By Ray Moheet, iShowcase
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When people go looking for products and services they need, they enter a frame of mind that marketers call the “marketing funnel”. The marketing funnel is a description of the self-sorting that potential customers go through during their search of the market.
As people begin their search, the first step is they acknowledge that they have needs, issues, or thoughts on a subject that all require resolution. All of these needs and issues are the first step for a marketer to position their services or goods to meet the needs of the customer entering the “funnel”.
People then begin the transformation into customers as they start their research on what can be used to satisfy their needs. “Research” is a broad category that includes formal comparison of statistics and market information, but also encompasses more informal methods: browsing, cross-shopping on different websites, asking trusted individuals about their experiences, and sending inquiries to a retailer.
Once customers have done their research, they winnow a category of products or services out of other categories. For example, if a person wants to frequently travel across their city, they may have the categories of “purchase a car” or “buy a pass for public transit” to choose between. Once a category is selected, customers make their choice from within that category. To continue the “transit” example, a customer may have chosen to purchase a car rather than take public transit, and now a choice of car has to be made within that category—“Do I get a Smart Fortwo? Do I get a Honda Odyssey?”
The final step is choice. This is the most straightforward step of the marketing funnel—people buy their chosen product or service from a chosen category, from a chosen venue. However, at this step, a customer is at their most inflexible and self-selected. There’s very little opportunity to shift a customer to one’s business at the bottom of the funnel.
But the question that retailers ask is: “How do people make their selections at each of these steps?”, which is followed by, “How do I make people select my business?”
Google is Good
Understanding the landscape of the internet is the beginning of understanding how people acquire the information on what they want to purchase, how they want to purchase it, and with whom they want to deal. There are four major search engines that are competing for domination of searches (Google, Bing, Baidu, and Yahoo!), but globally, Google controls 80.52 percent of the market share, and the other three don’t even pass ten percent. And according to StatCounter Global Stats, Google controlled roughly 80 percent of desktop searches and 94 percent of mobile searches in the United States in 2016. If a retailer’s business isn’t strategizing around Google’s policies and updates, it’s going to lose the game of attracting customers’ attention during their way down the marketing funnel.
Google updates its search algorithm roughly a thousand times a year, and its major updates change the playing field for every company listed on their site (for more information about Google’s major algorithmic updates, see our “Evolve!” article in Jewelers & Technology, Issue 1). Keeping one’s SEO policies up to date, then, is crucial for helping a website to avoid the “Google slap” (a website being knocked down in the search results) for violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Four of the most important elements of a contemporary Google-geared SEO strategy are link building, localization, technical auditing and corrections based on that, and content marketing.
Utilizing its core search algorithm and its map pack (the businesses displayed in the “local listings” bar) algorithms, Google ranks businesses relative to the person searching. The core search algorithm lists businesses close to the searcher, meaning that if a person is searching Google for “jewelry retailers”, Google will list the nearest retailers, radiating outward from there. The map pack algorithms, on the other hand, place businesses on the maps that Google shows on its first page of results. Interestingly, Google’s map pack algorithms frequently list businesses that don’t even have a website, meaning that the rules that go into localization are different for the two sets of algorithms.
Dominating the localization game requires frequent audits of one’s website to ensure that it’s continuously up-to-date and Google recognizes it as a relevant resource for local shoppers; and a wealth of local references. These references can be from businesses and organizations in a retailer’s community, but Google places a great deal of weight on references from larger groups, such as the Better Business Bureau and the local Chamber of Commerce.
Technical auditing and correction is the process of “streamlining” a website’s information to the bots that Google employs to read the source code that goes into building a website. Every website is rendered in a common code, and this code conveys a great deal of tags and information that can be read by a bot and plugged into Google’s ranking algorithms. While the text that appears on a retailer’s page is one thing, how can bots understand that a website is displaying an image of a wedding band, or that an embedded video is showing a clip from the 2017 JCK show?
Properly built websites utilize Schema.org markup language in the front end code of their websites—this language marks elements of a website with details and correct data. This information can easily be read by Google’s bots and fed into Google’s ranking metrics. The bots, however, are not “multilingual”, and while a website can be constructed without the Schema.org markup language, information may not be effectively visible to Google without it. Schema is nearly limitless in its ability to define or introduce website content: article pages, item pages, retail information, authors’ biographies, pages dedicated to movies or books, product pages (that can be subdivided down into specific items like wedding bands or fashion jewelry), are all possible through the Schema markup language.
Technical auditing also requires viewing behavioral metrics, which, in this case, takes advantage of Google Analytics to understand which pages on a retail website are attracting attention, and which ones aren’t. Google, in recent years, has begun to privilege sites that have optimized their mobile pages, so retailers who’ve worked to make their sites friendly to smartphone-utilizing shoppers will have their efforts pay off in the long run.
When Google introduced its first search algorithm, PageRank, in 1998, it used citation (link-based references on other websites) as the tool for judging how relevant a given website was, and thus, how high it would be listed in search results. While Google has changed their policies, and refined them tremendously in the 19 years since, linking is still a significant factor in how pages are ranked by Google.
Link building, therefore, is a fundamental factor in how sites are listed by Google. By accruing backlinks to a website, Google’s analytical bots determine that website is “popular” enough to be raised up its listings, and potentially to the coveted first page of their search results. However, keep in mind that Google also ranks the quality of the sites that contain back links that lead to a site.
