By John Marshall
Deadly Web Analytics Sin #2: Search Term Popularity
Popularity matters if you’re a teenager or a drama queen. But your
search terms shouldn’t be subject to a popularity contest. Why? Because
it’s the quality of the search term that matters, not the quantity of
times it drives traffic to your site.
So let’s define quality. In the world of marketing and web analytics,
quality means the likelihood of a prospect becoming a customer. Whether
it’s a trial download, sale or lead generation, we want to know what
makes customers likely to buy so that we can work to encourage that
behavior and replicate it elsewhere.
Judging Popularity is Straightforward
Popular search terms are no exception to the rule and are easy to spot
when performing site analysis. Note the blue shading in the example
below. It helps distinguish the relative popularity of the same term
across different search engines and directories, which is useful. From
this we can begin to understand the how different search engine users
How Do We Determine a Quality Search Term?
Instinctively, the first place we look for quality is the amount of
revenue generated by each keyword. However, this metric is a blunt
instrument with a too-hard line that delineates success from failure.
Two factors reduce it’s usefulness in determining the visitor’s
likelihood to buy: cookie deletion and latent conversions.
Setting a cookie is an absolute must for tracking ROI, but they’re only
useful while they live on the client’s machine. If the user deletes the
cookie, the conversion data become invisible. First-party cookies are
the way to go, as they aren’t usually blocked by anti-virus software.
Latency or latent conversions occur when a user comes into your site
via search, receives a cookie, looks around for a while, leaves and
then returns sometime in the future making a purchase. While the
keyword eventually gets the credit for triggering a sale, you’re flying
blind for 30 or 60 days or more, depending on your sales cycle. In
essence, you’re spending valuable PPC dollars while you wait for ROI.
Time is on Our Side
Yes, it is… (Sorry, I love this next topic enough to sing about it.)
One of my favorite metrics is Average Time on Site (ATOS). This
metric speaks to the fact that web users just don’t waste their time on
a site that doesn’t interest them. There are hundreds–even thousands
of other sites just a click away in the search results if the one they
click on doesn’t meet their needs. The screen shot below shows ATOS by
term and search engine.
Therefore one can deduce that the longer the visit length, the greater
the interest in the products or services offered. I should point out
that ATOS is not meaningful in absolute terms or across different
sites. Only use this metric within the same site for different search
terms or segments. Think of it like this: You can almost say that your
visitors are voting with every action they perform, including leaving.
Web analytics simply tallies the votes and exposes preferences.
ATOS helps solve ROI problems because it’s not cookie-dependent, and
there is no latency; you have data within hours of a campaign going
live. ATOS closely correlates to the probability of prospects becoming
customers which is all we need to make smart marketing decisions.
A Final Thought: Short Visits
When you find search terms that
have a Short Average Time on Site compared to others, your first
reaction might be to eliminate that keyword from your PPC campaigns.
But before you go and do something rash, you should also check the page
on your site that visitors see immediately after using that keyword…
does it correlate to the search term they used? Do a quick scan of the
text and determine if you’re meeting the needs of these visitors.
This screen shot shows the correlation of search terms to content on a specific page.