Brand SEO, Information Retrieval and Ecommerce

Brand SEO, Information Retrieval and Ecommerce

15th June 2011

I am constantly surprised by how often different term sets and query types are either ignored, or their role in a user-journey, misunderstood. All too often, run-of-the-mill keyword-research advice leads with an emphasis on relevance, volume and competition; ignoring the vital supporting role of e.g. “brand” terms – or the interplay between product/transactional terms and brand/navigational terms.

Brand SEO is often overlooked, as let’s face it – it’s pretty easy to dominate a good few pages of any search engine with your company results (whether on your owned and operated properties, or whether {your content} on social network and sharing sites), which means it’s not so sexy. However when it comes to Ecommerce, it is brand visitors that drive the revenue, often at a far greater contribution to overall revenue than what we may understand to be “transactional” terms. In order to get at the “why” we need to get out of our “doing” mindset and think about brand SEO from a user perspective and to do that, we need to revisit Information Retrieval and query-type classification.

Query Type Classification

Information Retrieval (IR) is the division of computer science that looks at query input types and classification of such; in order to understand user intent. If this is new territory to you, then I highly recommend that you have a thorough read through the following post by Dave Harry on Search News Central. By way of quick re-cap the query types most commonly referred to by scientists and search engines are as follows;

Informational: E.g. “trees”, “volcano” which are broad queries, from which we can infer little about any desired outcome or action.

Navigational: E.g. “youtube” or “spotify”, which is a specific query for a specific destination, where the user possibly knows what they want but can’t be bothered, or can’t remember the URL, thus use the search engine to help them get there.

Transactional: E.g. “buy glastonbury tickets” or “download tube map” which are specific queries, revealing the user intent to achieve a specific outcome (therefore transactional is in the exchange sense of the word, not the purely financial purchase sense.)

As we can see from the above example navigational query types, the act of improving or working on a client “brand SEO” is ensuring that said brand is highly visible for highly valuable queries, i.e. the type of query where the user knows what they want; which intrinsically infers familiarity.

Query Types and the Purchase Funnel

The concept of a “purchase funnel” is a commonly used marketing model which is not web-specific but looks at the stages of a consumer purchase decision. Whilst variations and expanded models exist, a commonly used purchase funnel would encompass the following stages:

Digram of the purchase funnel showing stages from awareness, opinion, refinement, decision to purchase.

Common sense alone tells us that different query types are analogous to different stages of the purchase funnel as shown above.  Informational query types e.g. “door” or “wooden door” may be considered relevant to “awareness” to “refinement” stages; navigational queries “[merchant name] doors”, “[merchant name] doors sale prices” may fit in any of the “refinement” to “purchase” stages, and our transactional term types (“buy oak doors”, “order OD897 next day delivery”,) may fit in any of the “refinement” to “purchase” stages.

In addition to common sense, – click/conversion-attribution studies support this; as does our own attribution modelling and advanced data analysis at theMediaFlow.

Which is why probability distribution and the oft-mentioned SEO wisdom of targeting a range of short and long-tail keywords, lacks complete efficacy as a keyword strategy.

Understanding the keywords that drive traffic to your site by query type and user intent, considered against the stages of the purchase funnel will give you a much greater, holistic understanding of your visitors and propensity to convert, and at which stage. To capitalise on this I would recommend the following checklist of actions.

1. Is your brand SEO locked down?

2. Are you triggering the right signals, so that common brand name misspellings return your brand serp(s)?

3. Do you have good quality content that speaks to the information stage queries relevent to your product?

4. Do you have good quality, memorable content that speaks to the transactional stage-queries for your products?

5. Could the journey stages between the term types be considered analogous? E.g. if I visit your site looking to buy an “oak door next day delivery”, fail to buy at that visit yet return an hour later by visiting the homepage via a navigational query, does the site have the same look and feel? Are there common qualities and references to the type of products that brought me here initially?

6. Are you using click attribution tracking to back-up your SEO work and development with tangible revenue improvements?

Being front of mind for “tail” terms that might crudely be considered to have a high propensity to convert is not enough. Understanding the user intent, term-type per intent and being front of mind for each of those types will ensure your ecommerce site is a truly dominant force.


Written By
Nichola Stott is owner and co-founder of theMediaFlow; online revenue optimisation and audience services (including SEO, SEM and SMM). Prior to founding theMediaFlow, Nichola spent four years at Yahoo! as head of UK commercial search partners.
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