It’s now well understood that maximising your conversion rate is critical to compete in the most competitive markets, but what’s often missed is how extending your conversion optimisation to the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) can influence your site conversion and increase the total available traffic from each search term.
This technique is especially valuable for multinational SEO and PPC campaigns, and can allow you to completely dominate high value terms due to the exceptional ROI achievable.
Lets look at an example to illustrate the technique.
Say I’m optimising for life insurance terms with a new comparison brand that also offers multiple alternative insurance products which are much less profitable, and therefore offer lower cost PPC bid rates and less organic search competition.
- Competing on the less profitable products would still allow you to cross-sell life insurance to the visitor, allowing you to increase the actual product profitability to a much higher level and achieve excellent SEO campaign returns very quickly.
Lets also assume the brand can provide insurance products for UK passport holders now residents abroad (the Ex-Pat community).
Key markets would therefore be popular sunny ‘Second Home‘ countries and English language speaking countries. For example: Spain, France, Greece and other Mediterranean countries, the US (particularly Florida and other popular ‘retirement’ sunshine states), Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.
Typically, a savvy SEO or PPC strategy would look to leverage the relative cheapness of some search terms to target early returns and recycle profits back into longer term performance on the more generic search terms.
Next steps would be to get PPC in place for the likes of ‘UK resident foreign home insurance’ and ‘ex-pat health insurance france’ and focus the SEO campaign around early returns for these results before looking to build into ‘home insurance’, ‘life insurance cover’ and ‘compare health insurance’, etc in each country for the second phase of the strategy.
The added benefit of this approach which is often overlooked is that longer tail targets typically convert better onsite. The intent shown by a searcher looking for ‘ex-pat health insurance france’ is much greater than the more generic – and more research-oriented – ‘health insurance’ or even ‘health insurance france’.
The addition of ‘ex-pat’ to the term has made it a much more commercial term with a greater probability of converting should you:
a) Get your site in the listings they are looking at
b) Overcome their objections to sale in the landing page
The downside of this strategy is the comparatively low levels of traffic around these long tail terms in comparison to more generic terms. This is where SERP Conversion Optimisation comes in, and changes a strong strategy into a dominant one.
When we search marketers look at traffic availability for search terms (when we don’t have unfettered access to Hitwise, that is! *sigh*) we have to look at traffic estimation tools: most commonly Google’s Keyword Tool gets the nod here.
Obviously, the data shown here is an approximation of the total number of searches for the term. Taking the lower, local search number means we’re matching up to 95% of all searches (thanks to Google’s auto-locating of searchers to their local version based on search IP).
From our live PPC campaigns, we know what CTRs we will get for our creatives in each position. We also know from leaked AOL data from way back when (OK, not that far back, but it does feel like August 2006 was a long time ago!) the average CTRs for organic listings.
Well, actually, we know what CTRs used to be.
Conservative Estimation Of CTRs
That’s because although we also have various heatmap studies carried out on Google’s SERPs to reinforce the click data, Google’s introduction of Universal SERPs has created a different playing field, with news results popping above the #1 listings regularly, and attention grabbing video and image results pulled in regularly for a broad range of generics.
More recently, we also have Google Instant (and its precursor, Google Suggest) skewing the field, so it’s sensible to dial back our assumptions and take a large pinch of salt with our results.
Localisation also basically removes swathes of search terms from our estimation process, as we simply need to look at optimising within the business listings to target those organically, given their dominance of the top nine listings when triggered.
Personalisation is less of a concern though, as really we are working with average numbers, and these are the most relevant metrics to work with anyway. Repeat: estimates are only a tool to help guide initial strategy and shouldn’t be used as hard and fast predictions on real numbers that will come through.
Remember, you’ll only know the true value of a position in traffic terms once you’re ranking there.
The final caveat, and the crux of this article is of course that: SERP CTR varies depending on the length of the search term.
To understand why, lets take a quick look at the oft-quoted AOL ‘abandonment rate’ of 47%.
If you’re searching for a one or two word term, this makes sense: you search for ‘life insurance’, realise that most of the results are from providers and understand you need to work out which is best value. So, you search again for ‘best value life insurance’, and still find provider or reseller results, and then search again for ‘fsa life insurance advice’ if you’re concerned about policy validity or perhaps ‘compare life insurance rates’ if you are more value driven.
On the second or third search in this chain, you are much more likely to make a click. Additionally, you have ‘pre-qualified’ yourself to convert: you already know the context to the page you click through to. As long as it addresses your concerns, you will remain on it, and you will also be more amenable to convert.
If the website owners ensure the page addresses the fact that there’s a lot of provider choice out there, highlights the FSAs advice on the product, and gives full and transparent information on the best value policy out there, then affiliate links straight through to the best value policiesor a form allowing for basic pre-qualification on the searcher’s personal information to match them to the best policy provider, conversion is significantly easier to achieve.
So, great: we’ve identified that we can make broad estimates on the total number of searchers for our search terms. We can also estimate with reasonable accuracy the actual number that will click on a listing for short to very long tail searches and the likelihood of them clicking through each of the ten organic links or eleven paid links on the page.
We also know that the value of that traffic is much higher for longer tail terms, as it’s more likely to convert.
So, the standard SEO strategy of targeting the long tail, then working up through mid-tail, then onto the high traffic generics beckons.
Except: why chase lower value traffic when we can increase the overall quantity from longer tail, higher quality traffic?
Increasing Your Longtail Traffic With SERP CRO
Aside from sounding a little like a venereal disease, SERP CRO – or Conversion Rate Optimisation of the SERP is a straightforwards means for you to increase overall traffic from a SERP.
We’ve already mentioned different user types in this piece: our life insurance searcher may have been motivated to search for FSA advice, or for cost comparison results. This is a common distinction found across many user profiles; a ‘value’ driven profile Vs ‘price’ led profiles.
User profiling is a well established marketing activity that deserves much greater prominence in online marketer’s toolbox.
The basic idea is you work out the most valuable customer types that you want to attract to your product. You then build out their profiles until you know absolutely what motivates them, turns them off, where they spend their time, how they search and ultimately, what makes them choose to spend money on your product or not.
I’m just scraping the surface of a complex field here, and I’ll write about this concept in more detail in future articles, but for our current example, we simply need to know that there are multiple ‘triggers’ which will entice particular searchers to click on our listing over another.
Once we’ve identified what these are for our key searcher types, we simply match them up to our mid and long tail search terms and ensure we are sending one sales trigger through our PPC listing, and a different trigger though our organic listing, increasing the total amount of traffic driven through those results by outperforming our competitor’s sales messages for each, different, user type.
For example, we highlight the lowest available life insurance policy cost directly in our PPC creative, and use our control over Google’s organic snippet to serve an organic snippet showing that our compared policies are valid for Ex-Pats in the country we’re localised to.
Et voilà! We have boosted the overall traffic coming in on search terms which have a higher conversion rate than average. And, if you subscribe to SERP CTR affecting Google’s ranking algorithm – which I emphatically do – you’ve also got a formula that naturally boosts your organic rankings over time.
Scaling out this strategy allows you to target different user types in each country and expand your list of relevant long-tail terms dramatically: raising total overall traffic driven and improving your onsite conversion rate in each country.
You now have a healthy platform to scale the heights of improving your generic search term performance and conversion, the challenge I’ll tackle in next month’s article.
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