Measure. Learn. Optimize.


SearchChat Podcast: Budget Season Survival Guide

Not enough marketers take advantage of the other kind of search — the one on your own website. Few companies budget for it, while budgeting for content without a second thought. But when they search, can visitors even find the content they need on your site?

Steve and I are excited to introduce a new podcast, exploring the topics we are fascinated by: AI, search, and content. Site search is part of a customer journey. When you optimize your site search with automation, visitors can find your content and continue on their journey.

Today we cover the Budget Season problems: proving why site search matters, what makes for good analytics, and how much budget you need to make your search better.

00m 00s – Intro and overview

01m 17s – Start of discussion with Steve

07m 04s – Do clicks mean success?

11m 44s – What do we mean by upstream/downstream traffic to/from search?

13m 12s – Why it matters that Google exited the site search market

14m 58s – How much budget is enough to make your site search better?

17m 27s – How can you get started on improving site search?


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Warning: You’re ignoring your company’s best salesperson

Here’s a scenario for you: imagine you have an amazing salesperson who develops a deep connection with customers, beginning with their very first interaction. Even better, these prospects share their deepest concerns, telling your salesperson everything you’d want to know about how to help them — and how you can sell them what they need.

But you ignore everything this salesperson wants to share with you about what they’ve learned. You simply say, “Nah, I’m not interested in providing a better experience for these prospects. I’m not curious about their needs. I don’t care what they’ve told you.” That would be ridiculous, right? And yet, if you’re like most companies, you’re probably doing this every single day.

You may have guessed that your company’s best salesperson is, of course, your website. This brilliant salesperson who knows what matters most to your prospects and leads might still surprise you: website search. That is, the searches customers conduct directly on your site. What customers tell you in those searches will make the difference between successful enterprises and the also-rans.

Why does search matter so much?

It’s no secret that customers conduct the vast majority of their research online these days. In fact, data strongly suggests that most customers are more than 70 percent along the way to a decision before they get in touch with your sales team. Your website is — or ought to be, anyway — a 24/7/365 salesperson always ready to help answer any question your prospects might have.

It’s clear that you know this. You and your competition (i.e., smart companies) invest heavily in content marketing to help answer those customer questions. You wouldn’t take that action if you weren’t trying to connect with customers and help them throughout their journey. That’s great. But what’s not great is how often customers struggle to find that content — and how difficult it is to know whether that content worked.

Your site search tells you three things you may have missed:

  • What matters to your customers.
  • How well you’re answering their questions.
  • Whether your content works — that is, whether your content moves customers closer to a purchase, or not.

Research shows that website visitors who search are between 43% and 600% (!) more likely to purchase than those who don’t. That makes sense. They’re motivated enough to actively seek the information that matters most to them. Why wouldn’t they buy? They’re asking for your help. The data’s there for you to use as you see fit. Are you listening?

You’ve got the data — what do you do with it?

  1. Use search data to understand the questions your customers ask. What are the most common queries on your website search? What are potential customers looking for? Do you know what matters to them?
  2. Determine your content’s effectiveness at answering customer questions. When visitors go to your site search, do they find the right answer? Do they click through to the right page, engage with your content, and connect with your calls-to-action? Do they return to the search results looking for a better answer? Or do they leave altogether, never to return?
  3. Track product marketing effectiveness. Are you seeing a rise in the frequency of searches for specific products? Do those changes mirror your marketing activities? Are you moving customers closer to contacting your sales team or the point of purchase?
  4. Match content to customer intent. Are you prepared to use this data to shape your content marketing and create more effective messaging? Can you tailor your search results to drive customers to the most appropriate content that meets their needs? How can you personalize the overall experience to improve connection and conversion?

Improving customer experience with search

There are many companies who are using site search data to answer these questions and suggest appropriate next steps to close the sale. Still, others find their website search often isn’t much better than a “random webpage generator”. Many more might be monitoring site search data, but don’t know how to improve conversions by putting that data to work. Are you working to create a better experience for your best customers using search? Are you even looking at this data at all?

These are solvable problems. You can start small and build from there. And most important, your best salesperson exists to help your customers accomplish their goals.

Customers sell themselves. Data shows that most prospects are well on their way to a purchase decision long before they ever pick up a phone, send you an email, compose a tweet. Social selling makes for a fantastic buzzword — and, in truth, an even better reality. But without connection, there ain’t no selling.

Using search data to help you understand their needs, their concerns, their objections to your sale is hardly new. But there’s an even better source of data that often goes overlooked: website search. You can start with simply improving your site search analytics in Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Coremetrics, and most other enterprise-grade analytics tools. But if you want to see your data automatically improve your site search for you, check out our Site Search Inspector.

So here’s a question: why aren’t you listening to your best salesperson?

It’s not your search engine, it’s you(r improvement program)

Back in April I wrote about the two things you can do to improve your site search. Those are two things among many options you have available to you as you seek to keep visitors on your website and help them achieve the task at hand. Of course, one thing you can consider is a search engine replacement. Better technology has an allure. However, it shouldn’t be the place you start.

