This is a transcript of an audio podcast.
Editor's Note: This is episode 4 of 4. If you are just jumping in, you might want to start with the transcript of episode 1.
Heather Lloyd-Martin: Hi, and welcome to the fourth and final part of this IBM Press Podcast Series featuring Bill Hunt and Mike Moran, co-authors of Search Engine Marketing, Inc. It's now available in second edition. I’m Heather Lloyd-Martin, President and CEO of Success Work Search Copywriting Consultancy and author of the book, Successful Search Engine Copywriting. In this podcast, I’ll talk to Mike and Bill about optimizing the search facility on your own website.
HLM: Let's start with the question for Bill. From your work at Global Strategies, you must constantly run into large companies with daunting website search issues. What did you learn is the most effective place to start?
Bill Hunt: Well, Heather, I think the best place for people to start when they’re talking about one of these projects is, is exactly trying to analyze what they’re trying to achieve. With site search, one of the first things that Mike and I have always told people to do is go in and look at where your problems start. Two really, really good reports that I think all of the onsite search engines are able to produce now are, first and foremost: where are you not getting results. And simply, the tool that’ll go in, find any queries someone's done that have produced zero, five, or some number — we typically do zero — and then we match that back to the number of queries. We just did one of these at a client’s recently where it said any word that had five queries or more where no results were produced — let's start with that. We can start to try to understand why.
The second thing we tried to do is where there was a result presented, but nothing clicked, and that tends to be a quality issue that we’re working there. Those are really two of the most effective places because they really help you target those specific things that are problematic for you.
Then the third, I would say, is try to loop in some of the people into some of the training that you’re going to do. Mike and I have had a great experience of baiting one or another. So when we have tried to in the past get people to do things for external search, we often tease them with the idea that doing internal search also helps them out in Google and Yahoo and vice versa. We have said, “Well, okay, doing this for external search often helps you for internal.” so it depends on what their particular problem is.
HLM: Those are really interesting points. Thank you. Mike, you have also been working with TechSearch Technology as far back as in the 80s and IBM research. Why is it that people get so frustrated with website search?
MM: I think it's just human nature, Heather. I think that when people see what kind of success they have when they’re searching with Google out on the internet, they just naturally assume that it's an easy problem to be able to search on a corporate intranet or on an external website because it seems like an easier problem. It seems like there are fewer pages, so why isn't it easier to find what I am looking for than on the vast internet where it seems like that would be a really hard problem? And the reason is that it's actually a harder problem to search fewer pages. It seems counterintuitive, but it's actually harder when you have fewer pages and there are a few reasons for that. One of them is that even though there are many more pages, the search algorithms themselves work just fine even for vast numbers of pages. So the scalability, as the computer scientists like to call it, of search engines is really something that they have been able to figure out and that's a problem they have been able to solve. What they haven't been able to solve is how you show pages that don't use exactly the words that the searcher might type in, and at first, you might think that those things have nothing to do with each other, but the truth is that they have everything to do with each other. Think about a simple example where suppose you have someone who’s typing in the word ‘laptop’ because they’re looking for a laptop computer. Now, if you look across the entire internet, there are probably millions of pages with the word laptop on it, and so whatever it is they’re looking for about that, there’s somebody who has written a page that uses that word. But if you go to a corporate website of a company that’s actually selling laptop computers, you might find that they don't use that word at all. They might call their computers notebooks, or in European countries they might call them mobile devices. So there are all sorts of different words that people might use, and it may have to be a corporate policy to not use that word ‘laptop.’ In fact, when I worked for IBM and we sold laptop computers, we never called them laptops, and we had lots of reasons for that. It was a marketing decision where they said, “Well, we don't want to call them laptops because ‘laptop’ just seems like it’s a cheaper, less expensive, less valuable device than a notebook. We think that ‘notebook’ has that kind of market position we’re looking for,” so we called them notebooks. Also there was a customer who burned themselves because they actually put the computer on their lap and it got too hot, and some company got sued over that. So we never called them laptops.
We have lots of reasons why we don't do that, and that problem — even though I am giving you real specific reasons why people use certain words and not other words on their websites — that problem actually happens all the time even when nobody knows what the reason is. Because what happens, is that on the internet there are thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of companies all competing to give the right answer to a question because they make money based on that. They have the right pages out there; they’re working to get high rankings; they’re working to capture as many searchers as possible. There is a huge competition for every search term. But on a corporate website, there’s no competition at all. In fact, there’s only one group, one department that's even allowed to write pages that go on the website about whatever the subject is, so they’re not competing against anybody. They think their job is to put web pages out that describe whatever their product is and they’re done. They’re going to use certain words on that page, and they’re not going to use other words just because it would be ridiculous for people to be using every different kind of synonym for every word on all their pages. It would sound funny; it would look funny. When all you’re looking at are the pages from one company, there’s a certain language that they’re using and if that language doesn't match the language that the searchers are using, then suddenly you don't find things; people get very, very frustrated. It's not that there are some companies that do it really, really well and then there are a lot of companies that don't; there are very few companies that actually do website search well. Jared Spool, who is actually a very well-known user interface researcher, did a study a few years ago that shows that only 34% of searches on corporate websites find the right answer. Now, think about that: two-thirds of the time it doesn't work. So there aren't too many pages of your website that are that bad, right? But your search results page probably is; I think that's what causes people to get frustrated. I think that they expect that things are going to work just as easily as they work when they’re searching the internet; then when they come to your website, those things don't work at all, and the reason is because the problem is much, much harder than the problem of finding things on the internet.
