Search Analytics Gets It Together at iCrossing

As search marketing grows more hotly competitive, marketers’ success comes more and more to depend on the quality of the tools available to them for optimizing both their Web sites and their pay-per-click campaigns.

And enhancing those tools has become something of a continuous arms race, as search marketing firms add bid management platforms and analytics and click-tracking tools to help advertisers maximize their investment returns on search. The scope of what’s available to advertisers now through search engine marketing (SEM) firms is too broad to summarize. But taking a closer look at what’s available through one agency might suggest what marketers—and not just the big guys but the smaller, more price-conscious ones—might be able to get their hands on through outsourcing their search campaigns.

SEM firm iCrossing issued an update in mid-June to its proprietary Interest2Action search analytics tool, designed to help advertisers get a better look at what search terms are converting best, relating that data to keyword costs and putting it out in the form of actionable reports.

“A report like that will reveal the long tail of search clicking that might have brought a visitor to your site,” says Rod Lenniger, executive vice president of iCrossing. “Did they search before finding your site, and if so, what were the keywords that got them there?” Marketers often assume that the brand-name search terms are the ones that produce the highest conversion rates—whether they define “conversions” as sales, e-mail registrations, quote requests, or what have you.

But in truth, Lenniger says, the visitor may have arrived at the site after entering something other than those brand terms, typing in “great off-road vehicles” rather than “Chevy SUV.” There’s a tendency to give the win to the search term clicked last, but knowing that a visitor came in through a different door than the branded one, at least for an early site visit, could be very important to a marketer’s search marketing strategies.

“Being able to track back through the converting keywords to the derivative keywords is very important to our clients,” Lenniger says. Armed with that knowledge, advertisers can then optimize their sites with those search terms as entry points and design micro-sites that use those particularly productive keywords.

Clients on the I2A platform can pull reports from a menu of 20 different templates, depending on the kinds of conversions they’re looking for from their sites. B-to-C marketers might be aiming for actual online transactions; but they might also want to sway Internet visitors to register for e-mail. Content providers might be most interested in subscriptions, while B-to-B players might be interested in price quote requests, demos or PDF downloads. Interest2Action can be shaped to track the keywords and terms that lead to those ends.

The updated Interest2Action allows users a consolidated end-to-end view of visitors’ clickpaths in both natural and paid search. “Keywords may have been used to optimize their sites, but they may also be buying those same keywords through paid search,” says Lenniger. “For years, you used to have to go to different reports and dig that data out to make the performance comparisons yourself.” But the Interest2Action dashboard lets users bring the conversion data from both paid and natural search onto the same screen.

“As marketers start to realize that 80% of searchers are clicking on natural search results because they trust them, they’re starting to pour more budget into natural,” he says. “They can now see when they’re getting a better [return on investment or] ROI on that term via a naturally optimized site rather than paid search.”

In that sense, being able to take a holistic view of both paid and organic search together is as important as coordinating online marketing with offline efforts. “In just the same way, you need to coordinate natural and paid search to control your ad spend, and frankly to get the best return.”

One enhancement added to the iCrossing analytics toolkit in this recent update was a greater ability to customize filters for each of the more than 500 search engines the firm tracks clients’ keywords on. “Other firms apply one filter that serves for all the engines, but we’ve created as many individual engine filters as we could,” says Lenniger. The result has been to greatly reduce the number of search keywords that get reported as “unknown” simply because they’re distinctive to a small subset of engines.

“If you don’t have filters designed for the smaller engines that are out there in the market—the Dogpiles and so on—then you wind up looking at a high percentage of ‘unknown keywords’ simply because you don’t have the whole clickpath or it got distorted,” he says. “Clients can get more accurate click data and a higher volume of data with which to leverage their campaigns.”

The new I2A can also keep longer watch over conversion “latency”, that is, the lag time between consumers’ first visit to a site and their eventual conversion during later visits. Formerly, the platform could only monitor whether a user converted up to 30 days after a first visit. Now advertisers can be on the lookout for conversions that occur as much as 120 days after that initial contact, and can set those latency filters to suit their own purposes, for example, depending on specific campaigns they may be planning.

ICrossing integrates the Interest2Action tool with its Bid2Action paid-search management solution, so that once the high-converting terms are found, they can be added to the advertiser’s portfolio of PPC bids and managed for the best returns.

“By integrating Interest2Action with B2A, we’re taking both the natural and the paid worlds and assessing those results across a much larger keyword universe,” Lenniger says.

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