5 Cutting-Edge Ways to Use Search…

5 Cutting-Edge Ways to Use Search Data More Competitively

How to Get More from Search & Transform Your Marketing Strategy

Search marketing is the backbone of traffic for most digital and e-commerce brands, and accounts for the largest portion of most online marketing budgets according to Forrester.

In light of the universal prioritization of search across digital industries, it can be difficult to think about search data in fresh, innovative ways that your competitors are not. Most brands today already track their keyword rankings, conduct keyword research, and optimize their SEO and paid search performance accordingly.

However, more forward-thinking marketers can use search data to identify fast-rising keywords before their competitors, improve their internal search performance within affiliate websites (not just search engines like Google), and identify untapped audience segments to target. This report breaks down how to do just that, with real data from websites like Amazon, Airbnb, Walmart and more.

1. Market Sizing & Segmentation

Use search data to size up your market opportunity, and identify new audience segments for your brand.

Finding Opportunity: Vacation Rental Seekers

Search data is one of the best ways to measure the size of a market opportunity. In other words, how many people are seeking the product or service you provide?

For example, Airbnb and HomeAway would want to know the amount of people conducting searches for variations on terms like “vacation rental” and “vacation house” over the period of a month:

US Search Strategy 2017: Vacation Rentals
Audience segments based on search varations of “vacation rental” “vacation house”, ”Airbnb”, and “HomeAway” over 4 weeks ending July 22nd 2017.

Unlike people searching for “Airbnb” or “HomeAway” by name, Vacation Rental Seekers represent an “up for grabs” audience for both brands to target. As we see below, they also represent an even larger segment than the people who search for “HomeAway” by name every month. How can a smaller website like HomeAway target this audience strategically, and pull them away from Airbnb? Read on to find out.

US Search Strategy 2017: Branded Searchers
Audience segments based on search varations of “vacation rental” “vacation house”, ”Airbnb”, and “HomeAway” over 4 weeks ending July 22nd 2017.

HomeAway has less top-of-mind brand equity than Airbnb does when it comes to vacation rental seekers; this is why Airbnb pulls so many more searches every month.

However, if we compare the ages of HomeAway searchers, Vacation Rental Seekers and Airbnb searchers, it reveals that HomeAway has a much stronger age overlap with older vacation seekers than Airbnb does. Knowing this, HomeAway might create content targeted to older travelers, or build ad campaigns that depict more seasoned vacationers.

US Search Strategy 2017: Age Index
Audiences based on search varations of “vacation rental” “vacation house” ”Airbnb” and “HomeAway” over 4 weeks ending July 22nd 2017.

2. SEO & Content Strategy

Spot fast-rising keywords and topics before your competitors, and create content tailored to the way people actually search.

Spot Fast-Rising Terms: Capturing Nintendo Buzz

Search terms are the most essential source of inspiration for content creation, representing consumer’s “top of mind” thoughts and queries. Brands and publishers need to keep a close pulse on fast-moving terms to get the first mover advantage.

This example breaks down at the explosion of searches around the Nintendo NES Classic, and demonstrates how an underdog publisher capitalized on this term before the rest.

The Nintendo Classic — a revival of the popular gaming console from the 1980’s — burst onto the scene just weeks before Black Friday 2016, with an official US release scheduled for November 11th. But online buzz around the classic console first surfaced the week of July 16th, thanks to Nintendo’s official announcement. Coveted as one of the must-have products of 2016 (to the point where it created stock issues immediately after its release), the Nintendo Classic drove quite a lot of searches during the second half of the year.

US Search Strategy 2017: Nintendo Searches
Chart based on percentage of Nintendo Classic Edition and NES search variations resulting in clicks to websites from 6/04/2016 – 12/31/2016.

Let’s look at the publishers who were able to capitalize on these Nintendo searches. When we break down traffic to News & Media websites coming from Nintendo-related search variations, it’s clear that The Verge won the lion’s share of clicks.

With early articles hailing the “glorious revival” of Nintendo (“We just saw Nintendo’s NES Classic in person and it is glorious”), The Verge was able to capture this early buzz and excitement. The Verge was also able to maintain the top spot during the week of the product’s actual release (Nov 12th), although it was met with higher competition from tech specialist and news providers who caught on to the craze.

US Search Strategy 2017: Nintendo Downstream
Downstream traffic from Nintendo Classic search variations during the weeks ending 7/16/2016 and 11/12/2016.

The Verge is not a top technology publication — they sit several hundred rankings below sites like CNET according to the Alexa website ranking. So what was the secret behind The Verge’s success?

During the week of Nintendo’s release, The Verge expertly matched their content keywords with high organic search terms. Compared to generic searches that had higher paid rates (such as “nes classic” or “mini nes”), terms that specified “sold out” and “amazon” had higher organic rates. Articles such as “already sold out” and “how to buy (on Amazon)” directly answered consumer needs while boosting their organic traffic.

US News 2017: Nintendo Search Variations
Downstream traffic from Nintendo Classic search variations during the weeks ending 7/16/2016 and 11/12/2016.

3. Affiliate Search Strategy

Use internal site search data to improve distribution on affiliates and online marketplaces like Amazon.

Top Product Searches: Amazon vs. Google

Traditional search engine data is valuable for improving AdWords and PLAs, but most brands also sell their products or services outside of Google. For example, retailers would want to understand how their products are searched on both Google and Amazon, so they can tailor their search strategy by channel.

For example, the table to the right reveals the share of consumers conducting the top product searches* exclusively on Amazon, versus the same searches on Google only (during the peak holiday season last year).