HLM: Thanks, Mike, those are really interesting points. So, Bill, as someone with such a strong background in search marketing, what would you say to other search marketers that don't think they know enough about website search to help their companies there? Are there search marketing techniques that really pay off for site search?
BH: I think it's another great point, and it ties back to your first question about where does search marketing fit into internal search. One of the big things that we run into is that people often look at them as separate. What we try to tell people are: two distinct set-up rules very similar — it sort of rolls off the tongue. But the idea there is that you understand the heuristics in the scoring mechanisms of your onsite search, which very interestingly, most people don't. We asked a company about a week ago if they could explain to us how their vendor had setup the scoring mechanisms;they had no idea, and it took us quite a while to actually extract that from the vendor. I think that's one of the first problems. When we talk about what works in search marketing, it's the same thing; we want the right page to rank so we ask the question, what page should rank. So same thing as in the first process: what is the problem, what is not coming up, and then trying to diagnose that.
Title tags are huge. The other we see is descriptions. One of the biggest reasons people don't click if they don't tweak a meta description, or if it's a compiled description with some of the newer tools, then we need to work on that and make sure. I think that getting those people that are creating pages and working those protocols in are very important to the link structures, and we've worked with them. Mike and I make some reference to this in the second edition of the book of very specific things and how to bring these two teams together. We advocate in the consulting that we do at Global Strategies to bring the two together; don't make them separate, sort of dysfunctional teams, so break them into one centralized functional team, and then both of them can benefit from each other.
HLM: Thanks, Bill, a question for Mike. What is the biggest thing that people miss when they set out to fix their broken website search facility?
MM: I think there are a lot of things that people miss when they set out to fix their website search, but the biggest thing that they miss, I think, is that they look at it as the technology problem. They look at it as something where they just have to swap out the search engine and then everything will be okay. The reason they do is because that's the most visible part of what's going on in the search. It’s that you’ve spent this money; your IT people have gone and installed the search engine, and they’ve designed some pages to work with it, and now it's not finding the right answers, then you say, “Well this search engine stinks and that's my diagnosis. I looked at it, we got the search engine, we put it in; hey, it doesn't work, it stinks. That's no good; it's the search engine.” The truth is that it's probably not the search engine. There are some search engines that are better than others, and there are some search engines that are more well suited to different situations than others are. That's just normal with any kind of technology, but the most important thing about search engines is all of the things you do around the search engine, and that's a lot of what we talked about in this new chapter of our book. There are many things you have to think about in terms of how you design your content; and, by the way, a lot of the things you do to design the content are the same things you do to succeed at search engine marketing. That's one of the reasons why we added this website search chapter to the book is because so many of the things that you do are things that, as Bill was pointing out, that those are things that you learn in search marketing and you can apply them to website search.
So working on your content is really important; understanding the keywords that people are using is really important; but here with website search, you have an advantage because you can actually interrogate your search engine, look at your logs, and figure out what words people are using. You can understand that here are the most popular terms, here are the things that people are searching for; let's work on those first. So those are the kinds of things that we focus on in the book.
We actually talk about two very different kinds of strategies to work on your website search: the top 40 approach and the long-tail approach. The top 40 approach is really saying, let's make special efforts to look at, say, the forty most popular search terms, or depending on what your company is, you might be looking at the 100 most popular or the 1000 most popular; it doesn't matter.
When I worked at IBM and looked at a website search, we eventually were looking at the top 2000 of our search terms; but even when we did that, we were looking at less than 30% of the search volume because so many of the queries that people type in are something that one person types in a month and you don't see anybody else type the same thing. To work on those kinds of queries, you need what we call a long-tail approach, and that's named after the great book by Chris Anderson where he talks about how so much of the internet is built on people being able to get exactly what they want even when it's very unique from what everybody else wants.
You can apply that to search as well. There are a number of techniques that you can use to make sure your pages are indexed to make sure that your content is designed properly and optimized. You can do all sorts of things to focus on improving your overall search results, so that the rising sea will raise all the boats. Those two different techniques: one to focus on the really popular ones, the other to focus on kind of those long-tail keywords where there are lots and lots of keywords out there that you could never focus on individually, those are the two things that we mainly do to try and help people understand how they’re going to fix their site search capabilities. That's one of the reasons why we wanted to add this chapter to the book because we felt that there were so many things that you can do to fix your site-search facility that people who have read this book already understand because they are direct out of search-marketing principles that we wanted to add some specifics in this chapter to give people a real ability to go and attack their site-search problems and win.
HLM: Thanks, Mike, those are really good points and that actually wraps up the fourth and final part of this IBM Press Podcast Series featuring the authors of Search Engine Marketing, Inc., Mike Moran and Bill Hunt. It's now available in second edition, and you can find out more at mikemoran.com and globalstrategies.com, the websites of our two authors. The new edition is packed with the DVD featuring presentations and articles by the authors as well as new chapters and a thorough updating throughout the book. If you haven't heard the first three podcasts, I hope you’ll circle back and check them out.
BH: I would like to say a great thank you, Heather, for doing this. I know that you’re very busy, and having a great interviewer like you to pull things out of Mike and me — you’ve done an excellent job. We really appreciate that and again want to say thank you very much, and we look forward to talking with you on our future podcasts.