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Feb 10, 2004
Case Study

How People's Bank Uses Internal Search Analytics to Turn More Browsers into Customers

SUMMARY: Do your visitors find what they are looking for when they use your internal site search? According to expert Ross Jenkins, "90% of site searches are horrible, horrible."

Hear how a large regional bank stole ideas from external search marketing to apply it internally to their own search results -- including adding in PPC-like text-ads for their own products. Includes results data and creative screenshots.

"I've got a cool job," says Ross Jenkins enthusiastically.

As Senior Information Architect for People's Bank (NASDAQ: PBCT), he's in charge of making sure visitors to the $12 billion financial services company's Web site can find what they need.

Although the site's been won accolades since 1999, Jenkins is the kind of guy who's never happy unless he's tweaking things to make them better. First he and the Web team transitioned from hand building static HTML to using an easier content management system that could whip up new pages on the fly.

Naturally this meant that suddenly there was a lot more content to manage, as marketing, PR, customer service and other departments eagerly added to the site. "We were overwhelmed."

With thousands of pages to manage, the team focused on making the navigation as easy as possible. Jenkins began watching clickstream reports to see how people used the site. Turns out roughly 20% of all visitors routinely used the Search function as their navigational route of choice.

Based on this data, the Bank oked an upgrade to high-end search software because there's nothing worse bad search results. The software came with an analytics package. One day, as Jenkins was reviewing the data he came across a number that chilled him -- "40% of the time people were searching and not finding content that satisfied them."


First Jenkins reviewed the data in more granular detail. He pulled up a list of the search terms visitors used for failed searches -- defined as searches where instead of clicking on an option, the visitor instead tried searching again under a different term.

"It's a game of keyword relevancy and synonyms," he discovered.

For example, consumers searching under the terms "ATM card", "debit card" or "check card" didn't get useful results because People's Web pages all used a different term "master money card" to describe the same thing. So related search results either didn't show up at all, or didn't appear to be relevant even if they were.

The Web team counteracted this trend by stealing an idea from search engine optimization -- in which you tweak your site to attract attention from outside search engines.

They tied the meta tag field in their content management system to internal search results. In non-techie terms, this means every page in the site had a special non-visible field associated with it where the tech team could plug in keyword phrases including synonyms and common typos. Then the site search would check that field, instead of just the visible page content, when determining results.

Using this tool, Jenkins' team could literally tell their internal search system which pages to show for specific search terms, plus they even use the field to tweak the description of the page that comes up so searchers are more sure they're seeing relevant results. (Note: This is definitely something that most MarketingSherpa readers should be able to ask their tech teams to do for them.)

Next, inspired by search marketing campaigns in Ask Jeeves, Jenkins wondered if he could add similar PPC-look-alike text-ads to People's internal site search results.

Step #1. Picking keywords

The project would require lots of hands-on work to start, so he picked keywords to test based on whether they were profit-related -- for example terms that marketing was using in current campaigns such as a specific offer, or phrases like "home equity loans" indicating a visitor was interested in becoming a customer.

Step #2. Creating Google-like text ads

The Web team invented a format for the ads that looked very much like a Google text-ad. (Link to sample below.) At the top of the search results, the visitor would see a yellow box, with a clickable offer headline, and a sentence or two of descriptive text.

Jenkins made it look more official by putting a little icon "i" indicating "information" in the box as well.

Step #3. Making landing pages for the ads

The team developed a standard landing-page format for all clicks from these ads based on best practices they'd noticed working in other campaigns. The clean landing pages featured brief telegraphic-style copy, including a benefit-oriented headline, and lots of bullet points with factoids.

Visitors could respond in their choice of three different methods -- clicking a button to receive an immediate phone call, starting a live online chat with a sales rep, or filling out a form.


"When we started, the average was four to five searches per visitor session. That's a horrible metric. Now we average 1.2 searches per session." says Jenkins proudly.

If the searchers uses a term for which a yellow text-ad appears, the click through averages just under 50% on that ad.

Jenkins notes the landing pages then convert at an astonishingly high rate, "We've seen very good results. There's a high propensity for folks who use search to ultimately convert. I'm sometimes getting 100%. I know that sounds crazy, but those are my initial numbers. It's going to vary from keyword to keyword, but site search is a particularly successful business channel for us."

Interestingly, Jenkins says the method of conversion chosen varies widely depending on the keyword. Some keywords generate a lot of "call me" button pushers. Others get mostly chat requests, and for others the online form is the most popular result. So, you can't count on one particular response device to be the winner. It's definitely worth it to post all three together.

Jenkins note that surfing search analytics reports is one of his favorite hobbies now. "All the time I know the top 10, top 50, top 100. I know we meet their expectations for these. It's very clear to me."

Useful links related to this story:

Samples of a typical search and landing page:

Mondosoft, the search tech and analytics provider relies on:

People's Bank
See Also:

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