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Put Your Site Search to Work and Improve Your Targeted Marketing, Part 1

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No doubt you're spending a lot of time thinking about getting the most bang out of every marketing buck—especially at a time when those dollars might be in short supply.

ROI is a particular concern in the case of investments in technology solutions that are designed to improve the user experience on your website, and you want to make sure that you're getting a good return on those investments.

If you're like most online marketers, you may not realize that some of the technologies that power your website can be critical tools for improving the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.

For example, did you know that you can use data from your site-search solution to create emails with lists of popular products that match your customers' preferences? The result: stronger brand visibility, higher conversions, and a more engaging customer experience.

A recent poll we conducted of more than 300 online businesses found that the most important technologies for promoting their brands are site search, search engine optimization (SEO), and email marketing. All these technologies not only can help you boost your brand online but also can encourage customers to choose your products over your competition's.


In fact, site search, SEO, and email marketing are ideally suited to cross-promoting because they're all valuable tools for gathering information about customers and prospects, such as their product and brand preferences, as well as demographic and geographic information that can be used for personalizing content on a website or for creating targeted, customized promotions.

Site search, in particular, offers many opportunities to improve marketing efforts. Anyone who runs an e-commerce or other type of content-rich site knows that search is one of today's key tools for driving conversions and for creating an engaging online experience.

When site visitors can easily search for the products or information they want and receive relevant results, they're more likely to buy and spend more. When visitors are frustrated by a search that returns results that have little to do with the sought-after information, they quickly leave (and most likely go to one of your competitors), possibly never to return.

But effective site search does much more than that. It gives you valuable insight into what your site visitors are looking for—in other words, the terms they're using to search with and the items they're clicking on. Armed with that data, you can incorporate popular terms, and the popular products associated with those terms, in marketing messages delivered by email or via banner ads on your site or paid search listings, to name a few.

Footwear etc. (www.footwearetc.com), an online shoe retailer based in Sunnyvale, Calif., has made good use of search data to deliver individually targeted emails. Based on customers' product preferences, such as shoe style and favorite brands, Footwear etc. pulls site-search data showing the most popular products that correlate with those preferences. The retailer then generates individually targeted emails that specifically promote those products. These personalized emails have proven highly appealing to shoppers and resulted in significant increases in open rates, click-throughs, and conversions.

Mike Baranov, director of online operations at Footwear etc., says customers show a greater willingness to make purchases when they receive customized emails: "The shoppers who receive emails personalized to their preferences are twice as likely to buy as the shoppers who get the generic promotional emails."

Many marketers have found other ways to use site-search data to improve the customer experience and build one-to-one relationships.

For instance, some marketers create customized banner ads that appear on search-results pages for various search terms used on their site. These custom banners might be for a particular special or promotion, or they draw more attention to popular products associated with those individual search terms. Since they're highly relevant to what the shopper is seeking, the ads are more likely to encourage click-throughs and possible purchases.

Marketers can also use the search terms entered by online shoppers to create more targeted SEO and paid-search campaigns, and so make search campaigns more effective.

For example, search data can be used to create landing pages for SEO and paid-search campaigns—taking visitors directly to information about the product (and other relevant items) rather than to a generic homepage. Such customized landing pages increase the likelihood that visitors will make purchases.

You can also extract additional value from your site search by using it to identify long-tail search terms. These keywords can be higher converting than commonly used or seemingly obvious search terms. Individual long-tail terms may not generate as many sales, but since there are myriad long-tail terms, the net revenue can actually be higher.

In short, there are many tactics for getting more value out of the money you spend on site search. In the second part of this article, I'll discuss more ways of improving the effectiveness of site search, such as social tags, video, and customer ratings.


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Shaun Ryan is CEO of SLI Systems, a provider of hosted search solutions. He can be reached via shaun.ryan@sli-systems.com.

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