Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Marketing Dashboard: Active Discovery

One of the most valuable areas to gain an understanding of is the current state of how your prospects actively discover your company and your solutions. The richness of insights that can be gained with a deep understanding of how buyers are using search is nearly without parallel. Each insight allows you to guide investments in a way that maximizes their effectiveness in driving your revenue performance.

Basics of Discovery

The first area to look at is the set of 10 or 12 “main terms” that buyers most commonly associate with your solution category or industry. These are the main search terms that would ideally lead prospective buyers to your web properties. A dashboard comparison of both the number of searches being performed on each search phrase (the search engines' webmaster tools provide this information quite readily), and the number of visitors to your content based on those main terms gives a very good understanding of if you are successfully being discovered through this avenue. A few powerful insights can be gained here that allow a reallocation of investments:

- Need More Category Awareness? The raw number of searches being performed gives a good indication of the upper limit of your success with active awareness efforts such as search engine marketing or search engine optimization. Broader awareness efforts such as analyst and public relations may be needed to increase interest in your solution category if this is the case.

- Are you Being Discovered? The number of visitors, and more importantly the percentage of visitors, who reach your site for each search term gives you a good indicator of how well your paid and organic search efforts are performing against each term. If a term is performing poorly, either an investment in search engine marketing against that term, or a focus on content around that term may improve your chances of being actively discovered by buyers seeking information on that term

Deeper Searches

As looked at earlier, however, the way in which buyers seek information is changing. With the average search phrase being more than three words in length, it is equally important to understand what is happening with the broader universe of search phrases being used by buyers. With a robust content strategy, the raw list of search phrases that are used by buyers to find you can be quite instructive in itself. However, as a high level dashboard to provide an understanding of the current state of your revenue performance, the best way to view the longer tail search phrases being used is to have it provide insight into what buyer stage your audiences can be loosely categorized into.

To understand this, divide the searches that guide visitors to your website into four main categories:

- Navigational: searches that are simply a replacement for typing in your website URL, usually just your company name

- Main Terms: searches for the main search terms you have deliberately optimized against

- Long Tail (branded): deeper searches, often with multiple words in the search phrase, or for specific content, and with your company or brand name in the search phrase

- Long Tail (unbranded): deeper searches, as above, but without your company or brand name in the search phrase

This dashboard view provides some rich insights into how well your company and solutions are being actively discovered. First, the relative amounts of visitors who discover your offerings based on long tail phrases vs main terms provides an indication of whether your content marketing strategies are working effectively. Given that the majority of searchers use lengthy search phrases, if the long tail columns are not larger than the main term and navigational columns, there is very likely an opportunity to be discovered by many buyers who are actively seeking solutions such as yours that is being missed. An increased investment in content creation may be warranted.

Second, a comparison of your relative strength between long tail search phrases with and without your brand name (ie, “Sourcefire intrusion detection products” vs. “intrusion detection system comparison”) provides an understanding of whether the buyers discovering you tend to be more at an education stage (understanding the category) or have moved more into the discovery stage and are looking to better understand your specific products.

Of course, overall trends are also very much of interest. The effectiveness of natural search or content marketing strategy grows slowly over time, and its success is best observed by following the trend in these high level numbers over time.

Paid vs. Organic Search

In order to deepen the insight gained from these views of your prospects’ active discovery of your content, it is important to understand what is driven by paid search (SEM) and what is driven by organic search (SEO) efforts in order to better coordinate efforts between them. Most B2B marketing organizations invest in paid search campaigns to drive awareness, and with most if not all of these efforts there is an ability to differentiate between traffic driven to your site via paid efforts vs. natural search efforts.

By splitting these two sources of traffic apart, and understanding the trends in each, you can better understand the performance of two very different categories of marketing investment. Paid search is predominantly a financial investment, and the results are generally directly in proportion to the monies invested (with a reasonable variation based on the skill of the search engine marketing team, of course). For this reason, you should expect the trend line of visitors from paid search to map closely to your SEM investments.

Organic search efforts, however, are very different. Effort, mostly in the form of time to create and promote great content, is invested, and slowly builds credibility with the search engines and with influencers in the industry. Consistent, meaningful investments in this avenue with therefore result in a slowly but steadily growing number of visitors driven by organic search results.

For this reason, a combination of investments can be very useful. Paid search (SEM) investments can be made in areas that are new, where results are weak, or where a short term boost is needed. Investments in content and influence to drive organic search results can be done over time in core areas of focus.

Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
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Gustavo said...

Very interesting post!

I like the way you propose to categorize the searches by topic and also by branded - non-branded long tail phrases.

It will be great to see how a PPC-non branded visitor becomes an organic-branded visitor in subsequent visits to the site. That could be a strong argument to justify the investment in different SEM efforts.

I'd also make reference not only to the amount of traffic but also to the quality of it. SEO efforts should also be measured on this; by analyzing bounce rates, time on site and other metrics.

I also think one of the biggest challenges that B2B marketers face these days, is to be able to identify the phase in which the potential buyer is, in order to define the most suitable strategy according to their stage.

Thanks for this post!

Steven Woods said...

Thanks Gustavo, great points on the evolution of a visitor. I'll have to dig into that on a future post!

Patrick J Woods said...

Hey, Steve, hope you're doing great!

Good stuff as always. There are some things here that I'll be trying in the next few weeks.

With this kind of reporting, though, I typically filter out the "navigational" searches, since, if we're trying to understand user intent, these visitors are categorically different.

So if you want to examine how customers actively discover your company, including these pseudo-direct visitors doesn't shed any light on this process since they've already made their discovery.

Steven Woods said...

agreed, and in the sample graphic above I made Navigational as a category smaller than it often is... it can actually be the majority of searches is many cases, especially without a content marketing strategy in place.