Tools & Tips for a New Search Marketing World

Anyone that knows me knows that my dog, Cami, is the most important thing in the world to me. Cami is incredibly smart and super sweet. She’s also very spoiled and thinks that she’s a person. As you can see in the picture below, she’s quite comfortable on the couch. Hence, it was time to get her a dog bed of her own.  Of course given her sophisticated tastes, I needed to find a dog bed that matched her lifestyle and worldview: stylish yet eco-friendly. Yes, she’s environmentally conscious as well as quite charitable. But, where to begin??

Naturally, a quick Google search for “dog bed” was a good starting point, but I wasn’t about to pull the trigger until I’d done some more research. Next, I started looking for forums or lists of good dog beds with a “best dog beds” search. That led to searches for specific brands and expert opinions. However, it still wasn’t enough.

I wanted friends and family to validate my choice, plus I wanted to know that the brand's personality truly fit Cami’s. So I took to social media, talking to friends and checking out Tweets from dog bed brands before finally deciding to go with beloved dog bed producer P.L.A.Y. Full disclosure: P.L.A.Y. is actually also one of our beloved clients.

This is just one of an infinite number of paths that could have led me to my purchase, but one thing is for sure: no one in the history of ecommerce has searched for a general phrase like “dog bed” and bought the first thing that popped up. There are many touch points involved, and none is more important than another.

This is the new search marketing. Even buying processes that still occur offline now have huge search and digital components to them. But before we expound on the new search marketing, let’s get a few things straight.


What It Is & What It's Not


Search marketing is not keyword stuffing website copy and meta titles; it’s about providing quality, relevant content to users. It’s not link building; it’s a marriage of SEO, PR and social. It’s not an auction; the marketers who succeed won’t buy their way there. It’s not a way to game the system; Google is too smart for that. It’s not a short-term solution; it’s strategy level insights for long-term success.


Some of these huckster methods may have held sway years ago, but search has evolved to become all about the user; and in order to understand the user, we must first understand the buyer journey

How long does your target audience’s buyer journey last? How do they move from one stage to the next? How much of the journey takes places away from the desktop? One of our clients found, upon close inspection, that 70 percent of their traffic from search marketing was on mobiles and tablets. Even without a complete picture of the buyer journey, mapping out an approximation is critical to plotting your search marketing strategy. Below is a great example from UX Magazine. Yours doesn’t have to be this complex, but it gives you a good idea of how granular you can go.

Search marketing fits in at all stages of the buyer journey, and at every point there is an opportunity to retarget to users who have visited your site. Tools such as Google Remarketing, AdRoll, ReTargeter and FetchBack help marketers even when their audience’s buyer journey is non-linear and not completely understood.

Further down that journey, retargeting, social, SEO and all digital marketing avenues complement each other. The search marketing process is no longer keyword driven but is, rather, value driven. That means value for the user, and to provide that there’s something you must do.


Understand Your Audience


So often, digital marketers skip or underinvest in this crucial step. They’ll go straight to researching keywords without really attempting to get to know the people who will be searching for them. The methods employed to get audience insights vary, but however it’s done you can’t do it halfway.

For example, before executing a campaign, we’ll talk to existing clients and former clients while conducting original research to gauge a target audience. Additionally, there’s an incredible amount of tools out there to help plan your campaigns based on audience insights. Google Ad Planner and Consumer Survey provide great free services, as do LinkedIn and Facebook. One of our favorite things to do is use Facebook to see what interests complement people interested in your product or service, opening up new demographics to target. This all helps to understand two important aspects of your audience: motivation and intent.


The key to understanding audience motivations is developing user personas. These are theoretical personalities that help you get to know the actual human searching for what you’re selling. User personas get into their hopes, fears and aspirations, essentially bringing it all home to mold your keyword campaigns and ads.


Intent differs from motivation in that while motivations are the internal driving force behind decisions made, intent is what a user is attempting to do at a given moment. Search engines are essentially tools to decipher user intent, and they’re fairly good at it. The buyer journey should be integrated into keyword maps, with longer tail (more specific) keywords appearing later in the journey. For instance:

However, intent research should go beyond just keywords. Some great tools to research user intent include UserReport, iPerceptions and Dial800.

Now that you understand your audience, it’s time to learn how to track them throughout their buying journey.




