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.
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.
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.
Search is one of the most critical customer experiences on your website. Search is also the customer experience that likely gets little attention in your management system and at budget time. Sometimes this is because site search improvement seems like a dark art. It’s not uncommon that we see people measuring site search wrong. However, if you’re just getting started with search improvement (and many of you are, you just may not know it) there are two things you can do now to make your customer experience better.
I’m just back from a week in southern Georgia (the state, not the country) fishing with a few buddies. For the past few years, I’ve had a side hustle writing for fly fishing magazines about fly fishing in places where fly anglers don’t normally lurk — most fly anglers go after trout — and fish for species that are not normally pursued. This past week we fished the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and pursued Bowfin (called Mudfish locally) and we caught a bunch. The weather was perfect.
It was a great week. While on vacation it always takes a while to shut off my work brain so I do have two lessons from the road.
If you close your eyes and imagine what a search engine results page looks like you probably see something that looks a lot like Google’s search results. You see a list of titles and text snippets that potentially describe the thing that you’re looking for. That’s what Google and Amazon and practically every other site has trained us to see. What few people see is a grid of tiles. This is probably a good thing as there are few use cases that tiled search results are effective.
Autocomplete is the bane of any message sent from a mobile device. However, one place where autocomplete shines is on search engines. Autocomplete, also called autosuggest or incremental search, improves the user experience by making it easier to execute searches by suggesting words and phrases that a matching algorithm determines are appropriate based upon the characters entered into a search box. Google has had autocomplete in their search box since 2008. Following in their footsteps, any company that values its customer experience has implemented autosuggestion in their site search. But there’s a new trend in the type-ahead game that we’ve begun to see cropping up on more and more company websites: Instant Search.
A/B Testing Site Search
A few weeks ago I participated in a webinar over on Biznology. I shared five strategies for improving site search using A/B testing. Long a part of the digital marketer’s toolkit, A/B testing has relevance for search analysts as well. Using these methods you can test new settings against a portion of your live traffic without risking tanking things altogether. Once the new settings have proven themselves, you can deploy them to the primary search engine.
Most companies don’t measure site search well. They rely upon out of the box measurements that measure activity instead of outcomes. Nowhere is this problem acuter than when you move from one search engine to another.
- How do you exceed customer expectations if you don’t have an effective baseline?
- How do you know you’ve done the migration well if you don’t measure the gap before and after?
- How do you ensure improvements in content and algorithms are effective?
A/B testing of the search engines is the answer. Check out the webinar. You can also read a short version I did in a blog post a few weeks ago.
You know your site search isn’t good. You’re in good company. A recent survey we did of leading healthcare companies showed that 47% of the industry’s top keywords performed poorly on site search. That’s consistent across industries, more so in B2B enterprises. Why is it so bad? Well, some of that is because search owners don’t know what to fix. The good news is that getting started is easy and there are four things you can work on today that will improve your site search success rates.
Many companies have a measurement problem when it comes to understanding the effectiveness of site search. But that measurement problem often stems from the failure to ask the right question. The question shouldn’t be about customer behavior. The question should be about the customer experience. At SoloSegment we believe that the only customer experience that matters when you’re talking about site search is the success rate. Did the customer find the right content to answer their question on the first click? Unless you start with that point of view, you’re doing it wrong.