Search marketers have lost their heads

By Lance Neuhauser, East Coast Managing Director
Appeared in DM News

That's right, search marketers, we've up and lost our head. I'm referring to the “head” in the sense of our high-volume, high-impact marketing placements (as opposed to the proverbial “tail”). Yet despite the play on words, our lack of focus on the head in an effort to cover our tail has me wondering whether we have really lost our head— that is, our wits — and whether the tail is going to cost us our…well, our tail.

Yes, long-tail terms (searches consisting of a combination of words) are cost-effective in paid search due to the typical lack of competition and higher level of consumer qualification. However, in a world where nearly limitless, highly successful testing options and advanced analytics are available at our fingertips, we must remain conscious of the very real resource limitations that counterbalance the possibilities.

Each keyword in our growing lists requires attention. To be most successful, they require tests and analyses to the point where we can truly understand the consumer behavior attached to each keyword and associate a value to that specific consumer touchpoint.

However, we often neglect the depth in which we need to understand our audience in an effort to extend the breadth by which we reach customers. I'm not suggesting we disregard tail terms, but I am suggesting that mathematically we can be more successful and drive better results in a resource-constrained universe by narrowing our efforts. (Feel free to read the Jerry Maguire Memo for theoretical background.)

The 80/20 rule has a tendency to apply to our keyword lists: 80% of our volume from 20% of our keywords. Granted, the tail keywords help drive incremental efficiency gains that enable coverage on the head terms, but…

If your head terms underwent creative and landing page tests that increased click-through rate and conversion by a mere 15%, you would accomplish three things. First, you could add volume at a level on par or greater than most entire tails. Second, you could drive efficiencies at a magnitude that outpaces most tails. And finally, you could learn more about your audience and what resonates with them, something that will surely pay dividends on an ongoing basis.

I recognize the extensive time required to run the aforementioned tests, but add up the time used to build long-tail keyword lists, properly categorize the terms, set bid and coverage rules, and provide top level analysis and reporting. But, I assure you, the time is there — it's just a matter of prioritizing.

Remember that search should be used for more than just direct response. Maximum awareness driving campaigns are a function of reach and frequency, of which the head terms, even at a high cost per click, can make you most successful.

Ultimately, as search marketers we need to use all tactics available to us. However, we also need to properly prioritize our efforts to make the greatest impact on our goals. Maybe it's because I just had a major milestone birthday and age is setting in, but I've learned that using my head gets me a great deal farther than going after tail.


Anonymous said...

Great post, and an important reminder to many of us in the day to day management of accounts.

However, I'm beginning to feel that the 80/20 business school notion is in need of a revision for the search marketing industry.

In my experience I'm finding more and more that the rule is much closer to 90/10. (10% of keywords = 87.7% of revenue for one current client as an example).

This makes your point all that much more critical Lance. Succinctly prioritize your keywords in order to give those with the utmost importance their due. Repeated efforts to optimize them give you the best chance to dramatically improve overall account importance.

Anonymous said...

It's true that most of the traffic comes from the head. However, for some clients (in a few specific niche markets) the long tail is the one that brings in the more serious traffic.

While I have to agree that optimizing the long tail is too time consuming it is a good idea once in a while to go over the top keywords in the long tail and see if they aren't worth some optimization especially if they also convert.

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