Every time customers initiate a search, they're sniffing for scent. People hunting for data on the web behave remarkably like animals sniffing out prey. It's the most effective means of finding a teeny-weeny squirrel in awfully biggish forest.
Preserving and creating intentional scent trails on your site translates to improved ROI for your paid and organic search terms. How well does your site preserve the scent trails your visitors are following?
The prospect types the term she believes will serve up the answer she's hunting for. Then, willfully, she follows the scent trail of that specific term, branching out from the center point (usually the search results page), seeking her specific answer. She returns to the center point frequently to orient herself. If she doesn't find the answer after several clicks out from the center point, she starts a new scent trail. She repeats this process until she finds the answer, the 'meat' she is looking for.
You must understand this process so you can measure and optimize the scent trails people are following on your site and in your marketing campaigns. Pulling the 'scent trail' they are following out from under them is one of the reasons why for most sites enjoy a staggeringly high 80% drop off rate after 3 pages.
Most search marketing is about getting found. The problem is that most search marketing does little more than put signs on every tree that read 'squirrels in forest'. While squirrels certain live in the forest, that helps the hunter very little in her quest to find the actual squirrel she's hunting.
Even worse is the marketer that doesn't even have squirrels, but thinks it acceptable to lure in squirrel hunters and then serve up tofu on its landing pages.
The search terms that she keys in and then follows reveal her intent. The more specific the term, the more transparent her intent. If you want to convert your prospect, your site must serve up the content and the pages and the path that will match her intent.
So how do you measure your site's effectiveness at doing this? It's a simple matter of using your metrics to follow user scent trails and see where they drop off. Special thanks to our bud Steve Jackson for helping us outline this.
Start with a fresh spreadsheet
In one column list your top 100 search terms/phrases (both pay-per-click and organic).
In the next column, assign a number between 1 to 5 (5 being highest) to indicate how relevant the landing page is to the adword or listing term the customer clicked on.
In the next column, list the single page access or bounce/reject rate from that page.
In another column, list, for each term, every conversion goal (calls to action) from that page.
Calculate the Bounce Rate from each step in the scent trail from the landing page through to the call to action pages.
Depending on the complexity of the sale and the amount of information a prospect would need to convert, you can begin to uncover how bad your scent trails are. You can see where they break down, and where there might be a disconnect between what a prospect is looking for and what content you are placing on her path
To optimize your scent trails make sure that if the intent is transparent, that the scent trail on any chosen term matches the intent.
It makes no difference if the trail starts with pay-per-click or from an organic search. When a prospect clicks she hopes to find one of two things: the answer she seeks or another link that will take her to the content she seeks.
Echo back the search terms she is using so when she sniffs her way onto your marketing and online efforts she will have a relevant scent trail to follow through to conversion.
The best SEO and SEM efforts mean nothing if you are attracting the traffic only to see them drop off for lack of a relevant scent trail.
Know where your prospects are sniffing, and you'll be sniffing some profit yourself.
Anthony Garcia is Future Now, Inc.'s Senior Persuasion Architect
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Time to start gathering around those virtual fences, o dearly beloved reader - that's where a lot of marketing action is taking place. Word of mouth, the oldest form of marketing, is shaping up to be the most talked-about trend of 2006. Forward-thinking brands are already racing to encourage and harness consumer-generated media to drive greater business impact.
The proof that word of mouth has hit the mainstream? As Pamela Parker reported, top marketing minds are jumping to word of mouth companies: Jupiter's Gary Stein has joined word of mouth research firm BuzzMetrics and Forrester's Jim Nail has joined Cymfony, a company that tracks consumer generated media. And Sam Decker, who led the growth of Dell.com into the world's largest ecommerce site, has announced he left Dell to join word of mouth startup Bazaarvoice (still in 'stealth' mode).
I convinced Sam to take a minute out of his hectic schedule to chat with us about the future of consumer-driven marketing.
The Grok: Sam, why did you leave Dell to join Bazaarvoice, an early stage startup?
Sam: It was an opportunity to work longer hours for less pay! But besides that, I am extremely excited and passionate about the crossroads of customer-centric marketing and eCommerce. The future of eCommerce is to integrate the customer voice into your customer experience and make it part of your brand. This is the new marketing model that needs to invented, evolved and matured. It's the right time, the right idea, the right team, and an opportunity to work with a diverse set of global online brands. That sounds like fun!
The Grok: Why is word of mouth so important for brands today?
Sam: Here's the recipe for this trend: An oversupply economy, overabundance of information &campaigns, customers increasingly cynical of advertising &marketing, and eCommerce has hit mainstream. It's no wonder why customers are turning to each other. Customer-to-customer conversations are authentic, credible and reliable. Just what we need as customers to get excited about a product and make wise purchase decisions.
The Grok: The classic view of WOM is of one person talking to directly to another. How does this concept change when it is brought to the Internet?
Sam: The Web has amplified the voice of every customer. Blogs, podcasts, forums, ratings, reviews ... everyone is an expert. And all these experts are connecting and listening to each other. One voice carries a lot further than it used to.
Also, online is extremely measurable. Paradoxically, CMOs are challenged with ROI measurement during a rising trend in seemingly un-measurable word of mouth. Word of mouth online can be measured, especially if it occurs within your own web site, intermingled and correlated with the web analytics and financial measures. Mix these together, and executives will take notice.
The Grok: Who is getting it right?
Sam: Today, I see three pillars of word of mouth online, and examples of excellence in each.
Email - people forwarding links to each other - is the first pillar. It's extremely fast and powerful, but not transparent to others. Google and Hotmail built their user base on the viral effect of sending emails from their service. Dell makes it easy to email a configuration to your friends and receive an email when you post to a support forum, which is helpful when you need advice on a purchase or a problem.
Consumer-generated content like blogs and podcasts are another pillar. Microsoft empowers hundreds of employees to blog. One of my favorite marketing/leadership blogs is John Porcaro's, a marketing leader for the Xbox division. His transparent insights -- good and bad -- put Microsoft in a positive light because he's honest, smart and he's part of Microsoft.
User reviews are a critical pillar for eCommerce. This is the 'bullseye' of word of mouth online, because right now the visitors at your website considering a purchase are looking for this advice to make a decision. Amazon and eBags do great jobs here. However, according to shop.org annual study, only 26% of online retailers host reviews. Of those, 96% rate this as an effective tactic. There's opportunity here.
The Grok: What are some tangible strategies for companies who want to harness today's chaotic world of consumer generated media to increase marketing effectiveness?
First, define what kind of word of mouth you want ... drive awareness with a buzz campaign or encourage and leverage product word of mouth. If it's the latter, put a system in place to encourage, manage and analyze your customer conversations. Make it easy and convenient for customers to share their opinion. Get your customers excited about contributing to your customer community. Manage the community to maintain its usefulness and authenticity. Tap into the rich customer voice data for insights and optimization. And correlate this data to operational measures and impact. This is critical because without a results-oriented approach, any word of mouth strategy will wither and die within a for-profit business, despite the best intentions.
The Grok: Many brands would be wary of letting customers take the reins in the retail relationship. How have clients responded to Bazaarvoice's offering?
Sam: Our clients understand customers are going to talk about a company's products and services with their peers whether the company chooses to listen or not. CMOs (and CEOs) are under a great deal of pressure to become more customer-centric. WOM offers the fastest possible path to this objective. We give our clients a way to transform customer-to-customer conversations into operational results. So, our clients are happy.