September 18, 2008

Long-Tail Keywords Dead? We Answer This Question and 14 Others on SEO

SUMMARY: Marketers who participated in Sherpa’s recent teleseminar, “New Research: Search Engine Marketing 2008-2009,” submitted questions about their own tactics. Our research team couldn’t answer all those questions during the presentation, so they’ve answered them here.

Includes tips on key search marketing tactics, including:
o Using benchmarks for CPC rates
o Role of Share of Voice in your metrics mix
o Benefits of long-tail keywords
o Managing rising keyword costs

More than 70 marketers attended a recent MarketingSherpa teleseminar highlighting the latest research in our 2009 Search Marketing Benchmark Guide. Stefan Tornquist, Research Director, MarketingSherpa, and Tim McAtee, Senior Analyst, MarketingSherpa, answer 15 specific queries they didn’t have time to respond to at the seminar.

Note: They did not answer questions on specific vendors or on Google’s future direction.
The Useful Links section includes links to the MP3 audio file and slides from the teleseminar.

Question #1: Paid vs. Organic
Search engine traffic to our site continues to increase month-over-month and year-over-year. How do I know what the right split should be between paid and natural?

ANSWER: There isn’t one “right” split for paid vs. organic traffic. However, aggregate search activity statistics show that roughly 5% of all clicks go to paid links. The remaining 95% of clicks go to natural search results. As long as your search traffic is rising, you should aim for the vast majority of your clicks to come through natural search results.

Only when you see natural search traffic going down should you look to paid search links to supplement that organic traffic. Also, you can use paid search to augment natural results for keywords on which you are not ranking highly.

That said, you also must monitor the ROI for your paid search campaigns if you’re increasing your share of traffic from that tactic. You need to measure the result of those clicks against your own profit margin to ensure you are making the most of those paid search campaigns.

Question #2: CPC averages
How do you go about determining if your CPC aligns with your industry's average? Is there really such a thing as industry benchmarks?

ANSWER: Yes, but those industry benchmarks vary depending on your industry, search engine, and the type of term in question.

For example, our data shows the following CPC rates by type of keyword:
o Average CPC, high-performing brand term = $1.83
o Average CPC, low-performing brand term = $0.85
o Average CPC, high-performing non-brand term = $1.99
o Average CPC, low-performing non-brand term = $0.98

The average CPC, however, changes dramatically according to industry. For example:
o Average CPC, Insurance industry, May 2008 = $10.63
o Average CPC, Retail industry, May 2008 = $0.45

That wide range can be explained by differences in volume and the potential value of a transaction resulting from those clicks. Insurance sales tend to be higher-priced, lifetime purchases, justifying a higher CPC. Retail sales may be higher volume but lower value, which calls for a lower CPC.

For that reason, you must establish benchmarks based on your own industry, marketing strategy and keywords. Then determine what your profit margin will be on the action resulting from a search-ad click, and then use that margin to set your own CPC range.

Question #3: Share of Voice
How good is Google's Share of Voice (SOV) tool and what role should SOV play in an organization's success metrics for paid search?

ANSWER: We can’t comment specifically about Google’s Share of Voice tool. But share of voice -- or the rate at which your ad is shown compared to all the available times that ad could be displayed -- can be a useful metric when analyzing your campaign performance.

Share of voice is a good way to gauge whether you are over-bidding or under-bidding for certain keywords. If you have an enormous share of voice, you are probably overbidding for your keywords. True, you could attempt to capture 100% of the share of voice for your key terms, but that would mean you are probably spending way too much on those keywords.

Instead, aim to have a slightly higher share of voice than your competitors to make the most efficient use of your paid search budget.

Question #4: Long-Tail Keywords
It seems to me the long-tail keywords are dying due to the fact that long-tail terms are low volume keywords and Google isn't showing them, but encouraging the use of broad-based terms. Is long tail dead on Google?

