That’s what Kelly Springer had to show for 12 months of search marketing for her equestrian supply store horse-threads.com.
Frankly, $345 sucks.
With over $15,000 invested in site development over the last two years, Kelly wants return on investment (ROI). It was supposed to be easy. It was supposed to be free.
Get some top-10 rankings in search engines and the world will beat a path to your Web site, right?
HorseThreads, Kelly’s equestrian supply store on Cape Cod, MA, has traffic and makes some strong sales. Her site, horse-threads.com, has achieved some solid Google visibility. But so far, sales only trickle in.
Online, Kelly decided to specialize (always a smart strategy) in her own area of riding passion: products for English and dressage riders, as well as sell some mainstream products any horse owner might be interested in, including blankets, riding clothes, and horse sheets.
Kelly attempted her own “natural” search engine optimization (SEO) campaign. “I submitted every single page manually to every major search engine. I added meta tags and meta descriptions. I reworded the text to add more of my targeted keywords,” she explained. “I even asked some local businesses for links, and they linked to me.”
In spite of six months of organic SEO work, here’s what horse-threads.com actually sold:
- November sales: 2
- Dublin Full Seat Dressage Breeches (2), $169.90
- Troxel Victory riding helmet (1), $59.95
- December sales: 2
- Winner’s Circle Horse Hair Brush (2), $25.95
- Dublin Children’s Jods (1), $59.95
- January sales: 3
- Dublin Winter Riding Glove (1), $12.95
- Weaver Safety Halter (1), $16.95
- Roma Kool Krop (2), $17.90
- February sales: 1
- Roma Leather Show Crop (1), $31.95
How’s horse-threads.com doing in terms of search engine visibility? First, let me acknowledge I have just a bit of egg on my face.
Recently, I wrote about Todd Winmill, a sound engineer in Boston who wasn’t listed in Inktomi but could be found in Google. I suggested this was more Inktomi’s problem than Todd’s, because Todd has all the business he needs and would be unwilling to pay for inclusion. The day before that column was published, Todd’s site was added to Inktomi. The free crawl found it and added it to the index.
This is important for several reasons. First, Inktomi’s free crawl is still out there and will find most Web sites. Second, marketers must understand why they should pay to be included in Inktomi, even if portions of their Web site are already in the index.
Kelly’s Web site is a useful example of how a site can get to the next level by using paid inclusion, even if the site was found by free crawlers.
Horse-threads.com is already in the Inktomi index for free, though only two pages have been indexed to date. Google has indexed 33 pages. Some stats on her listings:
- Visitors from search engines: 751
- Total unique visitors: 1,667
- Total visits: 4,273
- Conversion rate: 0.3% of search referrals per month
Why should you pay to submit your site to Inktomi if you can expect the free crawl to find it sooner or later? For starters, horse-threads.com has 245 total pages of content, yet Google and Inktomi combined have less than 15 percent of the pages indexed. It could take up to six months to get the rest indexed, if that can be achieved at all.
For faster returns, look to paid inclusion. With Inktomi’s program, the entire site can be indexed and generate qualified visitors in 48 hours.
For specifics on the best next steps for Kelly, I turned to Dennis Buchheim, general manager of paid inclusion for Yahoo, which acquired Inktomi almost a year ago.
Buchheim explained Web marketers’ first priority is to submit their highest-value pages through paid inclusion, with an emphasis on unique offerings and unique information. Not only is this of the most value to searchers, but it also ensures the highest conversion rates.
“Do a search on Yahoo for some terms [keywords or keyword phrases] that are important to your business and take a look at the search results,” suggests Buchheim. “Pay special attention to the number of search results and their quality. Then, really focus on identifying where your content can offer a unique experience to searchers. Submit the pages of your Web site that will answer queries that are not well served by other content.”
Buchheim encourages site marketers to pore over search results for a variety of terms and look for competition and quality in the results. Were you to search for “riding crops,” and the results presented very few sites where you could actually buy or price riding crops, you could be well served including your related pages that contain solid content and pricing.
Not Just Conversion, But Education
Buchheim offers old-fashioned horse sense concerning a “conversion-alone” strategy. He points out it even pays to submit the URLs of pages you don’t expect to produce conversion, because customers must be educated to make a buying decision.
“With our larger paid-inclusion clients, we always focus on whether they’re bringing something unique to the table in terms of educating their customers. That’s Marketing 101,” Buchheim observed. “If you ultimately want to convert a customer, you often have to educate them first.”
He points out the need to balance sending visitors to educational pages versus conversion pages. “You have to focus on the short term but keep an eye on the long term to be sure that over time, you educate the segment of your audience that will buy after browsing.”
Step One: Submit Deep Content
I asked Buchheim where Kelly should begin, sharing log files and rankings reports. He noted she was receiving between one and five clicks for every keyword with a top-10 ranking.
I pointed out each search engine has been referring traffic on nearly 40 or 50 unique keywords, even with the minimal content indexed by any one of these engines.
Buchheim suggested this is a textbook case of why you need to submit deep content. “You may only get one or two clicks per search term, but when you add up clicks to all of your pages, it will have an enormous impact on overall traffic and, ultimately, conversion,” he said. “Paid inclusion lets you reach a larger audience by ensuring all of your content can be found whenever it’s relevant.”
Inktomi’s Targeting Prescription
Buchheim notes what people are searching for evolves over time. “You constantly have to evaluate market trends and optimize your content accordingly. Be sure to regularly revisit pages you chose not to include earlier. There could be a sudden ‘riding crop’ craze, and you should get out in front of it.”
Buchheim talked about “head” and “tail” search terms. “The head is all of the really popular queries you see every day, like ‘Hawaii hotel’ or ‘digital camera,'” he said. “The tail is where you get into something much more specific, a one-off or nearly unique query. Inclusion of deep content is the best way to address the tail.”
Some infrequent queries are so specific, the conversion rate will often be greater. “A very specific query like, ‘children’s English riding apparel’ is more likely to convert than ‘riding apparel’ if your site does a good job of answering it,” offered Buchheim.
“If you have at least a few hundred pages and are new to paid inclusion, the best approach is to work with an SEM firm and get a feed put together. You’ll pay for the clicks you get, and the SEM firm will tune the feed for you on an ongoing basis,” said Buchheim (and I didn’t even pay him to say that!).
Based on Kelly’s business, which falls into the sporting goods category, she’ll have to pay about $0.25 per click. Rough budget? About $250 a month, and that’s on the high side.
In part two, we’ll continue with Dennis Buchheim and discuss optimizing the paid-inclusion feed.
Between my first and second interviews with Buchheim, he discovered and shared that Inktomi had recently penalized Kelly’s site for presenting duplicate content on multiple domains. I’d detected the problem while processing Kelly’s log files and advised her to take down the second domain. It was an innocent mistake on Kelly’s part. She’d planned to build a second, more general equestrian supply store but hadn’t gotten around to it. Instead she simply hosted the same content on both domains.
Interestingly, the forgotten second domain succeeded in having over 100 pages indexed in Inktomi. Too bad they’re not from the site Kelly wants to promote. We can help Kelly rectify the situation with Inktomi by removing the offending site, but beware: Inktomi will crawl your site over time, it will detect duplicate content (intentional or not), and you’ll be penalized.
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