Search: Don't Just Get Found, Find New Ideas
Earlier this week I shared a post on Social Listening and how it can add value in the context of market research, noting that it can be used in conjunction with search.
So What About Search?
Many of us think about search engine optimization as a game. When we do, our approach generally looks like this. We develop a new web site (visual and information design), make sure that the web site is configured to make content easy for search engines to find, and when we write content we try to include a lot of keywords. This simple approach assumes that search engines exist for the sake of being played like a fiddle. By focusing on these techniques we feel we can trick search engines into returning our content first when people search for it. The good news is that this approach can likely get you placed well in search engines. The bad news is that once people are getting to your pages from a search engine, it’s not really what they were looking for. The even worse news – which I want to focus on here – is that you might be missing people who are searching for things your organization does.
On the upside, we are more and more thinking about search earlier in the process. This looks like organizations getting their program or direct mail staff to develop content and mail pieces that incorporate keywords and common themes.
I would suggest that we can take an even greater step back to make sure we are engaging as broad a set of people as possible and we’re giving them what they want.
I would also suggest that we stop guessing. In the past I would develop a list of keywords for my web sites by guessing what people would be searching for to find me. By seeing what people are really searching for, by looking at their search behavior, I can give them what they’re really looking for.
How Search Engines Work Can Help You
At the end of the day, search engines seek to connect searchers with content. Search engines apply lots of algorithms to create a degree of goodness – ideally they attempt to deliver exactly what people are looking every time they search. We should consider the degree to which search engines achieve goodness “relevance.”
Let’s thing for a moment about how search engines work when you search for something. You go to the search page and type in some combination of terms (or “keywords”) that you hope will get you what the information want. “the information” could be a research article, a movie listing, or an opportunity to support an organization by volunteering, donating, or writing a letter to congress. The terms you’re using most of the time get you an exact return. But a large chunk of your searches just get you close. So, you land on a page, look around, and maybe click a couple of more times to get what you really want.
Look at What People are Searching For
Our searches are not ephemeral. In fact search activity leaves a broad trail of data that if we look at it closely, can help us achieve better relevance. Here are a few ways to do it:
1. Start in your own backyard: If your web site has a search engine that allows people to search for things across your site, take a look at what their searching for. Are they looking for things that you’ve got on your site? Are they searching for those things using terms that aren’t quite what you call them? Think about it this way, you have a section on your site called “get active” where you want them to sign up for email newsletters and the walkathons you host. You might find that people are searching for “volunteer” and “updates.” this type of discovery can help you refine your site’s information design and navigation. You can probably use these terms, combined with the topics your organization works on (like “starving children” or “baby whales”) to improve your content and attract more traffic from search engines like Yahoo! and Google.
2. Check out the neighborhood: look at the key words or search phrases that are driving traffic to your web site. Google analytics lets you do this for free once you install it on your web site. Maybe you work for an organization that provides some kind of help to people with kidney problems. Are people finding you when they simply search for “kidney problems?” you might find that a small but significant number of people few are finding you by searching for “low sodium recipes” but leave very quickly. If your site has a couple of recipes, this might be an area of content you want to explore to provide better services to people. This relevant content will help you capitalize on people searching for low sodium recipes. Once you get them to you new recipe section, it’s up to you to engage them as program participants, signing a petition, sharing their story, or eventually making a donation.
3. Tap into the global consciousness: I believe the greatest opportunity for free, valuable consumer (or donor or advocate or volunteer) insight exists within search engine activity. Companies like Google have created a market for advertisers to place advertisements alongside search results. The market works more or less a simple function of supply and demand. Think about supply: Google can tell you that a million people search for “fair trade coffee” and only 5,000 people search “Ethiopian fair trade coffee” each day. If your organization sells fair trade coffee, it might seem really attractive to try and advertise where lots of people are looking for your products – but that’s just half of the story, we need to consider demand. Google knows how many other people want to advertise there.
By looking at demand and supply for ad space you can assess the market for new products and offers. Ideally, anyone wanting to develop a new product would look for the phrases with the highest volume of searches and the lowest amount of competition. Whatever that thing is, you should make it. I don’t know what it is right this moment, but there is something people are searching for that organizations and companies aren’t providing.
Try it now: Discover New Opportunities
Explore opportunities for new offers or ones adjacent to what you currently offer. Go to the Google keyword tool. Enter a single term associated with your organization’s services, products, or offers. You could also provide a URL to one of the pages that describe what you’re doing today and Google will use that to help with the research.
The tool will return a long list of similar terms that people are searching for. It will also tell you roughly how many people are searching for those terms and how competitive the market for placing advertisements on those pages will be. Sort by search volume or competition. What do these results tell you people are searching for versus what they’re finding.
Tie it All together
Hopefully these quick examples will turn you on to how search data can help you tap into real consumer insight – for free – that will help you at the least fine tune your content. At best, you will discover a new opportunity for your organization revolutionize service delivery and engage thousands of new donors and volunteers. I add only one word of caution here. Whatever you learn from search research should be tempered with validation through other methods. These tools are great for new product ideation, but before making any investment in these new ideas I would definitely survey and interview my consumer or constituent base.
Try bringing some of these new ideas into a content or campaign meeting you’ve got scheduled this week. Your suggestions for what your organization should be doing can now be backed up with real constituent behavior.
You’ll see, it works.
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