In nature, there are the Fibonacci numbers. This sequence (0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13Ö) and the Golden ratio (Phi or 1.618034) derived from it occurs with amazing frequency and can be found in flowers, the shells of mollusks, leaf arrangements and even the proportions of the human body. Iím beginning to believe that search marketing has its own naturally reoccurring ratio, and Iíve dubbed it the 70/30 Rule.
I canít help thinking that many of us are missing the boat when it comes to search marketing. Perhaps not the whole boat, but 70 percent of it. Every day, new research is coming out which points to there being a vast, untapped potential in search. Weíve picked the low hanging fruit, but thereís a whole tree full of rich marketing results that we have to reach a little further for. And when analysts like Safa Rashtchy and the gang at JupiterMedia point to doubling, tripling and quadrupling revenues from search over the next 5 years, itís based on assumptions that marketers will figure out ways to better tap into the full potential of search.
As I write, I know thereís a posse of irate search marketers who are whispering ďHow dare he refute our expertise in this area! Low hanging fruit, indeed. The nerve!Ē As back up to my observation, here are just 3 examples that come to mind of where the 70/30 rule seems to apply.
70% organic 30% sponsored
At little while back I was presenting a session at Search Engine Strategies about balancing organic and paid search strategies. I had a typical search results page from Google up on the screen. I asked the audience which section of the page they normally look at first. Almost every hand in the audience went up when I got to the top organic results. This was no great surprise. From our research into search user behavior, I was pretty sure this would be the case.
Then I asked who in the audience dedicated at least 30% of their search marketing budget to organic optimization. A very few hands went up, probably less than 3% of the audience.
Does anybody else see the disconnect here? This is not a new message. Study after study has shown that about 70% of all search engine clicks happen on the organic results. Yet sponsored search continues to take the spotlight and the lionís share of the budget, while for many, organic optimization seems stuck as a little understood and even less trusted tactic only fully utilized by online casinos and porn merchants.
Companies using search have to understand their consumers are going to look and click on organic listings more often than sponsored, and you canít just ignore the fact. Yes itís harder, yes itís not guaranteed, and yes it may require some changes to your site, but 7 out of 10 people canít be wrong!
70% researchers 30% purchasers
When is a consumer likely to use a search engine? When theyíre ready to buy? No! Itís when theyíre researching the buy. And most likely, theyíre very high in the consideration phase, just checking out the competitive landscape. This varies with the type of purchase, but usually the search sweet spot is for a product where there is little familiarity, where there is a significant amount of consumer research and consideration, and where there is a lead time of a month or two before the purchase. This is not true all the time, but it is true about..well, look at thatÖ70% of the time!
Driving consumers to a hard purchase conversion and leaving them no other options is not going to be a successful online tactic for the majority of your consumers. We have to understand the mindset of the consumer when theyíre likely to use a search engine. If you always aim for the easy conversion, or the low hanging fruit, youíre probably missing 70% or more of your market. Take some time to gain a better understanding of the consumer and what theyíre looking for. Adjust your search marketing strategies accordingly. Extend your reach beyond the low hanging fruit.
70% by luck, 30% by design
Recently, JupiterMedia released findings of an extensive survey with search marketers. In it, they found that only about 25% (close enough to 30 for me) of the respondents actively used landing pages and other on site tactics to increase conversion rates.
The majority of a search marketerís time is spent in trying to influence position on the search engine results page. This is true whether youíre working on the sponsored side or the organic one. As marketers try to squeeze more return from their marketing investment, there are three points at which they can influence the ROI equation. They can reduce the investment by intensive bid management or tapping into the organic potential of search. They can increase click-throughs by extending the keyword basket or improving their position on the page. And finally, they can increase the conversion rate on the site by making sure the search visitor is finding what they were looking for and that an appropriate conversion path is present. Itís the last of these three that offers the marketer the greatest degree of control, yet itís the one most often overlooked. Usually, we have complete control over what happens on our own site. But often, we have never really asked our visitors what theyíre looking for. We havenít tapped into the existing (and extensive) body of knowledge on usability design when it comes to websites. This is one area that could have huge payoff not just in search, but in all areas of online marketing.
For each of the 3 examples of the 70/30 Rule Iíve given, I know others exist. And Iím not sure that itís wrong that marketers have previously gone for the obvious wins in search. But I worry about the lack of motivation to go after the wins that require more work.
We canít move forward as an industry until we start doing the research required to better understand the 70% of the market weíre missing. The big winners in business have never been the companies that go for the easy wins. Theyíre the ones that figure out how to pick the fruit thatís just out of their competitionís reach.
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June 6, 2005
Gord Hotchkiss is President and CEO of Enquiro, Canada's leading search engine marketing firm and one of the top firms in North America. His articles are regularly published in both on and off line newsletters, including Marketing Monitor, SEOToday, Marketing and many other trade journals. Enquiro's own information portal is www.searchengineposition.com.
With an extensive 20 year background in the marketing and advertising business, Gord has been working to increase client's search engine visibility since 1996 and has specialized in search engine marketing since 1999.
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