Archive for the 'Online Strategy' Category

Is Enhanced Internal Site Search Your Low Hanging Fruit?

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014


Online marketers often focus so much energy on driving new visitors to their website that they often overlook the What is your low hanging fruit?activities on their website that are most critical to converting and growing loyal visitors and customers.  Consider internal site search – According to a Google report on internal site search, 90 percent of companies report that search is the No. 1 means of navigation on their site and 82 percent of visitors use site search to find the information they need.  Given that 80 percent of visitors will reportedly abandon a site if search functionality is poor, enhanced internal site search functionality may be your highest return investment opportunity.

The ROI Can Be Compelling

As we noted in a previous entry, Website Redesigns Gone Good, we helped a client to implement enhanced search capability that resulted in a 35% decline in the volume of search abandonment.  For our client that represented over 100,000 consumers each year who were far more likely to make a purchase and who left the website experience more satisfied and more likely to return – also helping to drive a 20 percent increase in web site driven revenues., who provides access to over 1,400 online bookstores across the United States and Canada, installed a new site search engine and grew web sales by 23%.

So where to start?

STEP 1: Analyze how visitors to your site use your current site search

No surprise here – given our emphasis on analytics and understanding site behavior.  If configured properly, any reputable analytics solution should provide extremely valuable information.

  • Pay particular attention to bounce rates, exit rates, and conversion rates by keyword.
  • On the highest volume keywords, what results are presented, in which order, and to which pages did visitors navigate.
  • A high volume of search activity on particular categories of keywords can reflect important deficiencies in the navigation of your site.
  • Segment your audience and develop an understanding of how different types of users use site search.
  • It’s important to remember that in most cases the majority of traffic to your site does not start on the home page.  This can change the context for why someone may do a search.
  • This step is often necessary to build the business case for any investment in enhanced internal site search capabilities.

In addition to helping you to identify where your current search and site navigation is falling short, analyzing your search traffic can also help you develop a better understanding of your website visitors.

STEP 2: Research best practice internal site search features

Competitor websites or the websites for market leaders in related industries can often be very helpful in this regard.  Some of the most common enhanced features include:

  • Search filtering (e.g. price, product/content type, brand, color, etc) – Over 88% of the top 500 online retailers offer search filtering – those that don’t are primarily due to narrow product offering.
  • Search Relevancy/Prioritization – Advanced search tools provide powerful methods for altering the order in which search results are returned.  For example, you may want to give higher priority to high conversion or high margin products.
  • Redirects – When you have created a page that has been optimized to address a particular topic or product category, you can have a visitor automatically redirected to that page when they search on a related keyword.
  • Keyword Specific Promotions – Much like redirects, specific promotions can be displayed for specific keyword searches.  If, for example, someone did a search on “green golf bag”, the search results page might contain a promotion related to golf items.
  • Spelling Correction and Synonyms – Nothing will deter a visitor more than getting a “No items found” search result (and this feature is particularly helpful for a poor speller like me).  A search at on “Digital Overhead Projecter” returns “Presentation Equipment & Supplies” and “Projectors & Accessories” as category options.
  • Sorting Options (e.g. price, product rating) – Just providing useful sorting options on search results can increase search effectiveness considerably.

STEP 3:  Identify Opportunities for Specialized Searches

Look for opportunities to develop specialized search capabilities for important product lines or content types.  This necessitates really understanding how visitors search for specific types of products or content.  For example, one of our clients who offers artificial Christmas trees, dramatically increased conversion by providing a more structured search that allows visitors to easily select attributes like the size, color, and lighting of the different trees offered.  OfficeMax offers an entirely different method for searching for printer ink that allows the visitor to select the brand and model of your printer.  You can also significantly reduce customer support costs by providing customer support content via search.

STEP 4: Evaluate SaaS (“Software as a Service”) Internal Site Search Offerings

The SaaS model allows websites to provide powerful search capabilities to your visitors without visitors ever knowing that a 3rd party is providing the functionality.  The SaaS model can provide several benefits, including:

  • Reliable and scalable infrastructure
  • Lower cost of ownership
  • Easier upgrades
  • Faster time to market
  • Experienced support staff
  • Derive benefits of collective development on an ongoing basis

There are dozens vendors in this space, but the following are some of the leaders in the space:
•    Endeca
•    Omniture SiteSearch (Mercado)
•    SLI
•    Celebros
•    EasyAsk

Not surprisingly, each of these vendors (and the others not listed here) has strengths and weaknesses and should be evaluated in the context of the information you gather in Steps 1 through 3.