ANSWER: We’re not entirely sure what you mean by Google not showing long-tail terms. But the fact is, the long tail is not dead. In fact, long-tail keywords tend to convert better and are cheaper than broader, high-volume terms.

Our data shows that the majority of searches (67%) are made up of one to three keywords. However, 82% of searchers said that they are likely to enter a few more words when they can’t find what they are looking for in a search.

Phrases of four or more words are often used to deliver the targeted results that most searchers aren’t seeing with broader-based search terms. These terms can offer you higher conversion rates at a lower cost per click, so it makes sense to have a stable of long-tail search terms, rather than relying on a few big money, high-volume search terms.

Question #5: Web Design
Can a semi-novice implement the ideas presented or does it require a professional Web designer?

ANSWER: A novice can set up a basic pay-per-click campaign and begin testing results. SEO typically requires someone with a solid understanding of Web design to handle issues such as site architecture and metadata.

If you’re a marketer who doesn’t have a good foundation in Web design, try to find a member of your IT or Web design team willing to undertake your SEO projects. If you find resistance from the IT team, it’s often best to work from the top down to get company buy-in for an SEO project.

If you can get a VP or other high-level manager to endorse your SEO projects, they can provide the influence you need to convince the IT department to fast-track your Web design changes.

Question #6: International Ads
What are the current and projected sizes of the search advertising markets in various geographies and countries?

ANSWER: Marketing expenditures in the U.S. search market are projected to reach $16.5 billion in 2008 – a 27% increase from 2007. Spending for international search is projected to reach $11.9 billion this year – a 35% increase over 2007.

Although we don’t have breakouts for spending in specific markets, you may find research firms in those countries that offer their own country- or region-specific spending.

Question #7: Flash and SEO
How does having Flash on websites affect SEO?

ANSWER: Flash generally has a negative impact on SEO, because search engines don’t index non-text items. However, Adobe recently released new technology to Google and Yahoo! that will allow those search engines to crawl and index text within Flash files.

In the meantime, if you are presenting content in Flash format, such as images or video, you can simply tag Flash images with text that will be recognized by search engines. For example, you can place html text around the Flash image that labels its contents. You also can include relevant keywords in the page title that contains the Flash element.

Special care must be taken if you have navigation elements within Flash files, such as buttons. Even if there is text on that button, the spiders will see it as an image, not a word. It’s important to separate the text from the graphics within your Flash elements.

Question #8: PPC and Rankings
How does PPC affect search engine rankings?

ANSWER: Typically, your PPC efforts should supplement organic search engine rankings. However, if you are in a fight with competitors for organic rankings on a popular, high-volume search term, you can use PPC to drive traffic to your site around those terms.

Eventually, if you are able to get more search traffic to your site through PPC, and begin seeding references to your site around those terms in blogs and social media, you can see an uptick in your rankings around those terms.

Question #9: SEO and Websites
How often do you need to review/update your site for SEO? Realistically, we won't do it constantly.

ANSWER: The majority of your SEO work should happen up-front, during the website design phase. After that, you need to enact a policy of steadily adding to that framework with small pieces of new, optimized content.

For example, those additional pieces could be blog entries or optimized press releases that use keywords. You also may discover a new term that’s relevant to your business or search campaigns, and then update your site’s metadata or content to reflect that term.

Aim to add at least one new element that builds on your SEO strategy every few days.

Question #10: ‘Good Enough’ Results
I hear that as long as you come up on the first page of a search result, it is “good enough.” There is no need to pay more to be #1 – that’s just a waste of money. Is this true?

ANSWER: “Good enough” placement depends on the key term in question. If the search term is your brand name, you should certainly be in the top organic position, or at least within the top three positions.

If it’s a non-brand term that is critical to your business, appearing anywhere on the first page probably is good enough. If it’s a non-brand term that’s helpful to your search strategy, but not critical to your business, you should aim to be on the first page of search results. It’s still not a tremendous loss if you are on the second page.

Question #11: Organic Search ROI
Do you have any metrics for ROI on organic search?

