Monday, March 19, 2007

Follow the Search

Search, as you already know, is attracting a lot of attention from Marketers. People who use search engines to navigate to Web sites far exceed those who type the URL directly into the browser address bar or use bookmarks according to a survey by Piper Jaffrey Investment Research.

Marketers are spending more and more money on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) activities to boost their organic search listings. However, nobody really knows how search engines index various sites and pages in their organic listings. So many times I have seen that a keyword search will show a site’s page (mostly home page) even though that page is very generic and has little to do with the keyword that was searched. The page might have had the content related to that keyword sometime in past or that keyword is still there but there is a lot of other content too, the content that is not really relevant to the keyword that drove the visitors to that page.

Note: Even in Search Engine Marketing efforts, there are a lot of marketers who spend a lot of money buying keywords and then send the visitors who click on their paid listings to a very generic page, most of the time to the home page. Not only are they wasting money on these clicks they are losing an opportunity to convert those visitors into customers. I will cover this in a future article.

A visitor, who types in that keyword and lands on the site, gets confused because he/she does not find what he/she was looking for. Visitors are very impatient, they do not have time to go through all the content on the page to search (yet again) for what they were looking for. As a result visitors immediately bail out causing a very high bounce rate and a lost opportunity for the website owner.

So, as an owner of the site, what do you do?

Simple answer is “Follow the Search” in 5 simple steps. The basic idea of “Follow the Search” is to provide user with a relevant content that will drive them further into your site and hence drive up your conversion. Don’t assume that visitors will find their way because they won’t. Give them an immediate reason to stick around, show them they have arrived at the right site.

Here are simple 5 steps of “Follow the Search”:

  1. Capture the search word – As soon as the user lands on your site, capture the keyword user searched on a search engine to get to your site. This can be accomplished by writing a simple code on your page to look for the referring url that drove the visitor to your site. Note: If you have the money then you can also use tool such as Offermatica to do the same.If the referring url contains one of the search engines (you can create your own list of search engines that you want to track but for simplicity I would suggest looking for major search engines and the top search engines driving traffic to your site) then extract the keyword from the referring url. Google, MSN and ASK have the keyword in query string called “q”, while yahoo has the keyword in query string called “p”. Example of the Google referring url is

  2. Build a list of links to the content (or products) that that matches the keyword user searched on the search engine. You can use your on-site search technology or human defined list of content (or products) relevant for your top 50 or 100 (depends on the resources you have) keywords.

  3. Use a highly visible area of your home page (or any other page) to display the list that was built in step 2. You can use left side, right side or main content area of the page but make sure it is in the highly visible area of the page, I recommend conduction A/B test to figure out the best location. Use a catchy label such as “Top 10 Resources for [XYZ keyword]” or something similar. Visitors love the top 10 or Top X lists and by tying it with the keyword they searched on the search engine you will make their life so easy that they will not abandon you.

  4. When a user arrives from a search engine, capture the keyword (step 1), use the list of content related to that keyword (step 2) and display it to the visitor (step 3).

  5. Save the search keyword in session or cookie – Save the search keyword in session or cookie so that you can display the results every time user comes back to the entry page (the page where search engine sent him/her). By saving in cookie you can even show the same results in subsequent visits.

Don’t forget to configure your Web Analytics tool to measure your success - Some of the things you might want to track are

  • How many visitors or visits clicked on items in these lists?

  • Which links are getting the most clicks?

  • What is the conversion rate (whatever your end actions are) by visits (or visitors) who click on these links?

  • Change in end action conversion rates

  • Change in bounce rates

Here is an example:

Here is a screenshot of This is the page visitors gets when they arrive on Note, home page above has very little to do with "Roommates". It has top navigation link and maybe some listings mixed in with classifieds.

When visitors searche on Google for "Portland Indian Roommates”, they get Home Page of as the 1st listing. As I mentioned above this page has very little to do with "Roommates" search keyword that user searched.

However, when the visitors arrives on the site via this keyword, the site follows the above mentioned steps and presents the visitors with the Home page with a section called "Rentals and Roommates" right in the middle of the page.

Questions? Comments?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:03 PM

    Hey, I recently added a news widget from to my blog. It shows the latest news, and just took a copy and paste to implement. Might interest you too.


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