As Brian Dean, founder of Backlinko, described in “Link Building for SEO: The Definitive Guide (2017 Update)”: “In fact, from years of testing, I’ve found that the authority of the page linking to you matters more than any other factor. That’s because links from authoritative pages pass more authority (also known as PageRank) to your site … A link’s quality is also determined by a domain’s sitewide authority. In general, a link from a site like NYTimes.com will have a MUCH bigger impact than a link from a no-name blogger. While these links are tough to get, they’re well worth the effort … When it comes to links, a site’s authority matters. But that site’s relevance also matters. For example, let’s say you run a website about The Paleo Diet. And you get a link from an authoritative site … about unicycles. Will that link still count? According to an interview from an ex-Googler, not really.”
Content marketing is the process of creating quality content (which includes, but is not limited to: blog posts, news/press releases, and general page content). The benefit of quality content can’t be overstated when it comes to SEO. Content can be loaded with short-tail (ex: “engagement rings”) and long-tail (ex: “Where can I find engagement rings?”) keywords; it can attract the attention of legitimately interested internet shoppers and organically drive one’s page up the ranks of Google’s listings.
Caring for Content
Talking about “quality” content is a bit of a generalization. What’s the actual nitty-gritty that goes into making content “quality” in the first place?
According to a 2010 survey by Chadwick Martin Bailey and iModerate Research Technologies, people mostly share content that pertains to: family and friends, family pictures, “funny videos”, coupons and discounts, and news articles and blog posts. It’s possible to divine two patterns from this information—that people using the internet want to see and share personal content and informative content.
In ideal situations, quality content can lead to marketing efforts becoming viral, which is generally a very successful outcome for marketing, since a viral marketing campaign spreads itself without further investment on the part of the organization that created it. Virality is a great coup for a retailer’s marketing content, but even virality can be problematic without controlling the audience through which the content is virally spreading. For example, if a jewelry retailer is looking to market their pieces to women between the ages of 35-54, and the information is spread between teenage girls, there’s a critical failure in content production that’s led to an incorrect audience being caught in the marketing net.
Hence, understanding one’s audience is a necessity when content is being created. In-house content writers from i-Showcase, Jesse A. Gray and Rosa Colato, have given us a clear idea as to what sort of “personal and informative” material catches the most attention. While retailers have worked off the idea for decades that their jewelry brands themselves have the power to make sales, millennial tastes have shifted dramatically in the last twenty years. Millennials and other younger shoppers tend towards skepticism about “the brand as a symbol”, and are more interested in brands proving that they offer quality products that meet people’s needs and tastes.
Millennial shoppers are a skeptical audience that isn’t likely to be swayed by flash and puff—according to a 2014 survey by the McCarthy Group, “Engaging Millennials: Trust and Attention Survey”, 84 percent of surveyed millennials said that they didn’t trust traditional advertising. In some ways, this is a positive thing for retailers: An audience knows that a business is trying to sell them something, so it’s not necessary to play games to catch their attention. However, that desire to get “straight to the good stuff” also means that their patience with perceived dishonesty and manipulation begins close to zero.
Keywords and phrases should also shift to meet the amount of content being written. Content can vary in size, of course, from blurbs on social media to press releases and blog posts that are hundreds of words long. This goes hand-in-hand with Google’s shift towards preferring long-tail queries. But why the preference for long-tail queries? People search for websites and blogs that give them specific information—most commonly topics like, “How to pick the perfect ring for an anniversary”, “How can I have a custom band made?”, or “What to get your [partner] for [holiday]?” As we’ve explained, millennial shoppers prefer genuine and useful information, so crafting content around these terms is crucial.
However, Conductor Spotlight’s 2016 article, “3 Tips for Driving Holiday Sales with Long-Tail Keywords”, notes an interesting fact: Take the two phrases “what to get your boyfriend for valentines day” and “what to get your boyfriend on valentines day”. Contextually, the two phrases are identical, but the difference of those two prepositions, “for” and “on”, affect the monthly search volume tremendously—Conductor Spotlight found that the first phrase, with “for”, was searched for sixty times more than the second phrase, with “on”.
Controlling the language of one’s content is fundamental for the success of content marketing, and skilled, educated writers and editors are necessary for comprehending the “everyday language” that people use when they search for products online.
Organic search can play a role nearly every point in the marketing funnel, which is the most fundamental reason for a retailer to take advantage of SEO. But according to the Search Engine Journal’s “24 Eye-Popping SEO Statistics”, 75 percent of users never leave the first page of search results; search results drive the most online traffic to content sites, beating out social media by 300 percent; and SEO leads have a 14.6 percent closing rate, compared to the 1.7 percent close rate for outbound leads (such as direct mail).
Many retailers perform their own SEO and content writing, but can be a tricky path to navigate, since the production–possibility frontiers (the trade-off required in allocating resources between two goods) are a reality, even in the jewelry industry: By attempting to do everything, a retailer runs the risk of becoming less efficient in their area of specialty (in this case, jewelry retail). SEO and content writing require entire teams of people who are trained in diverse fields, such as marketing (including individuals who have specialized in marketing and data analysis), web programming, UX / Graphic design, and English (or writing in the preferred language of the region).
Thus, the tools necessary to perform effective SEO and content marketing include the expertise to play into Google’s technology and policies, the programming and marketing knowledge to control the tools that undergird successful SEO marketing, and content creators that not only know how to grasp the flow of the language as it’s spoken, but how to manipulate the short- and long-tail keywords that people are really searching for.
To focus that funnel—to capture the attention of customers as they self-select during the various steps—the concept of economies of scale comes into play: Specializing in SEO and content writing requires an investment of time, resources, and employee power. A business that can only devote a portion of its resources to SEO and content writing may find itself, depending on its efforts, unable to keep up with changes in the common language and Google’s algorithmic updates. Devoting 100 percent of a jewelry retail business to the exploration, procurement, negotiation, and retailing of jewelry in an era of digital transition is a tremendous challenge—but at the same time, the rewards have never been greater.