Ever walk into a store to purchase something, only to find it’s not there? You know what you want and you’re ready to buy, but you can’t find it. Bewildered, you paw through the shelves, searching high and low, but to no avail. Exasperated, you leave.

Sound like fun? Hardly. When you walked into that store you had expectations. When you walked out, all you had was disappointment.

Clearly, consumer expectations are very real, but keep in mind that they’re not limited to brick and mortar venues. Online consumers have the same expectations as their offline counterparts. Likewise, so do search users. In fact, people visiting a “search shelf”—a search results page—expect the same experience as people visiting a shelf in a retail store.

Doubtful? A recent SEMPO study proves my point.

The study reveals that the majority of those surveyed expect leading brands to be at the top of their search results (71%), and that they have been introduced to new brands/companies via search (71%). In addition, the study’s respondents reported that search helps them find information on more than where to buy things (67%); and that search allows them to make better buying decisions (76%).

Clearly, these results are anything but surprising. In fact, they seem intuitive. But if consumers expect the same experience at the search shelf as they do at the store shelf, one would think that marketers would make it easy for people to find them online.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

The truth is that more often than not, people do not find what they are looking for right away when conducting searches online. In fact, the same study reveals that the majority (54%) of those surveyed indicate that it takes them a few searches before they find exactly what they need. The implication of this finding should be obvious: There’s a lot of room for improvement in how marketers promote their brands and products online.

What’s a marketer to do? You need a plan. To start, I recommend the following:

The first thing you need to do is to define what the search shelf looks like for your category. This in itself is hugely important, but even more so given the development of blended search results in the major search engines. Specifically, you need to understand what the typical results page looks like, and where the data is being pulled from to populate the various results. For example, is it coming from YouTube, Flickr, or is it a blog or product feed? The answers to these questions will play a key role in the development of your plan.

Once you have defined your search shelf, you can build out a robust search plan that will address the various sources of search results to ensure maximum exposure in the results set against your critical keywords. In addition, benchmarks are an important component of this plan — be sure to set them so you can gauge your success. For example, maybe you will want to measure how much space you want to occupy on the search shelf. Owning shelf space is a critical in-store success factor — why shouldn’t the same rules apply here?

Next, you need to execute this plan flawlessly. Be mindful, however, that you will need to get creative with your efforts for certain sites or digital assets. Why? You need to make sure you can get your content indexed there so that Google and Yahoo! can go pull it from those sites. For example, on many product related searches, the engines will display product results at the top of the page. The product results actually come from other comparison shopping engines or sites like Drugstore.com. Examples like this one demonstrate why it is so important to define the search shelf before creating your plan.

Once you have executed your plan, you need to measure, reassess, and refine. Did you meet your original success metrics in terms of traffic or space occupied? Did these visitors take the course of action you wanted them to? There are no hard and fast rules to this. You need to constantly evaluate how you are doing, and continually test and make adjustments.

Remember, everybody has expectations — especially your customers and prospects. The question is, are you meeting them? Whether they are looking at the store shelf or the search shelf, their expectations are the same. Smart marketers realize this and will work to help their customers and prospects easily find their brands and products, regardless of where the shelf is.

Robert J. Murray is president of search engine marketing firm iProspect and can be reached at rob.murray@iprospect.com. The Brand Aid column appears Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Brand Aid | Channel: Strategy | Search Marketing: Branding

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About The Author: is president of search engine marketing firm iProspect and can be reached at rob.murray@iprospect.com.

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