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the good life in a digital age

spotting real opportunities in search logs

This article is part of a series about search log analysis which includes what people are searching for, bounce rates, and the geographical element.

Some users attention is worth more to you than others. For the most of us, we are not in the raw attention business. We want traffic, we want referrals, we want pageviews but all as a means to an end. E-commerce sites want those users to buy something. Charities want them to donate or campaign or take up a service. Bloggers want them to read their ideas (for all sorts of further reasons).  Lots of sites want you to look at/click on their adverts. The BBC? That one’s a bit trickier. But in general you get the idea.

But that fact sometimes seems to get a bit lost.

Lots of people have got the idea that Google is important. Some are still struggling with it or missing it entirely but mostly people in the industry have got that Google matters. For some reason.

And lots of people are looking at their analytics and recognising that there is gold dust in there.  But as with so many things a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

I’ve been in lots of conversations and seen lots of reports that jump straight from “metric A is low” to “we must, at all costs, improve metric A”.  If you ask why then they tell you about the importance of Google. With search logs these conversations mostly seem to revolve around poor bounce rates and low referrals for particular terms.

Google brings you that all important attention. But some attention is more important. Some attention represents a good business opportunity and some is a dead-end. Where the cost is minimal then sure, why not maximise attention. But if there is cost involved (and there nearly always is) then you need to be making business decisions about what you are trying to achieve.

I’m trying to think about this in 4 stages:

  1. Attention is only a step. Do you know what you are trying to achieve? If not, put down the metrics and go back to the strategy whiteboard
  2. Look for strong opportunities. Don’t try and succeed with everyone. What can the metrics tell you about these users and how likely they are to help you meet you goals? Not masses  admittedly but more thoughts on this below…
  3. Your users are on a mission. Don’t try and persuade them to help you until you’ve helped them. This is classic seducible moment stuff. You might be unhappy with the bounce rate for a particular page but sticking promotions for other content above the content the user came looking for is only going to increase your bounce rate.
  4. Identify the hook. Given what you know about the users from the metrics (again you don’t have a lot to go on here) you need to think about what actually has a chance of holding their attention. If they are searching for homework help then they are unlikely to be captivated by content about creating a will. All things are possible but this one is unlikely.

So thinking about strong opportunities, I’ve been re-examining our search referral logs.

If the referring keyword explicitly refers to an RNIB service (Soccer Sight, See it Right, Talking Books) then we know we should be meeting these users needs. These are the obvious wins. If the metrics are bad then we probably need to sort this asap.

If the keywords explicitly relate to issues around sight loss then those users represent a good opportunity. We know they care or have some level of motivation to investigate the same issues that the RNIB is trying to promote.

But alot of referring terms are neither RNIB or sight loss specific. Fundraising ideas, excel shortcuts, flash, triathalons could all be from users with no interest in the RNIB’s cause.  They might but we don’t have any evidence. Each of these terms offers a different strength of opportunity.

Fundraising ideas: we can be reasonably sure that the users want ideas about how to fundraise. We can guess that these are people who are inclined to raise money for charities. Seemingly a good opportunity. But why are they searching Google for fundraising ideas. Probably because they have a cause they are trying to raise money for. That probably isn’t us.  So these users may be an opportunity but they’re unlikely to be a quick win.

Excel shortcuts: for some reason these users want information about excel shortcuts and it may have nothing to do with sight loss. Could be RSI or just improved efficiency. They might want other shortcuts and they might have empathy with the difficulties keyboard only users experience. Possible opportunity.

Flash: Very hard to decode this one. It is unlikely to be Flash developers (physicists don’t usually search for physics). The bounce rate is high and fast, so we know they didn’t want the content they ended up with. So we’d have to work out what they wanted and then provide that and then engage them further. Doesn’t seem such a great opportunity.

Triathalons: probably just users thinking about taking part in a triathlon, rather than the money raising potential of a triathlon. But they will probably need or be able to choose to raise money as part of their sporting endeavour. And they may well not have a strong charitable allegiance already. Good opportunity.

And what about Helen Keller? This represents a huge amount of attention for us but does it help us meet any goals? We think (but don’t know) that this traffic is teachers and schoolchildren, probably primary age. They will be thinking about sight loss and the impact on individuals so it should represent a good opportunity. But they are also thinking about cutting and pasting and getting homework done. Kids can be great fundraisers. We want to start life-long relationships. This could be a great opportunity but also a huge challenge. We don’t understand this space enough. And the logs won’t answer these questions, they can only take you so far.  We’ll have to talk to real people.

Next: the geographical element

Written by Karen

April 30th, 2009 at 6:35 am