Follow the steps outlined above and you may see returns beyond your expectations.  Good luck and please contact us if you have any questions.  Also, we would be interested in any examples of high profile websites that you think have especially strong or weak internal search capabilities (let us know in a comment below)?

Importance of Empathy for Marketers

Friday, October 19th, 2012

One of the greatest, and maybe most important, characteristics of a marketer is empathy.

Empathy: Ability to imagine oneself in another’s place and understand the other’s feelings, desires, ideas, and actions (source:

To be a great marketer, we don’t need to be our target audience (none of us really are).  However, it is essential that we truly know them – to be able to think like them.  We need to understand their motivations and desires, what frustrates them, how they communicate,  what makes them unique, etc.  In plain terms, we need to be able to walk in their shoes.

By doing so, we can view our brands through their eyes and that provides invaluable insights and perspectives.  By starting with them (vs. us) and then developing strategies, programs, and communication, we significantly increase the chances of creating something that will engage and resonate with them.  It informs everything:  the words we use, the images, the overall message, where we communicate, etc.

Companies like Nike show that they ‘get’ their consumers through their products and advertising.  They do it in a way that demonstrates they know what their consumers need, what struggles they face, and who they really are.  Doing those things builds tremendous brand loyalty.

Being empathetic isn’t always easy, and it can take a lot of work, but do it right and do it well, and we will be better marketers.


Image source:

Pintrification of America

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

If you haven’t been in a coma during the past six months, then you most definitely have heard of Pinterest.  And, if you are marketer, you better have either (a) integrated Pinterest into your social marketing strategy or (b) had serious discussions about how you can integrate it.

Will Pinterest continue to grow at its current pace or will it be the latest social media flavor of the month?  Although I expect the former, who can really know?  What is clear to me, however, is given the overwhelmingly positive response from women, Pinterest is providing something of real value, something that women adore (in the U.S., the majority of Pinterest users are women; however, in some other countries, Pinterest is skewing more toward men).

The fact is that women love browsing Pinterest.  It’s inspiring, hopeful, positive, beautiful, helpful, encouraging, and pleasing.  It’s not simply a means to an end for finding something – it’s an enjoyable journey.  It’s the digital equivalent of a woman flipping through her favorite magazine while taking a relaxing, warm bath.  If you haven’t spent much time on Pinterest, try searching for ‘chocolate cupcake’ on Google and then do the same thing on Pinterest.  You’ll see what I’m talking about.

As marketers, we need to understand what it means for us.  How does this ‘Pintrification of America’ impact our ability to build awareness, engage, and interact with our target consumers.  How do we stay relevant and interesting in this pintrified world?

Yes, it’s easy to pin a photo of a product, but we need to be more intentional than that.  We have to think in terms of what’s going to be “pinteresting” to our audience?  What’s going to grab their attention?  What are they going to think is ‘pinworthy’?  What worked for your catalogs, publications, and website may not be “pinteresting” enough.  A straight-on product shot will seem boring and bland. How-to’s and helpful tips don’t just need to be educational, they need to be visually interesting.

So, how has the rise of Pinterest impacted your marketing efforts?  What are you doing to stay relevant and interesting (pinteresting) in this Pintrified world?

Future of Mobile

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Recently, comScore released its 2012 Mobile Future in Focus report which examines key trends driving smartphone adoption, mobile media digital consumption, and multiple device digital usage.  As the report identifies, the rapid adoption of smartphones and tablets will have an increasingly significant impact on how consumers shop, consume information, and interact with your brand or company.

The following is a summary of some key take-aways for digital marketers:

