Online search is a critical component of doing business today, and not just because people need to find whatever it is you’re selling. Search engines are the barometer of relevance in our digital society. If a Web site lands high in a search result, the collective feeling is that it must be important and relevant to a large number of people, lending credibility and trustworthiness to the product or service being offered.
Thus, visibility in search results reaps many benefits, not the least of which are prosperity and good reputation. I know very few companies that wouldn’t want those benefits on their side.
These days the word “search” has multiple meanings in the digi-sphere. They range from external search in major engines such as Google, Yahoo and Live Search, to on-site or internal search where users are looking for something specific once they land on a site. What counts in the end is that users end up in the right place and get what they want. How that happens has less to do with luck, and more to do with strategy. It’s no mystery how it happens to those specializing in search capabilities.
I recently asked Michael Brandes, our senior optimization manager and search strategist, to describe how he and his team optimize search for clients, and specifically how search and analytics work in harmony to achieve site goals and metrics.
Shane Atchison: It’s a big Internet. How do you make it so people can find specific Web sites?
Michael Brandes: Basically our search efforts can be broken down into three categories: search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO), and internal site search. We work closely with all our teams, from analytics to user experience to design and beyond, to ensure that a site is architected or redesigned with optimum search capabilities. We assess and make recommendations to assure that site content is at the very least visible to search engine robots. We also make sure a site is targeted for the right keywords. It doesn’t matter how well a site is architected if the proper keywords are missing.
SA: How do analytics factor into your daily decisions or recommendations?
MB: First of all, our search and analytics teams sit right next to each other and we often play foosball or video games together! Or grab lunch together, when time permits. Many of us are friends outside of the office.
Work-wise, we have a lot of interaction. When we first start working with a client, we ask what analytics they are currently using so we can pull necessary data on their paid search campaigns (if they are running them) and pull information on their organic traffic for at least the past six months. If we are working on a site redesign, we work closely with our analytics team to see what they are setting up and how they’re tagging the client’s site to pull analytics data.
I recently worked on a 90-day scorecard for a client with the analytics team, and it was interesting to observe how they assess data. Analytics help to reveal a more in-depth and interesting story about the organic traffic being driven to the site and how that traffic behaves once it is on the site.
SA: What is a search “strategy”?
MB: It’s basically a coordinated effort to enhance a client’s Web site positioning, and is done in concert with analytics and optimization efforts. We use different bid management platforms, and help our clients select the right platform for their needs. We then go beyond traditional search performance metrics, and seek to express search value in terms of a custom monetization model. We also maintain agency relationships with all major search vendors (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft) and can manage both administration and strategy for a client’s SEM initiative. In short, we attack search from every possible angle.
SA: Do you ever change search parameters based on analytics data?
MB: Absolutely. The analytics team regularly provides us with interesting information about referring keywords. If any are missing from a site, we can work with our clients to help them optimize for those keywords. Also, our analytics team often sees a major SEO opportunity in the data from their monthly reports, and will pull in someone from search to help break it down for the client.
SA: Are there any instances where search would disregard analytics?
MB: No. I would say we work well together and we like having conversations about how the data is performing. We’re always open to hearing what our analytics team has to say. I won’t speak for anyone else, but I’d say I’m kind of a dork when it comes to data analysis. I love data. The more the better. If I know exactly what is happening with one portion of a client’s site, I can help to fix that problem immediately so they can start seeing improvements right away.
SA: So in summary, why is search so important when building or optimizing a Web site?
MB: There’s something we say to clients all the time: “You have the best products and services in the world to promote and sell, but the question is, can anyone find your Web site?” If the answer is “no,” and sometimes it is, then we roll up our sleeves and get to work.
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