A former employer once disclosed, in passing, the nub of the problem caused by the global obsession with successful tweaking of keywords as the golden path to better SEO, which is supposed to maximise both revenues and ROI.
His son, a whiz kid wildly successful in the early years of SEO, unregulated and unburdened by ethical considerations, had improved a client’s search engine rankings till he actually got to the top of a category. The client was bowled over happily. But to no avail. He got a lot of clicks but little clickthrough, and negligible sales.
“You know why?” – “Why?”
“The client’s product. He was selling goats.” (Or may be sheep).
Or whatever. It doesn’t matter. The point is that keywords are no guarantee of sales any more than successful advertising is. They can at most take the horse to water. They get the seller a high ranking on the list to attract the buyer, but they can’t make him drink. What is worse, because keywords can be inserted into a site page without being visible to the reader, they can generate more hits than the page’s visible contents may merit.
Too much keyword-tweaking SEO can get the search engines themselves to de-rank a sales site – though many an innocent Internet marketer in India might not know about that from what their SEO experts promise. So, before you get into something slippery and (semi-) fraudulent as this practice, be warned.
This is not to say that keyword searches and keyword-rich text are undesirable or even avoidable. They will be important so long as search marketing exists. But persistence with traditional keyword-tweaking is wasteful. There are two possible steps, as experience and research in the more organised markets suggest.
One, to balance higher and lower rankings through astute use of keywords, including a certain amount of automation and a sizeable cut in search costs (one author in an excellent site claims by 30 per cent).
Two, to adopt copywriting tactics – drawing on the experience of traditional direct marketing copywriters – to engage site visitors both during the critical first eight seconds said to decide whether a visitor stays on the site or clicks out of it.
A recent issue of that great site, ‘Marketing Sherpa’, illustrates with an elaborate case study how one company, a book distributor, did that. Lessons from that research could help us, not to imitate it, but to think out of the box.
The Internet marketer reviewed was in a Google programme with a few lakh active keywords at any time. And despite the numbers and costs, he was still finding new ways to improve returns. But revenues remained low, and something had to be done.
He already knew that though the top-ranked ads in paid search got the most traffic and cost more, ads lower down the listings often got much higher conversions. He knew this was because they represented shoppers who knew what they wanted – and fewer numbers of the undecided who would click on every high ranking ad. So, his goal was to look for a ranking that would be the optimum of both traffic and conversions.
To begin with, his team decided to prune their list of active keywords while continuing to add new ones for SEO. Then they programmed their AdWords management software to calculate revenue per click produced by each keyword phrase.
The programme helped them home in on the most profitable keywords and scale back or delete the laggards. Such keywords might be placed deeper in the ad, where only the serious shoppers would find them.
Having drawn up their list of keywords, they began recording their performance at various points in the rankings from day to day. This was because, depending on changes in data, a keyword would rise or fall in the rankings. So, this company’s system enabled it to get a comfortable fit with changes in customer preference.
They also set themselves a strict ceiling on their keyword purchases: they would not spend more than so many cents per click for most keywords. The only exceptions were keywords with the best conversion rates and those that netted high value orders.
Finally, they used keywords designed to target college students, their prime target segment, during the period they bought most of their text books. They made bids on keywords containing their ISBN numbers. At one point they targeted 35,000 textbook titles, making up over 100,000 keywords.
They beefed up the copy, too. They used stronger actions than before. They also made it more product specific, using not only book ISBN numbers like their competitors, they included the book titles, at the same time keeping to Google’s strict limits on the number of characters per ad.
They also worked on the ad copy and used stronger action words in the ad copy, switching “Find Now” to “Buy Now.”
The new system worked like gangbusters. Some key metrics:
• Search engine marketing revenue increased 28 per cent
• Costs dropped 30 per cent
• ROI improved 83 per cent
In contrast, during the same period the year before, they had seen a 4 per cent decrease in revenue.