For several years now, an increasing number of small businesses have reaped the rewards of investing in search marketing as a way of reaching their target audience and delivering to them exactly what they seek. The obvious benefits – better targeting, clearer return on investment (ROI), cost efficiencies and others – are clear to many business owners, and as search continues to grow in popularity, the results only become more compelling.
However, while the benefits mentioned above are soon felt by those embarking on their first search campaigns, if you look past them there are also some more hidden rewards which SMBs might not at first connect with search marketing. Search is much more than just a lead generator; it can be turned into an incredibly powerful business intelligence tool, extending into parts of the business such as PR, product development, sales, merchandising and broader business strategy. All it takes is for marketers to think a little bit outside the (search) box…
Take the example of Matthew Stibbe, CEO at Turbine, an online admin paperwork company, who describes how search marketing helped him in ways he hadn’t originally expected: “We can track back from visitors and sign ups from trialees, and figure out what they typed in in the first place to understand cost per acquisition. It…provides us with business intelligence on where we should be investing our development resources.”
What Stibbe is doing is making Turbine’s search results work harder for them – getting not just ROI on their pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, but, since the words customers type into their search engine boxes are a materialisation of what they have in their mind – indicating how they think and speak about the product as well as what they want from it – they are also gaining more detailed information on their customers’ intent and the language they use to express it. By focusing in on the results that converted to sales and reciprocally on those which did not, Turbine can adapt their marketing language to the keywords used by their customers in the successful queries. This in turn can shape the communication and feel of their wider marketing strategies and essentially, as it taps into their customer’s needs, help make Turbine a more customer-centric business.
In time this approach can also start to influence Turbine’s product development cycles. If a customer clicks through to the site to view the products on offer, but leaves without purchasing, the intent expressed in their keywords can help suggest where the product offerings are falling short of that potential customer’s demands. A quick analysis of this kind of data over a few months will allow Turbine to identify where additional product lines can be designed to meet the customers’ needs implied in the keywords they have used.
This may seem to be a time consuming task for business owners who struggle to complete everything they need to deliver in a 24-hour day, but there are quick and easy tools available to help analyse the data coming through from every SMBs site. One of these is Microsoft Advertising Intelligence (MAI) – a free keyword research and optimisation tool that operates in Microsoft Office Excel. MAI helps small businesses maximise marketing ROI for their keyword campaigns by aiding them with research, keyword expansion, pricing and KPI data, giving them full access, in all transparency, to the search behaviours on Bing and Yahoo!. On top of the depth of keyword analysis, MAI also empowers businesses with the additional knowledge they really need to get to know their audience: demographical and geographical information about searchers.
This kind of geographical information would have been valuable for another Bing customer: the Garden Pharmacy, a health and beauty pharmacy in the heart of London’s Covent Garden. CEO Harry Ganz says “roughly 40 per cent of our business is now online and over the past years there have been many amusing stories and anecdotes about our e-commerce site. Recently, we received an order for a next day delivery and when we looked at it we realised that the person who’d ordered it lives three doors away from our own building. The moral of the anecdote is that PPC advertising can help bring you customers that don’t even know you exist in the first place.”
While Ganz knows first-hand the ability of online search marketing to attract customers that might otherwise have overlooked the physical store, there are more sophisticated ways to use the geographical, age and gender data, created by search marketing and analysed by MAI, to aid business decisions. The Garden Pharmacy could, for example, use the data they have about where their online customers are situated, their age and their gender to help design a targeted mailshot campaign offering discount vouchers both online, and in-store for those customers nearby. By identifying the archetypal high-spending online consumer, they can tailor offers around the kinds of products that this demographic buys most often, and around complimentary products that they might not have previously considered. This technique could help drive sales across both their online and in-store business, using just search marketing data. For a small business on a tight marketing budget this kind of approach can really bring dividends, with very little outlay of time or money.
Another hidden method of improving search marketing requiring little outlay is to harness the power of social. For an increasing number of SMBs a social presence is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a fundamental part of their marketing strategy, and it’s important to note how search and social are increasingly interwoven. With the inclusion of social media into search results, and the influence social media have on websites’ visibility, a smart SMB is one which combines the power of search and social to design a comprehensive and co-ordinated marketing strategy, as discussed in the report Search and Social Media: Making your brand stand out! jointly produced by Microsoft Advertising and the IAB UK. It explains how, if search engines are a database of intents, social networks are the recipient of the sentiment. Bring both search and social marketing in unison and an SMBs understanding of their market cannot be more customer-centric. For instance, one tip contained in the report is to monitor the latest trending topics and quickly adapt keyword campaigns to reflect the current ‘buzz’ being searched for at that time. This helps SMBs exploit interest through search where people will be looking for more, or alternative information. As the report states, “This is an area with real potential for further penetration from brands who can enter the space with relevance simply by being quick to adapt their marketing messages and creating content based on consumer demand.”
Social media can also feed into search by creating fresh, quality links, improving the natural search ranking of SMBs websites and extending their digital footprint. Rather than just monitoring social networks for comments on their brand, SMBs can help feed into and shape the conversation, encouraging bloggers and influentials to follow and comment on their brand, either setting up their own community in which to do this, or maintaining an appropriate presence in existing digital forums. Again, these techniques are innovative, yet quick and easy ways to improve traffic flow to websites without breaking the bank, and show that, in today’s socially-orientated world, a combined search and social strategy is something that few SMBs can afford to be without.
It’s clear that search marketing has a lot more to offer than first meets the eye
To conclude, we can see that, from mining user data to help shape product development to harnessing the power of social, it’s clear that search marketing has a lot more to offer than first meets the eye. This is especially valuable given that PPC is one of, if not the, easiest way to drive measurable ROI of marketing budget, so it’s simple to try some of the tricks mentioned here and measure their effectiveness. Investing a little more time in developing a strategy and uncovering the hidden secrets of search marketing can uncover some real treasure for SMBs, so why not try digging in for yourself?
Cedric Chambaz is the EMEA Marketing Lead of Microsoft Advertising.