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87% of all clicks go to top five SERPs

11 Mar

The top five SERPs garner 87% of all click-throughs

A recent search results click-through study from finds that 53% of organic search clicks go to the first result and 87% of all clicks go to the top five.

That’s a key benchmark for online commerce — if you’re not in the top 5 results, you’ll miss 87% of potential click-throughs to your site. But if your area of responsibility is for something other than commerce, you might want to take a broader view of the search results positioning.

The entire first page of results has value for brand visibility and awareness because all ten results, not just the first five, are presented at the same time on one page. They create an opportunity for users to see your brand name (or your competitors’), even if they don’t click through to a site. So the brand needs to be prominent in the top 10 results, even if it’s not in the top 5.

The first two pages of search results (the entire top 20) should have the attention of executives responsible for PR and reputation management, investor relations, human resources and even legal counsel because what’s on the second or third pages one day (negative articles, regulatory filings, lawsuits, postings from disgruntled customers or ex-employees — can be bumped up onto the first page the next day. Bad news travels faster online than good news; negative results tend to climb up the rankings faster than positive ones. The results on the third, fourth and fifth pages are like the canary in the mineshaft — and early warning system — which is why proactive companies try to claim as many of the top 50 results as possible with their own or at least friendly content.

Recommendation: for online commerce, focus on the Top 5 SERPS; for branding, the Top 10; for PR, RM, IR, HR and legal, at minimum the Top 20.


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.

Ranking eTail & eCommerce Partners — and Competitors

17 Nov

Ranking eTail & e-Commerce Partners — and Competitors

In our 2011 survey of US apparel brands, we found a surprisingly high percentage of sites in the Top 20 search results for the brands’ names were not owned by official retail partners or re-sellers at all but by unauthorised resellers, discounters or brandjackers. In our study of 14 brand name manufacturers, one popular niche outdoor brand surrendered 100% of the value of the Top 20 search positions for its own name and the keyword modifier “hiking shoes” — with over 94 percent being claimed by companies in groups 4 – 7 below. Another, a long established outdoor brand, gave up 100% of the value of the Top 20 search positions for its own name and the keyword modifier “adventure” — with over 91 percent being taken by companies in groups 4 – 7 below.

The penetration was, unsurprisingly, higher (on average around 60 percent) for non-branded keyword searches (e.g. “footwear” or “running shoes”), which yielded many discounters and others not authorised to sell the branded products they were touting. But even for brand- and product- name searches, the penetration averaged 20 percent.

There was a low cross-penetration of search results by major brand online retail stores into each others’ search results for branded and non-branded keywords. But there was a very high cross-penetration from eTail-only brands, virtual storefronts on community sites or blogs, virtual malls and price comparison agents.

What this indicates is that these manufactuers — most of them household names, the remainder hip niche brands — are neither taking control of their own search results visibility nor scoring their official re-sellers’ search performance. In some cases, they aren’t policing the Web for sites jacking their brand names or keywords.

Scoring eTail, eCommerce Partners and Competitors’ Search performance

Companies that have active online re-seller and e-Commerce partnerships may find it pays dividends to rank and score the owners of the Top 20 search positions for their branded and non-branded keywords. A useful classification for websites, blogs and social profiles in the Top 20 would encompass:

  1. Company owned
  2. Official partner/re-seller
  3. Affiliate
  4. Unofficial re-seller/discounter
  5. Price comparison/agent
  6. Competitor
  7. Brandjacker
  8. Online marketplaces & exchanges (B2B)

Under RankTank’s normal classification system, 1 – 3 would be classified as ECR (because they’re controlled or controllable by the Enterprise), and 4 – 8 would be OCR (in the Other catch-all bucket after Consumer and Media). But a more granular, custom classification makes sense for those focused on online retail and e-Commerce.

Limitations of SERP and KW position checker tools

2 Nov

Limitations of SERP and KW position checker tools

SERP and KW position checker tools are designed for tracking where individual website pages appear in the search results for specific keywords. There are several small issues and two big ones associated with how they go about this.