For a campaign to be successful, it’s important to understand what’s happening at each stage once it’s in place. This involves tracking the different touch points of the buyer journey to conversions. It’s an element of search marketing that so often is sadly lagging behind. We’ve had to inform clients that their tracking is inadequate many times before. For your tracking to be up-to-date, make sure you are using the latest relevant methods.

Multi-Channel Tracking

Like the client with 70 percent traffic from mobile teaches us, the modern buying cycle exists on multiple platforms. Multi-channel attribution allows us to evaluate all mediums that contributed to a conversion, rather than attributing the conversion solely to the last click medium. By understanding what stages of the buying cycle occur in what medium, we can cater our search marketing efforts to optimize the entire conversion funnel and buying cycle.

With multi-channel tracking, we begin to see a complex system of assisted conversions. Take, for instance, the chart below. At first glance it might appear as though social marketing is not worth an investment, as it only drove $34,000 in last click conversions. However, taking into account assisted conversions, you can see that social was actually a driving factor in 20 percent of revenue.

Attribution Models

The old model of attribution was last click, and as we’ve mentioned before, last click is dead. Attributing a conversion to just the last touch point before it occurred provides an incomplete picture. Likewise, attributing it to the first touch point doesn’t give due credit to the others that helped the user along the buying cycle. Deciding how much weight to give different interactions in the buyer journey is key to a successful search marketing campaign.

We all know the analytics tools out there, but here’s our most recent comparison of two of the biggest platforms, Google Analytics and Adobe SiteCatalyst. There’s also Webtrends and IBM’s Coremetrics. Whichever platform you choose, tracking users throughout the buyer journey enables you to then tailor your campaign to maximize return through the following method.




Once you put into place your business rules according to audience research, there is a litany of optimization tools you can use to fine-tune your campaign. While a hammer doesn’t define a carpenter, a good hammer can make a good carpenter even better; likewise, any search marketer can benefit from a good SEM optimization tool such as Kenshoo, Adobe AdLens, Raven, Marin and Ignition One.

There are also a number of good conversion optimization tools, such as Google Content Experiments, Mouseflow and Crazy Egg; however, Optimizely is an incredible option. The CEO and co-founder, Dan Siroker, used A/B test conversion optimization on things from the Obama campaign to optimizing donations to victims of the Haitian earthquake. Imagine what Optimizely could do for your campaign for fat burning pills.




We’ve said it before: the most important tool—the most important thing—for search marketing and all of marketing is story. Story ads fuel to the fire. It’s what drives decisions for one brand over another throughout the entire buyer journey. P.L.A.Y. is eco-friendly. It’s hip. It’s stylish. However, it’s still just an ecommerce site, and ecommerce is inherently boring. So P.L.A.Y. created a story.

No one cares that the founders of P.L.A.Y. started making dog beds, but that’s not what P.L.A.Y. is about. They’re about changing the world for the better, and they were going to accomplish this through animal advocacy. Beginning with the Warm Bellies Initiative, which donates a bed to a shelter dog with every designer bed purchased, P.L.A.Y. established itself as a champion of animals in need everywhere. Having a brand that stands for something—having a story—helps in every aspect. It helps PPC convert at a higher rate. It builds brand and seeds the awareness stage of the buyer journey, as well as every other stage, and P.L.A.Y. saw this best in its next initiative, the Rescue Pledge.

P.L.A.Y. partnered with Petfinder and us to create a microsite dedicated to spreading awareness about shelter animals, creating a community for animal lovers with a strong social media presence. Within a few weeks of of launch, the Rescue Pledge had built and audience of over 30,000. More importantly It’s generated over 3 million social impressions and sparked 150,000 online conversations.

An example of story in action: we found a poem that touched our hearts and seemed to embody the exact sentiment of the rescue pledge. So we dropped it on a compelling visual and shared it on the Rescue Pledge Facebook page.

This one post generated hundreds of conversations and thousands of likes; but most importantly, it was shared over 20,000 times. That sort of reach greatly increases awareness of the Rescue Pledge and, therefore, P.L.A.Y. The P.L.A.Y. name tied to such a committed, vibrant community with such huge sharability bolsters its position in every single stage of the buyer journey.

More than anything else, story matters. We promise your search marketing campaigns will improve once you know what your story is. The user is creating his or her own story in the buyer journey, and so should you.

Written by Brian Easter on April 17, 2013


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