July 17, 2006
How To

Search Marketing Crisis: How to Cope When Your Organic Rankings Plummet & PPC Gets Expensive

SUMMARY: No summary available.
Acck! Rugman.com, an ecommerce site selling Oriental rugs directly to US consumers, used to be ranked on the first page of search engine results for keywords such as 'Persian Carpets.'

However, recently the site's rankings for key words have plummeted to page three of results. Marketing Director Shane Wagg attributes this to algorithm changes related to location -- whereby some search engines alter results based on which region the searcher is located in.

So far, the newest algorithms don't seem to take into account sites that market to consumers far outside their own home region. (Although Rugman.com is based in Canada, it's focused on the US marketplace online since 1998.)

What's an ecommerce marketer to do?

Wagg and his in-house search team have focused in two specific directions to keep search traffic flowing in at a reasonable ROI:

#1. Relentless Copy Tweaking for Optimization

SEO can be incredibly stressful to manage because there's only so much you, the marketer, can control. Once you've made sure the site is optimized using best practices, including page structure, site structure, and keyword usage, along with external link campaigns, you're mainly thrust into a reactive mode.

Wagg's team coped with the algorithm changes by figuring no matter how engines change, spiders will always focus on seeking highly relevant content for searchers.

When in doubt, make more of your content highly relevant for the spiders. So the team began to optimize (tweak keywords in) every piece of content available in email and online, including:

- email newsletter articles
- email broadcast campaigns
- press releases
- affiliate-content
- eBay listings
- text links within and outside of the site

No piece of content was allowed to be "published" anywhere unless the optimization team had given it the OK from their standpoint.
Words that might be inserted into text together or in combination included "Wool Rugs", "Persian Rugs", "Area Rugs", "Handmade Rugs", and "Oriental Rugs", among others.

#2. Paid Search Advertising Offer Tests

The team also maintained, and in some cases increased, investment into paid search ads for top-ranked positions. However, competition for keywords such as "persian rugs" is *insanely* competitive with more than 50 paid advertisers bidding that term on Google alone.

So, these No. 1-3 spot ads were fairly costly clicks. Wagg's team did everything they could to maintain high-enough conversion rates to afford these top spots, including:

-> Building trust with symbols such as Hackersafe, BBBonline, BizRate, FedEx, along with prominent 100% guarantee and a toll-free phone number.

-> A/B testing landing pages to determine the best layout.

-> Splitting groups of keyword buys into more granular buys in order to track results and manage bidding at the most precise level possible.

In addition, during the site's annual clearance sale this summer Wagg's team decided to test two very different offers:

Offer A: Low sale-price focused

The lowest priced rug available was just $39.95. Creative focused on this offer was a solid hit with affiliates, so the team decided to test it with Rugman.com's own search marketing.

Offer B: Product & store focused

Wagg also tested messaging focused on "selection and volume." A typical search ad read: "Wool. Silk. Choose from thousands. Free
Shipping! 180-day Guarantee."

The landing page's clearance sale headline mentioned the sale, but omitted the low-low $39 price, instead reading a bit more upscale:

"Summer clearance!
Over 5500 handmade Persian rugs.
Over 3500 rugs under $999.
Over 1200 rugs under $499.
Over 150 rugs under $99."

Results: The latter landing page did 600% better sales. Why such a big jump? Wagg attributes it to matching the psychology of the search-using demographic. "If you're searching for 'Persian rug,' you have quality, color, attributes in your head, not price."

On the other hand, the pricing sale remained the best creative for Rugman.com's affiliates. "Our affiliates market to a broader audience," Wagg says. "For that audience a clearance is the higher converting message. It's about price. A search engine audience is seeking benefits with product and feature keywords."

In other words, if you're marketing to impulse buyers, clearances work wonderfully well. However, if you're marketing to active shoppers who are already partly down the purchase funnel (i.e., they are seeking information on search engines), you need to distinguish yourself from the rest of the 50+ pack.

And, for Oriental rugs, most searching shoppers are slightly more concerned with quality and look than they are with price. The next time you run a sale or discount offer, consider not even mentioning it on your search ads. It's a great test to run.

Useful links related to this article:

Creative sample - Rugman.com's winning clearance sale landing page for search:


Note: Rugman.com is a member of Shop.org, a forum for retailing online executives to share information, lessons learned, new perspectives, insights and intelligence. More info at http://www.shop.org

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