ANSWER: The ROI for organic search clicks can vary widely depending on your industry and key term. Instead of looking for an external benchmark, try to establish a budget for organic search by first determining what your revenue stream will be from those clicks.

Do you have a large potential revenue stream from people who might find your site in organic search results? Then it makes sense to invest in SEO to improve your natural search results. In general, SEO offers the best possible ROI because it is a low-cost tactic.

If your site already is well-optimized, a few carefully executed efforts -- such as a viral video that captures a lot of attention and links -- can drive a host of additional search traffic.

Question #12: Clickthroughs and Page Views
Our Google budget was completely cut. Is there anything besides organic listings that you recommend to bring in more clickthroughs and page views?

ANSWER: If your site is already well optimized for organic search rankings, but you have no budget for paid-search ads to drive additional clicks, you still have a host of other marketing channels available to drive visitors to your site and get them to take a valuable action.

For instance, you can promote email newsletters that capture visitors’ email addresses. That gives you a way to continue communicating with them and to promote offers or new content that drives people back to your site. Or you could engage in relevant social-media channels, such as commenting in forums or blog posts, to draw traffic to your site. You can also develop viral marketing campaigns, or share content with relevant blogs, which could, in turn, generate links back to your Web pages.

Question #13: Average ROI Lift
We've recently gone through a keyword search optimization and have begun incorporating those words in our copy, collaterals, etc. I'd like to know if our ROI is comparable to other large companies. Can you suggest an average lift that we might realize from this sort of activity?

ANSWER: Again, your ROI will depend on your own internal benchmarks. You need to determine your profit margin on the clicks and conversions you generate from organic search results.

In general, though, marketers we surveyed said they saw a 38% lift in search traffic six months after an optimization campaign.

Question #14: Blogs
From a search engine perspective, what role do blogs play in marketing strategies?

ANSWER: Blogs can be a tremendous piece of your search marketing strategy. Blog posts create an ongoing stream of new, keyword-rich content that often generates links from other sites back to your website.

However, you must execute a blog strategy properly to achieve the best results. Make sure you develop a blogging team that understands why they are writing, and which keywords to seed throughout the content. Then, make sure you update that content frequently to capture the attention of search engine spiders as well as human searchers.

Question #15: Search Term Competition
What should you do when you're in a competitive niche and the good search terms are already optimized by competitors?

ANSWER: The first step is to make sure you’re maximizing the impact of clicks you’re already receiving from your search terms. That means optimizing your landing pages:

- More than 60% of marketers spending between $25,000 and $100,000+ a month on search marketing said optimizing pages for post-click conversions was the most effective way to combat rising keyword prices.

- More than 40% of marketers spending up to $25,000 a month on search marketing said optimizing post-click conversions was the most effective tactic.

Next, you must work harder to identify keywords beyond the most popular, high-volume search terms. Here are three tactics search agencies said were most effective for dealing with high keyword prices:

Tactic #1: Analyze site log files for highly converting keywords
Tactic #2: Explore long search phrases
Tactic #3: Perform internal site search analysis for keywords

Useful links related to this article:



Recent MarketingSherpa stories on search marketing:

How to Switch to SEO, PPC Strategies to Increase Leads: 10 Steps to Triple-Digit Lifts

Special Report: Missing Links? 7 Traffic-Building Tips to Boost SEO

7 No-Cost SEO Tools to Help You Increase Your Website Traffic

How to Get Better SEO Traffic: 4 Strategies to Increase Leads 58%

New Search Research From Sherpa: 1,928 Marketers Reveal Top Strategies to Increase Search ROI

Special Report: Online Keyword Research Guide: 5 Tips & 9 Useful Tools

How to Optimize Your PDFs to Increase Search Traffic: 10 Steps

How to Use Niche Keywords to Boost Search Traffic: 5 Steps to a 20% Lift

SEO Tactics to Quadruple Lead Gen - Link-Building, Keyword Targeting & Landing Page Tests

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly case study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions