.


The best SEO (define) and SEM efforts mean nothing if you attract traffic, only to lose it for lack of a relevant scent trail.

Know where prospects are sniffing, and you’ll sniff some profit for yourself.

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