How does your search customer experience treat your visitors?

This morning I had to log on to United Airlines’ website to request a refund for accommodations from a recent overnight flight delay. Surprisingly there is no form specifically for this type of request on the site. I struggled with a bit of cognitive dissonance on how to fit my request in the standard fields where one might complain about rude service or a poorly maintained restroom.

Needless to say, I didn’t come away from the experience with a favorable opinion of United or its process. This at a time when they should be trying to take a bad situation (my original overnight delay) and turn it into something awesome. It didn’t help that there were errors in their login process as well as an inexplicable refusal to load a 900KB JPG file that was both less than 1MB size limit and one of the approved file types.

Am I less likely to return to because of this bad experience? No, I’ll be back. Fortunately for United, oligopolists can get away with poor service. Can you?

All Business On Vacation

Last week I left my family behind and took my 82 year-old father and his brother to Yellowstone National Park. This was a bucket list item for both of them and due to their declining health, it may have been our our last opportunity for such an adventure.

There are tons of details that need to be sorted out when traveling with someone who has special needs. In this case, it was two gents who have trouble walking long distances. This meant that during the air travel portion of the week, I was arranging for wheelchairs and negotiating the hotels of Yellowstone — which are preciously short on handicapped rooms and other accommodations for the elderly in lodgings — many of which were built long before ADA and not since updated.

I’m not going to go on my “We need to invest in our public spaces” rant. Suffice to say, we have these beautiful places and we make it difficult for folks to visit them in the name of preserving a quaint vision of the distant past. Upgrade, folks. Upgrade.

Being on vacation, I try to swivel my brain to things other than my day-to-day grind. Of course, that business function gets a little bored so it eventually looks for opportunity for improvement in all the processes that it encounters. So here’s my list from my current trip. It’s an age-old problem.

How long will business models based on personal data survive?

I don’t use Snapchat mostly because nobody I know uses it. I’m not the target demographic, apparently. But that doesn’t keep me from talking about how much I dislike the user experience. I know that when I register such complaints I probably sound like a codger who wants his buggy whip back. But even so, I never really “got” why someone would build a platform where content is ephemeral. Isn’t the whole point of social platforms to catalog our lives? Maybe I’m missing something.

Google: Frenemy?

Can you imagine not caring about how you rank in Google? Maybe someday something will replace Google as what is arguably “the” most important source of top-of-funnel traffic but today much of your marketing activity is rightly focused on SEO and SEM. Having a strong Google game is critical to many companies success. But is Google your friend? I’d argue that Google as Frenemy is the proper way to look at the relationship; Google is critically important at some points but dangerous to rely upon later. Let me explain.

The People Element: How SEO and Site Search Come Together

Today we’re talking about a much-neglected aspect of search: how people work together. Recently I was on a Google hangout sponsored by the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization (SEMPO). The focus of the conversation was making site search more effective. As you’d expect, when you get a lot of those professionals together, we talked a lot about technology, and tools, and techniques — but didn’t spend a lot of time on one element that I think is really important, and that is the people element. For mid-market and large enterprise companies, that’s often an organizational discussion.

There are generally four main components to search within large companies. There’s folks doing external search, that’s the organic and paid element. Then there are folks doing website search, that’s the business perspective. Add to that two technology teams, supporting each of them. As many of you know, search internally and search externally are very close cousins. Usually the things that you do to make internal search better, make external search better.

So what I want to encourage organizations to do is create the management systems that more tightly integrate all four of these elements. Bring the two business teams together, the ones focused on internal and external search, as well as the IT teams together. Even if for no other reason than, say, content optimization — low hanging fruit. Internal teams are going to want better product content so that they can get better relevancy rankings. External teams are going to benefit from that as well because better product content is going to rank better in Google. There are lots of opportunities, and content is just one example.

What’s important is creating the right environment for that kind of collaboration. Creating the right management system is an important critical success factor for most teams working on search both internally and externally at large companies. Best of luck on improving your search results!

What’s your total cost of value?

Total Cost of Value

Last week I was working on a proposal for a client. We understand the value we need to deliver and we’re going to bring in some external tech to deliver a complete solution. There are several options for the client to chose. What’s interesting about this part of the process is that my role has gone from seller to buyer. Any good seller looks at the deal from buyer’s perspective. But when you actually become the buyer, your vision is narrowed even further. You focus not only on what it’s going to cost but what is it going to give. It strikes me that when looking at total cost, what’s really important is understanding the total cost of value. What does it take not just to get and operate the tech, but to get the total value that can be extracted?

The Myth of Automation: Humans in the Loop

One of the things our clients have been asking for is automation tools that help make search better. This is a great idea. For example, there’s no reason that search success metrics can’t be embedded in algorithms that A/B test improvements and automatically kick in if the testing demonstrates improvements. But automation alone isn’t the answer. Humans need to be in the loop a critical parts of the process to ensure that the automation is achieving the right goals. The greatest myth of search automation is that is eliminates the need for people to be involved.