  • Battle of the Mobile Ecosystems.  Over one-half of all new mobile phones purchased are smartphones, and the competition among mobile operating systems will intensify as companies such as Apple, Google, Samsung, Verizon, and AT&T vie for the millions of consumers purchasing smartphones this year.  The mobile operating system is a key decision factor, just behind quality of the device, and as Apple and Google (and to a lesser degree Windows) continue to battle it out, marketers need to plan for multi-mobile ecosystems.
  • Tablets are Going Mainstream.  As important as the iPad has been to launching the Tablet revolution, the introduction of the lower priced devices by Amazon and Barnes & Noble will likely be seen as the ‘tipping point’.  The Kindle Fire and NOOK Tablet offer relatively strong features at a lower price point and will attract hordes of consumers for which the iPad isn’t a consideration.  Given that tablets are supplementing and replacing other screens (e.g. computers and TVs), we need to ensure that our digital content and online shopping experiences are optimized for  tablets.
  • This Isn’t Your Father’s Sales Funnel.  Smartphones are transforming how consumers shop by bringing the collective power and wisdom of the Internet into brick-and-mortar stores. Using their smartphones, shoppers have immediate access to ratings, reviews, and pricing information that wasn’t possible in the past.  As marketers, we can’t bury our heads in the sand.  Instead, we need to embrace change and provide the tools, functionality, and information our target audience needs when they want it, how they want it, and where they want it.
  • Rise of the Digital Omnivore.  According to comScore, “The surging global adoption of smartphones and tablets is changing the how, when and where consumers connect to digital content, creating the most dramatic shift in digital media consumption since the advent of the personal computer”.   They refer to this multi-device consumer as the “Digital Omnivore”, and understanding the wants and needs of the Digital Omnivore will be extremely important for us to minimize the effects of disruption and maximize the opportunities, whether it be in an entirely digital or hybrid digital/bricks and mortar world.
  • Mobile Video Takes Off.  Driven by faster connectivity (4G and more wireless hotspots), the never-ending supply of apps, and more powerful devices, mobile video will increasingly become an important activity for mobile users. Underscoring the impact of faster connectivity, comScore states that 4G subscribers in the U.S. are 33 percent more likely to watch mobile video on their smartphone than an average user.  As such, we need to understand how mobile video factors into our strategy.

We’ve already started to see the impact of mobile, and 2012 will only increase its significance.  What are you doing to integrate mobile into your digital marketing plans?


Very Pinteresting!

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Do you ‘pin’?  If you don’t know what that is, then you probably haven’t used Pinterest.  Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of Pinterest, you will.  It’s the latest social media rage.  However, unlike previous pretenders (e.g. Google Wave),  this one is worth the attention.

Pinterest is about viewing, sharing, and organizing images or videos of anything that’s of interest to you.  If you find something you like, whether it be a photograph of Abraham Lincoln or a dress from a Paris runway, you can ‘pin’ it.  Collections of pins are grouped into ‘boards’, which are usually built around a common theme (e.g. books you like, design ideas for your kitchen remodel, favorite quotes, etc.).  You can follow other boards and re-pin items (e.g. akin to the Facebook Like).

Pinterest usage has skyrocketed, in large part, because it’s incredibly easy to pin things and create boards.  Also, the visual nature of Pinterest makes the browsing experience very rich and fun.  The beauty of the website and related apps is how the technology gets out of the way of the star attraction – the photos themselves (videos too, but they aren’t nearly as popular).

So, how popular is Pinterest?  According to comScore, Inc., almost 8 million unique visitors flocked to Pinterest in December 2011 – that’s up from 418,000 in May 2011.   According to Shareaholic, Pinterest grew from 2.5% of referral traffic in December 2011 to 3.6% of the referrals in January 2012.  Especially impressive is that their share was only .17% in July 2011.  Hitwise reports that Pinterest is now the fifth most popular social networking site, ahead of Google+ and LinkedIn.

In my next blog post, I will discuss how marketers can leverage Pinterest but until then spend some time pinning.  You will find it, um, pinteresting!  Oh, and if you need a Pinterest invite (at the time of this post, you need an invite to join), just send me an email at tim at with ‘pinterest’ in the subject line.

Parable of the Baked Ham

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

A little girl, Ellie, is watching her mom, Christine, prepare a ham for dinner one night.  Ellie noticed that her mom cut off each end of the ham before placing it in the pan.  When Ellie asked her mom why she cut off the ends, her mom paused for a second and replied, “That’s a great question, Ellie.  I hadn’t really thought about it.  I’ve always done it that way because that is how my mom did it.  I assumed it was to make the ham bake better, but why don’t we call Grandma to find out the reason?”

Christine called her mom and asked her the same question her daughter Ellie asked.  Christine was surprised that her mom gave her the same answer she gave Ellie:  “”That’s a great question.  I hadn’t really thought about it.  I’ve always done it that way because that is how my mom did it.  I assumed it was to make the ham bake better.”

So, to satisfy Ellie’s and her curiosity, Christine called her Grandmother and asked her about the ham.  She told her Grandma she assumed she cut off the ends because it’s the secret for a better baked ham.  Her grandma replied, “Oh honey, I wish I had some special secret.  The real reason is that the only pan I had was too small for a whole ham, so I cut off the ends to make the ham fit”.

The New Year is a great time to challenge assumptions and make sure you aren’t doing something just because it’s the way it has always been done.  Are there any situations where you are cutting off the ends of the ham and don’t know why?

The Importance of Planning

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

In reflecting back on 2011 and developing plans for 2012, I keep thinking about what President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said,

…plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

While he was talking about war, the sentiment can be applied to pretty much any situation including digital marketing.

The point President Eisenhower was making is that the unexpected will happen – you can’t change that. In fact, as paradoxical as it sounds, the one thing you can can count on is the unexpected occurring.  However, the process of planning is invaluable because, if done properly, it will better prepare you to be able to react to surprises.

You need a plan for 2012 – it’s essential. Based on what you know now, the situation as it exists today, you need to understand what you are going to do to achieve your goals. However, you also have to expect that things won’t go according to plan. Even if your assumptions are spot on, it’s likely that issues outside of your direct control, whether internal or external, will force you to adjust your plans.

Therefore, don’t shortchange your 2012 planning process.  Make sure you understand the ‘why’ and not just the ‘what’ of your plans.  Spend time to discuss what could derail your strategy and how you would react.  Develop contingency plans when necessary. Know your biggest risks even if you can’t do anything to mitigate them right now.  Consider the impact of technologies or platforms emerging or fading more quickly than expected.

All of this can’t stop the unexpected; however, it will make you better prepared to deal with it.

Image: renjith krishnan /

Rise of the Tablets

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Recently, Forrester Research released a report that discussed the tremendous ecommerce opportunities that tablets provide.  Forrester noted that tablets offer features and functionality that consumers are embracing and early findings are demonstrating that tablets won’t be relegated to a niche technology.  What I found most interesting and perhaps most telling about the opportunity is the following statement made by Sucharita Mulpuru, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research:

“We have always capped e-commerce at 10 to 15 percent of total retail sales, but this (tablets) potentially has the capability of really expanding e-commerce much beyond that.”

TabletsSo, if you haven’t starting considering tablets in your plans, what does this mean for you?  First, don’t ignore tablets because only 10% of Americans currently own one (according to Pew Research and Forreter).  Forrester predicts that number to grow to 1/3 of all Adult Americans by 2015, and I believe that is a conservative estimate.   Given that tablets are being adopted at a rate greather than any technology ever and as prices decrease, features increase, and applications continue to amaze and entertain, more and more consumers will purchase one.

Second, you need to understand the role of tablets in the lives of consumers.  These devices are not simply a smaller laptop.  They provide a unique level of engagement, convienence and interactivity that traditional laptops or desktop machines done.  If you haven’t yet, spend a couple of weeks using an iPad or Android tablet and you’ll see.

Third, think specifically about the type of experience you need to provide for your consumers that use tablets.  Like with smartphones, it will likely be a combination of optimizing your website for tablet computers and developing apps that take unique advantage of the device.

Forrester believes most companies are slow to recognize the importance of tablets.  If you haven’t, it’s not too late.  Doing so now will enable you to get out in front and take advantage in a way that many of your competitors aren’t.

What To Do Before Launching a Facebook Page

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

For marketers, Facebook provies a robust marketing platform and exciting opportunities.  It offers another way for brands to interact with consumers, foster loyalty, and learn more about the wants and needs of consumers.

However, before pubishing a Facebook Fan Page, there are a number of factors you need to take into consideration.  Thinking about these issues prior launching your presence on Facebook will help ensure success.Facebook Fan Page

First of all, it’s not about how many Facebook fans you can accumulate – it’s about how many truly interested people you can get engaged with your brand.  You could attract millions of fans through a contest offering a new car, but when the contest is done, what have you really accomplished?  How many of those fans are going to interact with your brand one month after the contest is over?  If they aren’t interacting with your brand, they won’t be seeing your posts (read the post on EdgeRank)

  1. Listen and Observe. Is your target audience using Facebook?  What are they doing on Facebook?  Are they talking about your brand?  What are your competitors doing?  See how top brands, even if they are not in your space, are effectively engaging consumers on Facebook.
  2. Who’s Involved. Who will be involved in the planning and execution of your Facebook presence?  Who will help provide new and interesting content?  Who is responsible for distributing customer insights?  Who will handle customer problems?  Although you need to have one group ultimately driving the process, it needs to be a multi-department effort.
  3. Resource Planning. Plan the type of content you would want to provide over the course of the month.  Think about much how much activity your Facebook page will get and what type of commitment you will need to address issues.  Don’t expect that one post a month is going to create a robust presence.  You need to be realistic about what resources are needed to provide value, interest, and service to your audience.
  4. Social Media Policy. If you don’t have one, establish a social media policy for the company.   Do you want product managers talking about new products in advance of their release?  Do you want your staff directly responding to comments on your Facebook page or anywhere else?  If you do, do you make it clear they need to transparent in terms of their role at the company (vs. pretending to be Joe Consumer)?  If you need help getting started, has warehoused a number of social media policies from various companies and organizations.
  5. Set Expectations. Set realistic expectations. Building a Facebook precense is not like laying sod – it’s more like planting seed.  It takes time to see real results.  You need to spend time to nuture and grow your fan base.
  6. Disaster Planning. What are you going to do when you get negative comments?  How are you going to respond?  Getting aggressive or defensive will only create more issues.  See how other brands handle issues.  See how consumers respond after the brand gets involved – does it add fuel to the fire or calm the situation?  Talk through various possible scenarios that may arise and discuss how you would handle them.

There is no substitute for experience and you will continually be surprised with what happens on social network websites like Facebook.  However, the proper consideration prior to the launch will undoubtedly help avoid major problems and increase the chance for success.

Facebook’s EdgeRank – What You Need To Know

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

FacebookBy now, almost every marketer has read statistics similar to the following about the ubiquity of Facebook:

  • Over 500 million users
  • The average user has 130 friends on the site
  • 50% of active users login every day
  • The typical user sends 8 friend requests per month
  • The average user spends 15 hours and 33 minutes on Facebook per month
  • The typical user visits the site 40 times per month
  • The average user spends 23 minutes during each visit
  • More than 30 billion pieces of content are shared each day

As such, marketers are starting to awaken to the promise of Facebook – not only as a social media platform but also as a social marketing tool.  Companies increasingly are setting up Facebook Fan Pages and focusing on getting users to ‘like them’.  However, in order to leverage the power of Facebook as a marketing tool, you need to understand the process that determines whether posts from your Facebook Page will even reach your fans.

For most Facebook users, the news feed is the lifeline to their network – it contains all of the activities of their friends and pages they have liked.  A user has two choices for her news feed:  ‘Top News’ and ‘Most Recent’.  Most Recent is a chronological order of all activity and Top News (the default) shows the content Facebook believes would be most interesting to the user.

One of Facebook’s challenges is continuing to provide a useful and relevant experience for its users as the total number of users increases, each person’s individual network expands, and the number of activities grows.  For the average Facebook user, a news feed with all activities listed can become overwhelming and crowded with uninteresting content.

One way that Facebook is attempting to meet this challenge is by providing the Top News news feed.  The content displayed in Top News is determined by Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm.  While Facebook doesn’t provide specifics, it has shared the components of the formula:

Facebook's Edge Rank

Don’t worry, you don’t need to dust off your old high school or college math text books.  No complex computations are necessary.  A brief overview of each component is all you need to get started on the right path.

Affinity score attempts to show the strength of interaction between the user and another Facebook entity (user, brand, etc.).  If you click on posts from your Mom every day, comment on her wall, like her updates but never interact with the 1st grade teacher you friended, the affinity with your Mom will be much greater than with your 1st grade teacher.  Affinity is a one-way score:  I may have a different affinity score with you than you do with me.

Weight pertains to the type of activity and it is believed that certain activities are assigned more weights than others (e.g. a comment may be worth more than a like).  The more engaged someone has to be to interact, the higher the weight is likely to be.

Time decay depicts that new content is going to be given preferential treatment over older content.  Typically, as a post ages, it becomes less relevant and so it will lose EdgeRank.  As with most social media, people want new and fresh content.

From a marketing perspective, the key takeaway is a simple ‘post it and hope they will read it’ approach won’t work. You have be more planned than that.  As with any other marketing tool, it’s all about engagement.  It’s thinking about what type of content will most likely generate a positive reaction – which content will your audience find interesting.  Which content will generate the type of response that keeps you in someone’s Top News news feed?

Understanding how EdgeRank impacts your ability to stay connected with your fans is the first step to effectively using Facebook as a critical marketing tool for your organization.

Source of Facebook data referenced: &