Measuring and optimizing natural search campaigns for conversion

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Conversion on a Web site or landing page is the point where a visitor becomes a prospect or a customer. It may take the form of a purchase, completing a survey or registration, viewing a certain number of pages or any other indication that a visitor is truly interested in the site's content.

Many marketers pay close attention to conversion when measuring and optimizing their pay-per-click and online media campaigns. But most still don't look at natural search engine campaigns in the same manner.

Traditionally, high positioning of a site on the search engines defined a successful natural search campaign. Being in the top 10 results for a keyword, for example, was typically enough for a marketer to consider the effort a win. This is no longer enough.

Despite improvements in tracking and reporting tools, many marketers still don't measure campaign results from natural search with a return on investment calculation, as they would their other campaigns.

If a company is using only natural search campaigns, its current Web analytics software may be able to assist with tracking to conversion. However, if it's using both paid and natural, many programs combine the results of both in their reports. Somewhat more sophisticated Web analytics packages assist in the tracking and measurement effort dramatically by providing reports that separate natural (free listings) and paid keywords.

In other words, it's possible to track natural search visitors through to conversion, and to optimize campaigns accordingly, even when buying keywords. So it's time for marketers to determine if and how the visitors who come to their sites through natural listings converted, and to calculate the ROI achieved from this effort.

Many Web designers don't plan their entire Web sites to aid in converting visitors. They may pay close attention to homepages or to registration pages, but often treat the interior pages of a site as "mere" content. Pay-per-click and online media typically drive visitors to landing pages. And best practices are often in place to ensure that marketers drive those visitors to a purchase or a registration very quickly.

However, since natural search visitors may enter a site on any page because of the content contained there, the entire site becomes a collection of potential landing pages.

Designing each page as a potential landing page is not as complicated as it may sound. Consistently offering calls to action in call-outs on interior pages helps with the conversion process.

Tracking visitors who come to a site via natural search tactics through to the conversion point provides the data needed to make optimization decisions. Armed with that data, search marketers can determine which phrases they should be included among the top positions for, and then optimize the site accordingly, basing decisions on ROI factors rather than on traffic volume alone.

Natural search campaigns are a vital part of an online marketing campaign, and marketers and Web designers should optimize them just as they do pay-per-click and online media campaigns - with a focus on conversion.

Jeannette Kocsis is vice president of digital marketing at Harte-Hanks, Langhorne, PA. E-mail jeannette_kocsis@harte-hanks.com.

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