Search – Content for Better B2B

If you’ve ever done a user survey on your web site, you’ll probably have found that the commonest complaint that people have is that they can’t find whatever it is that they’re looking for. That’s pretty sad, but it still represents only the tip of the iceberg.

If people can’t find what they’re looking for when they’re actually on your site – i.e. at least Aware or even Informed in Awareness Cycle terms – what chance to they have of finding you or your products, if they’re Unaware of your existence?

Search represents the status quo on the web today. Where previously people memorized and book marked URLs …

URL entry

today, they’re much more likely to use a search toolbar to find the site they need, even one that they’ve visited before …

Google search bar

This is not a problem if – like me – you have relative exclusivity on a name and get good default search results. However, if your company name – e.g. Better Widgets, Inc – has similarities with your competitors’ names (Bigger Widgets, Inc), or if your competitors are deliberately optimising their own search result rankings, then default just might not be good enough!

See for example how LinkedIn, Amazon and AboutUs are all getting good rankings for a search on my name in the image below. In the case in point this is not a problem, because all are providing (directly or indirectly) relevant information about me, but it could just as easily be a competitor trying to hijack my potential prospects. [FYI – and in case you’re wondering why I don’t comment on it, must-sell-buy.com is a domain I owned at the time the screenshot was captured, which hosted a mirrored version of my main site]

There’s only one First Page!

The thing about search results is that if people don’t find what they’re looking for on the first page of results, they’re unlikely to scroll through 1,610 or 1,610,000 other results to find you. The default Google setting is to show 10 results per page, but for specific search terms, some of the available real-estate may even be devoted to sponsored links, reducing the results set to 8 per page. If you’re not in the Top 8 results for whatever search term is relevant, then you’re effectively not in the game! Unpleasant, but true!

There is only one first page on Google or other search engines!

I’m no expert on the details of SEO, but you can find some additional material on the subject here.

Search Engine Advertising

Closely related to the topic of generic search is the area of Search Engine Advertising. The principles are similar: Users search for information using – more or less – well thought-out search terms. Relevant advertising is in this situation considered appropriate and so Google – and other search engines – display keyword-related advertising alongside the organic search results:

Google AdWords displayed alongside organic search results

Until recently, this was a great, low cost way of advertising your wares to people who were actually searching for them. It was – and still can be – incredibly effective if done properly. You need to know, however, that the rules of the game are constantly in flux. Google’s understanding of content and how to match textual and advertising content is fairly awesome – it’s effectively Google’s licence to print money! As a result – and because Google only earns money when someone actually clicks on a displayed ad – stringent monitoring and competitive forces have been introduced.

Whereas before search engine advertising could be used as a substitute for content optimisation – just buy the ad to display alongside the search results, even if your pages didn’t rank well – it is probably now just as important to ensure that your (landing) pages are properly optimised for the ad keywords that you’ve booked. It may soon be just as easy to do SEO, as to book relevant advertising at a sensible price-per-click.

Whether or which, landing page quality is vital in this area too. [See SEO Tips for a related discussion]. It is rumoured that Google particularly likes well-defined Conversion Points on the linked pages – especially Buy buttons! And, as with any other content, constant monitoring of the effectiveness is recommended.

Site Search

As well as being able to find your site, users need to be able to find what they’re looking for on your site! Apart from the implication this insight has for Usability – and specifically Navigation – it is essential that your site provides adequate search facilities.

Site search, implemented using embedded Google functionality
The guidelines for Site Search are as follows:

  • Use a prominent, identical position on every single page – if people need to search, they’re probably already frustrated. Don’t make it more difficult, by hiding the search function in some obscure corner of the site
  • Leverage proven search algorithms – apart from not wanting to re-invent the wheel (you weren’t seriously considering writing your own, were you?), common and known algorithms make it easier both for the user to formulate the search term and for you to optimise the content
  • Optimise the content, just as you would for the major search engines. After all, users who’ve made it to your site, deserve to have quality, appropriate content delivered.
  • Remember that this is SEO, just like we had before. Using Google Search in your site, might just make the job easier and avoid conflicts between the optimisation required for site search and web search
  • Check rigorously for missing, inappropriate keywords – your CMS does support keyword management, doesn’t it?

But don’t just rely on site search to allow the user to find what she’s looking for. Using the Customer Activity Cycle as a basis, ask yourself what the customer might be trying to achieve, what information she’s looking for, what related documents could help. Consider issues such as

  • Related Content, Tags as additional orientation
  • Semantic Search – even without technology, for instance, by listing related products in a sensible order or by providing product/solution matrices etc
  • What do we think people will search for? – driven by the analysis of the CAC
  • What do people actually search for? – using traffic analysis (and particularly of links to Google, if that’s how you site search is implemented)
  • Do they find it? – based on an analysis of click paths, conversion goals, and entry/exit pages

[Apologies for the very old images used in this post – the original version of this article was written in 2008! The layouts and styles may have changed, but the general principles haven’t.]