US Search Strategy 2017: Top Products
*Note: similar terms grouped i.e. headphones, earbuds, wireless headphones, etc. Hitwise study based on the top 100 product searches on Amazon internal site search, compared to the same searches on Google during Q4 2016.

Breaking down searches for headphones and games shows how differently consumers search for each product category. Over three quarters of people conducting headphone searches did so exclusively on Amazon, suggesting that headphone sellers should invest more in Amazon product listings. Meanwhile, a video game company might want to focus on Google PLAs:

US Search Strategy 2017: Gaming Searches
*Note: similar terms grouped i.e. headphones, earbuds, wireless headphones, etc. Hitwise study based on the top 100 product searches on Amazon internal site search, compared to the same searches on Google during Q4 2016.

Analyzing Affiliates: Chip Brand Search Share

Brands can further improve their affiliate strategy by tracking their competitive standing against similar brands across multiple marketplaces. Let’s say you are a chip brand trying to expand your market share with online grocery shoppers. You might ask: Where are shoppers searching the most for our chips? Where are they seeking our competitors?

The chart below breaks down the internal website search for chips within the five largest online grocery sites. An analysis like this provides chip brands with a detailed look at their market standing across the online grocery landscape, which we’ll explore further in the following section.

US Search Strategy 2017: Chip Brand
Chip internal site search variations measured on Amazon, Walmart, Kroger, Meijer and Peapod over 9 weeks ending April 1st 2017.

When we weigh both search share and ranking, we see that sometimes the website where a chip brand has the greatest search share is not the same as the one where they have the biggest competitive advantage.

For example, Lay’s pulls a large percentage of chip searches on Kroger.com (11.1%), but it also ranks below Frito Lay and Pop Chips, which is a competing brand. Lay’s is more competitive on Meijer, where it ranks #1 against all branded chip searches. Their search share on Meijer is relatively smaller than on Kroger (only 8.8% of chip searches), but from a competitive standpoint Lay’s has a key advantage there. Tostitos has a similar disparity between its highest search share and most competitive ranking.

US Search Strategy 2017: Chip Search Share

4. Competitive Strategy

Get a fresh perspective on how to approach competitive search marketing and tailor campaigns by audience.

Upstream Search: 1-800 Contacts vs. Lens.com

One of the most fundamental ways that brands remain competitive through search is tracking the top terms that drive traffic to their website, and to their competitor’s site, also known as an “upstream search analysis.”

In this example, we compare the top 20 search terms driving clicks to 1800Contacts.com and Lens.com, the two largest websites in the online contacts industry. Each has different upstream search strengths, and unique areas of opportunity in contrast to one another. For example 1-800 Contacts might continue building their own brand name equity, whereas Lens.com might focus on strengthening relationships with affiliates.

US Search Strategy 2017: Upstream
Top 20 upstream search terms to 1800contacts.com and Lens.com measured over 12 weeks ending 7/22/2017.

Audience Analysis: Engagement Ring Seekers

Tired of competing for basic search rankings? Marketers who take the time to understand how different audiences search for their products can then tailor their SEM campaigns and ad copy more effectively.

For jewelry brands, being able to connect with engagement ring searchers early in their research phase is crucial. When it comes to search behavior, we see male vs. female engagement ring researchers have stronger audience overlap with different jewelery websites (higher female crossover in orange, male in blue):

US Search Strategy 2017: Engagement Rings
Audience overlap based on cross-over of visitors to jewelry websites and male / female engagement ring searchers. Male vs. Female keywords based on 8 weeks ending 7/29/2017.

Based on their higher overlap with male ring seekers, Zales or Blue Nile might increase their spend on search terms like “vintage engagement rings.” Meanwhile, Kay or Brilliant Earth might invest in keywords like “gothic proposal ring” or “wedding rings,” which are more common amongst female ring seekers:

US Search Strategy 2017: Ring Searches
Audience overlap based on cross-over of visitors to jewelry websites and male / female engagement ring searchers. Male vs. Female keywords based on 8 weeks ending 7/29/2017.

5. Audience Target & Activation

Use search data to identify and target valuable audiences who are seeking what you offer.

Targeting Logan Fans

Let’s say Target wants to increase their pre-sales of the “Logan” DVD, in order to get ahead of competitors like Amazon, Best Buy and Walmart before the release date.

They might build a segment based on consumers who are searching for the Logan DVD on Google, Yahoo! and Bing (bundling popular searches like “logan dvd release date” and “logan dvd”), and then target them programmatically. In order to tailor their segmentation and messaging, Target might want to understand the demographics and attitudes of this group. Profiling Logan DVD seekers shows they are more likely to be…

US Search Strategy 2017: Logan Fans
Source: Search terms and audience profile pulled over 12 weeks ending Aug 12th, 2017.

Knowing this, their advertisements might be aimed to a younger, more masculine audience, and should highlight the special features included in the DVD.

Activating Amex Searchers

Let’s say American Express wants to better connect with consumers who are researching their credit cards. In addition to reaching them at the point of search, they want to target American Express searchers with programmatic display advertisements in order to remain top-of-mind throughout their digital journey.

A basic place to start is to build an audience segment based on people searching for American Express products, and target them programmatically. Another approach is to target based on this audience’s demographics.

However, a more creative and competitive approach to segmenting and activating Amex searchers could be understanding this group’s interests. If we compare the audience cross-over of American Express searchers against lifestylebased audiences, several groups stand out:

US Search Strategy 2017: Amex
Audience overlap based on conusmers who searched for American Express products, crosstabulated against Hitwise Lifestyle Audiences over 4 weeks ending 1/28/2017.