Archive | December, 2012

Ranking for Keywords & Modifiers

15 Dec

Search queries: Ranking for Keywords & Modifiers

It’s generally agreed that there are three types of queries made by search engine users: Navigational, Informational, and Transactional.

  • A navigational query is intended to find a specific website, e.g., to find the Tumblr site, the user enters “tumblr” into a search bar rather than entering into their browser’s navigation bar or using a bookmark.
  • An informational query aims to find an answer to a question or to learn how to do something. It addresses a broad topic (e.g., pregnancy, cooking) and is not seeking a specific site but rather one or more gems among millions of results.
  • A transactional query is made to research or make a transaction, such as a purchase.

All nice and neat. However, it’s rare that users just enter one search term. In fact, according to a recent study by GroupM UK and Nielsen, the average query is 2.84 words. So, when optimizing your site and benchmarking your SERPs, you need to account for the fact that your potential customers are refining their search terms with additional modifiers (Yahoo’s Year In Review shows the most popular ones across a wide range of subjects).

Modifiers for navigational queries are not really an issue. These queries have a very clear intent — the user wants a specific site, if you’re not it then you’re not relevant. As important, if you have a decent site, you should be #1 in all search engines for your own brand name anyway, so if a user is looking specifically for you, they should find you easily.

However, some queries that appear to navigational might not be, e.g., a query for “linkedin” might be looking for news or information about the company or its products or services, its advertising rates, earning per share, shareholder value, office locations, etc.

Modifiers for informational and transactional queries require thought and action. You need to optimise and benchmark yourself for the modifier terms users may use to query your products or services for either informational or transactional intent or both.

Informational Search Query Modifiers

A query for “grilling” or “grill” could be modified with a range of terms like “receipes”, “chops,” “ingredients”, “charcoal”, “sauces”, “barbeque”, “BBQ”, “pans”. A company selling related equipment and food would want to optimize for these terms and more, and to benchmark its SERP performance for them.

Transactional Search Query Modifiers

A query aimed at researching or making a purchase may include exact brand and product names (like “Apple iPhone 5”) or be generic (like “smartphone”). Some will include further modifying terms like “deals”, “buy,” “purchase,” “compare”, “features”, “reviews,” “complaints”, “returns”. A company selling smartphones, including the Apple iPhone 5, would need to optimize for these and similar terms as well as to benchmark its SERP performance for them against competitors.

Many local searches (such as “car rental London”) are also transactional, as are vertical (niche) queries for restaurants, hotels, flights, electricians, dentists, etc. Again, these queries will almost always be modified with a place-specific term. Companies depending on local and location-based search will want to optimize for geo-location and benchmark its SERP performance for location-based queries — many of which will be from mobile users, so use a mobile phone to run your SERPs as well as a desktop. The top SERPs will be different.

Beyond keyword research (which is site-focused), do query research (which is customer-focused)… find out and formulate the type of queries customers might be expected to make when looking for your products or services, locations and terms of business, and for what other people say about you. And benchmark your SERPs for them.

Next, we’ll look at ranking for branded versus non-branded keywords.


Reducing threats to brand reputation & revenue

11 Dec

Reducing online threats to brand reputation and revenue

A report from a brand protection company notes that, hacking and phishing aside, other online threats to a brand’s reputation and revenue are significant and growing:

  • 53 billion visits to rogue sites in the last 12 months
  • 14% of branded paid search traffic is hijacked
  • 28% increase in domain squatting (2010)
  • 140 billion lost to counterfeiting annually
  • $100 billion lost to piracy annually

Source: Mark Monitor

To that could be added the financial and reputational damage done by keyword jackers, “unofficial” partners, discounters, domain squatters, social profile clones and other trolls passing themselves off as someone else (maybe even as you), and affiliates bidding against you for your own keywords. One cost-effective way to keep a watch on threats like these is to monitor who claims the Top 20 search results for your brand names, products, trademarks, campaign slogans and buzz words. You can keep tabs on what sites and profiles are mimicking yours and score your brand’s performance at the same time.


Predictive Power of SERPs

11 Dec

The Predictive Power of Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)

The top-ranked brands in those “Best/Most Valuable Brand” surveys almost without exception claim a significantly higher percentage of the Top 20 search results for queries for their own names than lesser ranked brands do. A reasonable explanation is that better-managed brands extend best practices throughout their entire operations, including online. And it’s a self reinforcing cycle: the more visible they are in the Top 20 search results (the only ones that really count) with positive, company endorsed content, the more traffic they get, the more customers they win, the more attention they receive from the media, analysts, investors, opinion researchers, and partners.

When measured over time, a brand’s performance in the Top 20 results can not only indicate whether it is maximising its online opportunity but can also anticipate increasing or declining interest from consumers, journalists and other commentators, which in turn is valuable knowledge for the investment community and acquiring companies. Of course, search results performance is only one metric of overall online performance. There are many others, but they key point about SERP performance is that the search engines tend to factor in those other metrics (broadly, metrics of strength and popularity) when ranking brands in their results. Tip: don’t just score the brand name; score the brand name with words like, e.g. complaints, scam, ripoff, unfair, layoffs, and other terms that suggest customer or employee dissatisfaction. And, compare several brands with similar market characteristics or financial fundamentals side by side. Look for company owned webpages, social profiles and apps, for desktop sites and mobile sites.

A brand’s weighted SERP score is thus more than a proxy for its historic overall online performance: it’s actually a predictive indicator of improving or deteriorating prospects.