Last week I attended and presented at SMX-London. It was a great chance to meet with British search Marketers that don't get to make it out to the US conferences, and to hear a different perspective on familiar topics from mostly British presenters. Friday saw the "Search Marketing for Retail" seminar, which was moderated by Rob Kerry of Ayima.com.
The first presenter to hit the stage was Finlay Clark of BigMouthMedia who gave an overview on the topic starting with the challenges online retailers face. The first challenge was in protecting the brand. Make sure that you use the NOODP tag if you're listed in the ODP (DMOZ), as it's likely that your description over there does not contain a strong call to action. If you have affiliates, remember that they are going to be directly competing with you online for your brand, don't let them get in there first, or allow them to get ahead of you. Finally, think about the impact that universal/blended search is having on the SERPs, think beyond the blue text links.
The second challenge involved influencing the brand message. Here he gave a really great tip: Go to Yahoo Answers and look at what's being asked and said about your company. This helps you in two ways. The first is that it gives you a view on any reputation management problems that may be bubbling up over there, and the second is that it points out questions that aren't answered on your website. By reviewing these questions, you can build out your FAQ section, or make modifications to product and service pages which improves the user experience by giving them what they're looking for.
The third challenge involved tracking the true source of the sale. In other words, tracking the whole journey from research to purchase, not just the final click or the final session. The fourth and final challenge dealt with the issue of keeping your staff and in-house knowledge. What happens when you're training people in a fast growing industry where they may leave for brighter opportunities as soon as they're trained?
Next he moved into opportunities. The first was feed proliferation, where he talked about optimizing for as many attributes as possible. He suggested you ensure that your EAN (bar code) numbers are in the feed, and get reviews on popular sites. However, he did mention that this generally leads to conversions of less than 1%.
With social media being such a big talking point this year there was no surprise when he next highlighted that as another opportunity. If you're going to put together a viral widget you have to make sure that you have the right creative concept that both ties in with your strategy and resonates with the intended audience. Then you need to have the right promotional strategy. Uou need to make it easy for the community to talk about you. Contribute to the debate and become a part of the community. Publish quirky stats and trends; interesting data that people will want to read and respond to.
Finally, he wrapped up his presentation with some predictions for retail
The next presenter to take the stage was Warren Cowan of Greenlight. He talked about the opportunity for retailers who sell multiple product lines. They have SKUs they can use in search. Why is this important? Because searchers do search for SKUs as well as for branded terms. Of course the challenge for retailers managing thousands, or hundreds of thousands of SKUs is that managing campaigns for so many products can be a logistical nightmare. This is especially true for fast turnover industries. So how should you handle it? Run around like a headless chicken in a farm full of spreadsheets? No, you should simply relax. Ok, not too much, but you shouldn't try to get every product and every SKU listed. Concentrate on your popular, high ROI products.
Warren then rounded out his presentation with some PPC tips. First, dynamically integrate your price in your ad copy. It's been proven to increase click through rates and quality score, which in turn will improve your rankings and lower your costs. Second, you need to have your inventory system integrated with your campaigns. You don't want to be wasting money advertising product lines you can't sell.
Stewart Hunter of The Search Works was the penultimate presenter and started off by throwing out some figures on the growth of online sales. Last year's year on year growth was 54% while this year it's estimated to be between 33% (by Logan Todd) and 58% (by Forrester).
Stewart recommended that you always think about seasonality in your online keyword buys, including keywords that have previously 'failed'. Perhaps it wasn't the right time for those keywords. Perhaps you've improved your landing page or your call to action. Perhaps your site now appeals more to the people searching for those words. Make sure that your online budget is flexible enough to take advantage of sudden surges in demand, or the natural growth of demand. He finished his presentation by repeating the call from Finlay Clark to track the full sales cycle, in order for you to truly appreciate and leverage online's influence over offline.
The last presenter was Graham Hansell of Sitelynx who presented on the niche topic of electrical retailers in the UK. As someone who spent 4 years working for one of the companies he discussed, I really enjoyed this topic. As you may expect, retailer search branding is the biggest driver of traffic, with over 60% of traffic coming from searches involving retailer terms (i.e. Comet Televisions.) You should ensure that you do have common misspellings included in your terms. For example, "Curries" is a top 30 traffic term for Currys.
Local Search is a big opportunity for retailers who should ensure they have their locations in the various mapping sites. Mobile search is still in the infancy stages, but will be a major driver in the future.
The long tail is also a huge driver for companies, with less than 40% of all search terms being generic. In fact, retailers such as Amazon.co.uk generate over 75% of their traffic from generic terms.
Graham wrapped up his presentation with his list of opportunities for online retailers:
Simon Heseltine is the Director of Search at Serengeti Communications a McLean, Virginia based digital marketing agency specializing in search engines, social media, word of mouth, Blogs and RSS, digital PR, and online media & advertising for a wide range of clients in both the nonprofit and commercial sectors.
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