Live from SMX Advanced: Targeting the Search Funnel

By Kaitlyn Smeland Dhanaliwala | Jun 8, 2010
More Articles by Kaitlyn


This is a plastic kitchen funnel.

Image via Wikipedia

This SMX Advanced session delves into a topic that is an issue for all companies with SEM campaigns: the “search funnel.”

To understand the search funnel, imagine you are in the market for a new camera.  You don’t know exactly what kind of camera you need; you just know you need one.  So to educate yourself on the features you should consider, you search for “digital camera comparison.”  After browsing through a number of information and review sites, you get a little more specific; you search for “digital SLR cameras.”  Finally, you decide on a particular camera, but you want to find the best deal.  So you search for “buy Nikon D-90 digital SLR camera on sale.”

Each search conducted in the example scenario above illustrates a different location in the sales search funnel.  Today’s session covers how to best target searchers at all the points in the search funnel.  The panelists are:

  • Barbara Coll- WebMama.com
  • Lulu Gephart- REI
  • Michael Kahn- Performics
  • Siddharth Shah, PhD.- Efficient Frontier
  • Bob Tripathi- Sears Holdings Corporation

Michael Kahn started the session by discussing techniques that help target consumers through the search funnel.  Michael explains that historically, many people simply attributed a sale to the most recent search conducted.  Today, though, search is much more integrated throughout the entire sales funnel.  People search for research, to become engaged with a brand, to consider different options and get feedback from other consumers, and to actually conduct a purchase.

For every sale conducted through search, there are 2-3 conducted offline that arose from search during the consideration phase.  Michael has found that not only do people cross channels to come to a purchase decision, but they also go back and forth between different kinds of searches throughout the process.  Here are Michael’s tips for staying targeted:

  • Leveraging Consumer Search Journeys.  Rather than simply make a targeting decision about a consumer based on a single search query, be sure to spend time profiling the target consumer (through client feedback, competitive analysis, social media listening, etc.)  This will help you map out a “consumer journey,” the search process the consumer will likely take from start to finish.  “Head terms” refer to consumer search queries for which an advertiser has an opportunity to get into the consumer’s consideration set.  “Tail terms” represent an opportunity to convert the consumer to sale.
  • Micro-Targeting Based on Consumer Insights.  Micro-target by geography.  Emphasize areas in which the retailer actually has a physical brick-and-mortar store or other offline sales channel.  With this approach, the messaging to consumers who live close to a retail location may focus on driving them to the store if they’re not yet ready to convert online.
  • Re-targeting Consumers Who Fell Out of the Funnel.  This is an opportunity to learn about why a conversion did not occur.  It helps pinpoint your targeting for the future.  But it’s also important to be there for consumers who may have left the funnel temporarily only to look for you later.

Lulu Gephart came to the session with the perspective of a retailer with a seasonal product- skis and outdoor sporting equipment.  An important question Lulu had to ask herself when she started focusing on the search funnel was how likely it would be to convert a searcher to sale within a year. Even when a product has a relatively short sale cycle (and a conversion could feasibly happen in the first site visit) some searchers will take longer to consider the offer.

  • Consider different awareness opportunities throughout the year.  Rather than focusing just on winter skiers, Lulu mapped out opportunities to market certain products to customers for different activities throughout the year (like pushing helmets during different biking seasons).
  • Assign dollar values to each micro-conversion action (like viewing a video, downloading a whitepaper, or spending a long time on the site).  Developing a lead-scoring system for searchers who reach your site help to make strategic decision-making more quantifiable.
  • Technical tips: Take advantage of the Advanced filtering settings in Google Analytics to study the different performance pattersn of different audiences.  Also be sure to dynamically include keyword tags in destination URLs to give you more insight in Analytics about consumer search patterns.

Barbara Coll focused on the organic side of things.  She suggested that instead of focusing on the entire funnel, focus instead on capturing different consumers wherever they are in the funnel at a given moment.  You want broad coverage to be sure to capture everyone.

There are different types of content, and you’ll need different content to reach each kind of searcher.  For example, some searchers are information-seekers looking for high-level knowledge on a topic.  Be sure to develop individual pages with educational content aimed at these searchers.  They should rank better than your homepage or product pages for search queries of people in education mode.

Similarly, you’ll want very granular product pages to rank well for long-tail search queries of people looking for a specific product.  These searchers are usually ready to buy, so it’s critical to have a proper landing page rank well for them.

Siddharth Shah notes that there is often a great deal of complexity in certain sales cycles, and therefore sales funnels.  He attributes on average 80% of all conversions to a single click.  20% are “assisted clicks” which require more than one search before conversion.

Most conversions also take time.  Even simple conversion paths which go straight from click to purchase on the landing page can take months for the consumer to consider the offer.  Imagine how long it can take for a consumer to convert in a “multi-point funnel, ” where there are multiple touch points like credit checks and required contact with a sales representative.

To analyze such kinds of funnels, Siddharth uses a multi-metric attribution method to calculate a weighted value for each touch point in the sales funnel.  To calculate these weights, use long-term revenue data.  Also make sure the relative values of each touch point make intuitive sense based on what you know about your consumers.

The Takeaway:  You can look at the sales funnel in many ways.  You can study the progression of individual users as they move throughout the search funnel.  Or you could cover all your bases and be sure to develop targeted content to reach customers wherever they may appear in the funnel at any given time.  A good strategy would probably be to invest time in both efforts.

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