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Monetizing Site Search Queries
I believe that once everyone starts thinking clearly again after the last round of Penguin updates — focusing on their business rather than on ways to game the system or mass produce activities that are not scalable — we can get down to action that can actually move the needle.
One such action? Focus on your site search queries.
While most keyword research best practices suggest you take a look at them, I have found very few companies that actually do it. At a recent search conference, for example, I asked a room of 250 how many had even looked at their site search queries, let alone mine them.
Only four people raised their hands.
From talking to attendees afterward, it seemed that most didn’t think it would yield any value, did not know where to get the data, or just did not think about it.
Why Are Site Search Queries Important?
Site search queries are the voice of intention of your customers. Site search queries represent products, services or information the searcher expects to find on your site. The following are some ways you can use site search data to improve your search performance.
In my Big Data Mining session at SMX West, I gave an example of a large theme park website for which we set up a process to mine their site search data, looking for anything related to tickets. In the table below are some of the key data points I will explain throughout the article.
The first thing we did was look for any phrases that were questions, as indicated by interrogative words such as “how,” “can (I/we),” “where,” “when” and “what.”
We looked for variations on these phrases that also contained ticket-related keywords, including the names of different types of passes the park offered. What we found astounded us: there were over 27,000 individual questions related to tickets. From there, we extracted the number of searches performed containing those questions, discovering just over 600,000 searches in the current year.
We then wrote a script to test the site search appliance to see if any results were generated for each of the phrases. We also did a check of Google for the top phrases to see if there was anything externally, as well.
What we found was 60% of the queries were not generating any results — meaning that if a searcher came to the site looking for answers to their questions on how to purchase a ticket, exchange for an annual pass, etc., nothing was presented.
The next step was to review the questions to identify which could actually be monetized. We looked for questions such as the following:
- Where can I purchase family pass tickets online?
- Can I upgrade my day ticket to an annual pass?
- Can I upgrade my single park pass to a full access pass?
Once we finished our review, we estimated that 15% of the questions and over 225,000 of the searches could be monetized. The idea was simple: if a visitor wants to upgrade from a day pass to an annual pass, they should be able to click a link and upgrade online (or at least be given instructions on where to go at the park or who to call).
The Marketing Director of the company looked at conversion rates and average sales for these types of products — day passes to annual passes, single park to multi-park passes — and assigned an average conversion value of $200 and an average conversion rate of 10%.
We then estimated that if we could convert those questions at that rate and value, it would represent $4.5 million dollars in revenue. Now, we did assume that even with the horrible state of site search on the site, many would figure out how to do these transactions elsewhere, so we could not count all the revenue — but at least we had a number we could work with.
The client created many pages of new content to address these questions and updated their e-commerce booking engine to accommodate upgrades. They are now able to measure the number of transactions resulting from successful site searches.
Site Search Queries Improve Navigation
A few years ago, a large B2B site updated their international home pages, removing many of the product links and replacing them with interactive mouse-over links. We found that nearly 85% of the non-US users who landed on the home page went directly to site search.
Observing that 85% and the words they were searching, the UX team determined that the users were not recognizing (or did not want to deal with) the mouse-over functions and were instead using site search to find what they wanted.
So, they switched back to the original version, and the site search rate dropped to less than 40%. Little by little, they adjusted the home page to include visual clues to the most common areas of the site, striking a balance between creativity and function.
Identifying Non-Relevant Paid Search Queries
The second case I encountered recently is related to paid search. This B2B company was prompting paid search visitors to download a whitepaper — yet, the searchers clearly wanted something else, with nearly 65% using site search to find what they wanted.
The PPC vendor wanted to remove site search from the navigation to stop this, but it would only lead to increased site bounce rate. We looked at the words and found the campaign was too generic, then made adjustments to keywords and ad copy.
While this did result in a decrease in clicks, it also resulted in a significant increase in engagement. We increased performance in organic results for those other words that were resulting in site search, and set up awareness campaigns to better interact with the searchers who wanted information besides where to download the whitepaper.
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