by Chris Gedge
In 1998, a golden age of organic search began. A search engine would be born that would inevitably take over the world. It would be called Google and it would start an epidemic of helpless addicts, waiting for their next number one ranking fix.
Ecommerce retailers were some of the first to realise the potential that ranking highly in Google presented, and so search engine optimisation was born.
Back then, stuffing your site full of relevant keywords was enough to take the top spots and the traffic and revenue that followed. Google’s technology very quickly improved and they launched PageRank which calculated the strength of backlinks pointing to your site and ranked you according to the strength of your competitors. This weeded out some of the spam, however it was still relatively easy to rank well by building thousands of spammy links such as bulk directory submissions and automated article spinning.
These were the ‘golden days’ of search, where size didn’t matter and any etailer could be king of the search result page and reap the rewards of ‘free’ traffic and revenue.
As the dependency on organic traffic grew and diversification of marketing channels shrunk, many ecommerce retailers failed to realise the dangerous situation they had placed their businesses in. It seemed almost unthinkable that Google would de-rank a site that had so much history. Ranking in Google started to seem more like a right than an algorithm. In April 2011 this would all change forever.
The Google Zoo
Almost without warning, Google released two major updates which would change organic search forever and place many businesses in real trouble overnight. The first was Google Panda which penalised sites with excessive duplicate or ‘low quality’ content and the second, released in April 2012, was called Google Penguin. This update penalised sites that had previously engaged in ‘spammy’ link building to an excessive degree. These two updates caused severe, overnight ranking drops for hundreds of etailers that were previously dominating and depending on organic search. Many retailers were forced to make mass redundancies and even shut shop due to their dependence on organic traffic.
Although organic traffic can still be a good and stable source of traffic if the strategy is correct, the real key to long term recovery is diversification and less dependence on organic traffic. Google is only going to get smarter and quick wins are no longer a real possibility like they used to be.
There are many great sources of traffic and revenue out there for ecommerce retailers to replace lost organic traffic.
Paid search (PPC)
Yes you will now have to pay for your Google traffic (did you see what they did there?!), however if carefully setup and managed, a positive return on investment is very possible.
To make PPC work, you should start small and efficient and build out from there.
Here are a few tips to get you going:
1. Start small, focussed and efficient. Don’t be tempted to launch with thousands of key terms.
2. Disable Google’s Content and Search Partner networks when starting out.
3. Start testing ads with your highest margin product groups.
4. Use exact match keywords to start with instead of broad match keyterms. This will make your search campaign much more focussed and cost efficient.
5. Ensure you ad creative contains important USPs, such as free delivery and a call to action.
6. Try Google’s new Product Level Ads by uploading a product feed to Google. These will display as product images under the usual paid ads on the result page. Ensure your prices are competitive to get a good return on investment.
7. Don’t forget Bing (which now includes Yahoo!). Generally conversion rates are higher and CPCs lower on the Bing ad network.
8. There are loads of great guides around the internet, but if in doubt, find an experienced PPC expert to setup your campaign.
Retargeting is a great way to remarket to people who have already visited your site through the use of a tracking cookie. Visitors to your site will be retargeted with your ads as they browse around the web.
Companies such as Criteo and Adroll are experts in retargeting and offer CPC based models. Generally CPA’s are much lower than PPC and great return on investment can be realised.
Email and CRM
It is important to realise the potential of your existing customer database. As long as they have had a positive experience, existing customers are much more likely to convert and at a higher average order value than new customers. Make the most of your customer database and send regular targeted emails containing genuine offers. Companies such as Mailchimp and Dotmailer are email marketing specialists and offer managed campaigns and self-service software.
Social media has been heralded as the next big thing in online marketing and a must have for online businesses. While social can be a great way to communicate with customers and advertise your brand, it is actually very difficult to drive revenue without a proper strategy.
An amazing example of how to use Facebook comes from Appliances Online. The electronics etailer has amassed over 1,000,000 likes on their page by running regular competitions to win some really desirable products. Encouraging fans to share the competition to their friends and family has gone viral and has built them an impressive marketing channel in less than three years.
Although the road may be a long one, recovery is possible. By diversifying your marketing channels, you are future proofing your business from further Google shockers. Once lost traffic and revenue have been recovered and stabilised, attention can be placed back into organic channels and the best way to naturally and organically grow them, all in the knowledge that there are other channels in full support.
Chris Gedge is online marketing manager at The Cotswold Company