  • they check for the position of a site or page for a KW query, so you have to enter a URL AND KW (they can’t check for just a KW, or just a site). That’s inflexible.
  • on many of them, you have to do your checks one at a time, on a new interface for each. That’s time consuming.
  • only a few give you downloadable files (you then have to merge all those files, when you can get them). Most return your results on html or dynamic pages (copy and paste). That’s unwieldy.
  • they vary in the number of maximum positions considered. Some show 100, some more, some less; and they are often out of date. That’s unreliable.

Turning to the bigger issues, most crucially, SERP and KW position checker tools don’t tell you how they generate their results, or how fresh they are.

Data pulled from an API is only as good as the API itself. Our experiments with an API were not encouraging (which was why we dumped it a while ago): It gave lower lower counts than browser based counts — it showed on average 30% and sometimes 90% fewer pages indexed than a browser search; and it was less accurate than browser search results — the API SERPs failed to match browser SERPs by on average 10% and sometimes as much as 90%. You cannot statistically compensate for errors of this magnitude in both quantity and quality, even with sophisticated mathematical optimization routines.

Another common method, scraping, has problems of its own: The rotating IP proxies necessary to carry it out will skew the results because each successive query will be seen to originate from a different location than the last one — a different city, sometimes a different continent. That’s useless if you’re running more than one KW for a brand.

Finally, SERP and KW position checkers show the numeric position of a page returned for a specific query in the search results. There are two limitations to this:

  • Consumers search for brand names and/or keywords (which they enter into the search bar), they do not enter website addresses into the search bar (if they know the URL, they enter it straight into the URL bar, bypassing the search function).
  • Knowing the numeric position of a particular page is tactically useful but is not strategically insightful. It doesn’t give you a snapshot of who claims the Top 20 results for your brand name and keywords, nor a measure of your overall online strength.

With RankTank, you can check and track your SERPs while aslo scoring and ranking them.

Role- and activity-based KPIs for scoring online performance 2

24 Oct

Role- and activity-based KPIs for scoring online performance 2

RankTank is designed to deliver search performance Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), not as a SERP tracker or counter (though it can be used for that). It does this by ranking and scoring ownership of the combined value of the Top 20 search results positions, not tracking and counting individual pages. Here we suggest some approaches to setting scorecards  KPIs to meet the needs of various roles and functions within the company.

  • C Suite & Business Leadership: Corporate, holding company, brand, senior executive names and stock symbol ranked against 2 – 4 competitors. KPIs: share of search results value you control for a query for your corporate and brand names versus share controlled by all others.
  • Public and Investor Relations: Corporate, holding company and brand names ranked against 2 – 4 competitors for top keywords and issues. KPIs: share of search results value you control for a query for your corporate and brand names versus share controlled by Consumers, Media and Others; search results ownership on complaint and protest sites, retail investor discussions.
  • Social Media: Corporate and brand names and profiles ranked against 2 – 4 competitors. KPIs: share of social engagement metrics such as Likes, Follows; share of mentions, tags, citations for top keywords; share of corporate or brand-owned profiles versus consumer and other profiles in top Web and social search positions; rate of growth/slowdown in engagement metrics.
  • Marketing: Corporate, brand and product names ranked against 2 – 4 competitors for top keywords and issues in critical categories and topics. KPIs: share of search results value you control versus share controlled by all others; search results ownership on ratings, review, complaint comparison and coupon sites; app stores and gadget sites; sector and company/brand blogs, social networks and communities
  • Brand Management: Brand and product names ranked against 2 – 4 competitors for top keywords and issues. KPIs: share of search results value you control for a query for your brand and product names versus share controlled by Consumers, Media and Others; multiple Web and social search engines.
  • Sales, Advertising and eCommerce: Brand and product names, SKUs, paid media slogans, paid search/Adwords, campaign, QR codes, promotions ranked against 2 – 4 competitors. KPIs: share of search results value you control for a query for your brand and product names versus share controlled by Consumers, Media and Others; share by geographical locations, eTail sites, online partners/resellers,
  • Webmaster: Corporate and brand sites, blogs, portals and platforms ranked against 2 – 4 competitors for top keywords and issues, and against their categories and topics. KPIs: pages indexed for category, topics, brand and product names; pages indexed from brand websites, blogs and other company controlled platforms, # bookmark/tag sites indexed, # of multimedia files indexed (video, image, MP3, podcast) containing your KWs, # pages competing for your KWs.
  • Legal: Corporate, holding company, trademarks and other IP ranked against 2 – 4 competitors. KPIs: share of search results value you control versus share controlled by all others; law firms sites, attorney general, legislator and regulator sites,  brandjacker sites.
  • Human Resources: Corporate and brand names ranked against 2 – 4 competitors. KPIs: share of search results value you control versus share controlled by all others for a query for employment related topics, graduate entry, careers, layoffs, dismissals, hiring; search performance inside social networks and on employment and employer rating sites.
  • Customer Relations: Brand and product names, SKUs, customer contact points ranked against 2 – 4 competitors. KPIs: share of search results value you control versus share controlled by all others for a query for customer issues, billing, invoicing numbers, satisfaction, service locations, help lines, online FAQs and support.

