If you could have had a crystal ball in 2004, would you have known that the power of online marketing is hiding within conversations? Did you consider that the content you put on your homepage holds little salt with readers unless it can be backed up with outside information? People still want the same thing today as they did five years ago: trusted people-tested results and recommendations.
Were you aware back then that search engine technology has undergone several scientific studies to help determine the effectiveness of search results for Internet users? What helps search engines understand what we want? Conversations. Why do we want anyone talking about our web sites? Conversions.
Who got the better deal?
One day I was running errands and a woman stopped me to admire my Teva flip flops. She said she had a pair and loved them but hadn’t seen them in the color combination I was wearing. We compared notes about how we learned about this product and who got the better deal.I learned about my Teva’s from a social networking web site dedicated to women over 40. A small staff tests products marketed to women in that demographic and report their findings on their web site. They also invite member feedback. They promote these discussions and each product they test in Facebook, which is how I learned about the flip flops.
Based on the high praise of testers and member feedback, I followed the affiliate link and bought two pairs, one for myself and one for my daughter. I paid full price and was taken to a web site that offered over 30 choices of the product to select from. The whole process went well. I felt good about the purchase based on the type of customer conversations that followed the site’s review. I was also able to add my own feedback to the discussion when I received my flip flops.
The woman I met described her experience. She was browsing online shopping sites and followed a link that took her to a sale on flip flops. She wasn’t so concerned with the brand name as much as she was with the price. The page she landed on displayed two pairs of flip flops, at a buy two-for-one price that was 60% cheaper than what I had paid for mine. She was happy with her bargain, until she saw mine and realized there were other patterns nicer than what she bought. She asked me to show her the manufacturer tag and this is how she learned it was Teva’s that she had purchased. Her experience satisfied her need for the right price, but she had no recall of the name of the flip flops, couldn’t remember the web site where she purchased them from, and she was never prompted to visit the Teva site to see more choices. She also had no opinions to help inform her purchase. She simply went with the bargain price.
She got the better deal. She paid far less than I did. But I had the better interactive customer experience. I was never a number or a body-less sale. I also not only remembered the name of the site where I made my purchase, but I returned to it again to leave a comment. I’ve also recommended it to people. Most people will never hear about the other woman’s Teva experience, because she wasn’t really sure she had even bought that brand. She was certainly not inspired to share her experience online anywhere. She will not help sell the shoes or refer the web site she ordered hers from.
From the perspective of the web site owners whose site I purchased my shoes from, they made out well. They used social networking to get the word out about their web site and each new product they test. They selected images to help illustrate experiences with products. When optimized for image searching, these pictures may take searchers directly to their product pages. They created a community with free membership. Feedback is strongly encouraged. And it’s not just words. They figured out the emotional connection that’s also needed for conversions. A product used to remove cellulite showed real members’ before and after photos. Women love to know they’re not alone with some sort of perceived “body imperfection.” The site owners understand how trust increases conversions by using genuine photos and comments instead of marketing hype. How fun it is to respond to a “me too!” moment.
They also earned money for all their focus on conversion optimization, although they most likely don’t come to work everyday calling it that. More likely these site owners ask themselves what would work for them and their community. What would sell to women like them? What have other web sites missed by targeting baby boomers or marketing to women? Or, what doesn’t work? What have women been miffed about for so long? Could it be images of size zero women models? Perhaps altered images or just the fact that we know so many diet and health product marketing relies on fake and touched up photos? The owners of this site set down to optimize for emotion, trust, momentum, credibility and findability.
Most search marketers focus on keyword marketing, keywords in domains and quantities of inbound links. This is important, but search engines are also strongly invested in our web usage behavior. Truly, it is how we search, make choices and interact online that matters most to conversion optimization, and it always has been.
Sure, some of us call this usability, user experience, persuasive architecture and search usability. The unifying thread is the human to human connection or “social conversation.” Perhaps you’ve heard this term too and toss it aside as just another fancy name for social networking. However, consider semantic search. Consider all the ways we define words. Keywords can no longer rule the stage because there are so many definitions for certain words. “Green” is a color, and so much more. “Cougar” is an animal, and so much more. “Cup” is something that holds coffee, and so much more. After years of search results’ leading to re-searches, today’s search engines know that to present us with accurate search results will take a mix of magical mind reading and a more practical study of our brains and human-computer behavior.
We can help by creating conversions that help search technology understand the context in which words are placed. Someday, you will be able to type, “lump found in breast,” and search engines will know we’re not talking about a chicken, perhaps it’s a woman who is conducting the search, and it will bring up medical sites and supportive sites, such as those put up by survivors. Search engines will know what results to give you based on your search history, your location and, remarkably, by whom you converse with and how you network.
Your mission is to optimize to be remembered, design for effortless ease of use and accessibility and to be honest, authentic and well, human.
This article was originally written by Kim Berg and published by Search Engine Land, September 11, 2009