The above are just a sample to kick start thinking about setting activity-specific KPIs based on how search performance (good or bad) impacts those different activities.

Role- and activity-based KPIs for scoring online performance 1

24 Oct

Role- and activity-based KPIs for scoring online performance 1

Online visibility — being findable and followable in Web and social search — impacts every aspect of business operations from sales and branding to reputation and recruitment. Below we’ve segmented out some of the different ways a strong online performance can help various roles and activities inside the corporation.

  • C Suite & Business Leadership. Studies show that the top performing companies and brands claim a larger share of the total value of the Top 20 search results than laggard brands do. Your strength or weakness in the Top 20 results versus your competitors is an indication of management best practice.
  • Public and Investor Relations. The Internet is the #1 information source for journalists, analysts, regulators and investors, as well as customers. When they query your company and topics associated with it, they should see the Top 20 positions dominated by company-owned pages, not competitor or detractor pages.
  • Social Media. Web search positioning influences social search positioning (and vice versa). A strong performance in the Top 20 results by your websites and social media profiles will help improve your visibility on social networks and in online communities.
  • Marketing. Customers, business partners, the media and others will form opinions of our company and your brands based on what they see (or don’t) of them in the Top 20 results. Your visibility has a strong impact on how a wide set of audiences interact with you.
  • Brand Management. A brand’s presence in — or absence from — the Top 20 search results versus its competitors is a brand statement in its own right. Claiming as many of those critical positions as possible is fundamental to successful online branding.
  • Sales, Advertising and eCommerce. The Top 20 search positions drive the lion’s share of click throughs and purchases. If your products aren’t in the Top 20, you’ll miss 80% to 90% of people searching for them. And, a strong organic search results performance helps your paid media performance.
  • Webmaster. The Top 20 search positions show the combined value of the sites, blogs, portals, networks and apps you’re tasked with managing — often on behalf of others. seeing how they perform relative to each other and to competitors helps you allocate priorities and budget.
  • Legal. The Top 20 search results are a highly visible indication of problems facing a company in the form of pages about, e.g., lawsuits, governance or regulatory action, trademark infringements. Controlling the top search positions for those topics dampens the immediate and longer term effect.
  • Human Resources. The Top 20 search slots are key positions for attracting and retaining employees — and for disgruntled ex-employees to vent. Owning the top search positions helps manage recruitment and retention efforts.
  • Customer Relations. Customers with questions about a service contract or a product return usually search online for the company’s contact points and policies. A strong showing of company sponsored pages in the Top 20 results will reassure them and pre-empt problems.

In effect, everyone has a role to play.