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IRX 2012: PREVIEW: Interview with Dave Chaffey of Smart Insights

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In our latest preview of one of our major events of the year, Internet Retailing Expo (IRX 2012), we asked speaker Dave Chaffey, chief executive of online publisher and consultancy Smart Insights, how retailers can approach that all-important job of being found online.

Internet Retailing: Getting found in a more competitive online environment seems to be getting harder for retailers all the time. Would you agree?

Dave Chaffey: As Google innovates relentlessly, there will always be winners and losers when fighting for visibility online. It’s certainly increasingly difficult to cut through against leading brands because of recent innovations Google has made. Design changes to Google have made it more difficult to get prominence in the natural search listings and even within these you have to be on the first page to drive volume and ideally in the first three positions; the recent Optify data showed that the first three positions generated more than 50% of the natural search clickthroughs.

Google’s new social features such as Search plus your world, which integrates Google+ into the search results for logged-in users, has already had a big impact. It naturally favours brands with larger networks. We were recently reviewing its impact and took the example of H&M, which because of a large initial network gets promoted to those not in its circles. We found that in just two months, H&M followers had doubled to over 500,000. A sizeable following on a network that many say is male-oriented. The impact of Google’s Panda updates still rumbles on and this has caused problems for retailers, but still there are winners who are getting more cut-through which I will look at in my talk. These successful retailers are not just large brands, but niche retailers who are search savvy and follow the latest innovations. Within Google Adwords there are many innovations available like new ad formats and remarketing and many not taken advantage of them, or don’t have the right tracking in place to know how best to apply them.

IR: How do you think retailers can best set themselves apart in terms of search marketing?

DC: Success in search has always been about having a solid, integrated strategy combining with obsessing about the details through analytics and testing. Those who succeed tend to have dedicated expert resource who either manage search in-house, or work very closely with an agency on the execution. I think search is too important to outsource the strategy as well as the execution and management. With the changes made by Google with Panda and Google+, success is just about how good your search strategy is, but how you develop an integrated strategy for content, social and PR.

When I talk with search marketers, you can see the companies who get it, because they have integrated these activities tightly or they have a single expert who gets all of these areas (easier said than done). Search has never been an ‘outsource and forget’ activity for those who want to be successful, but the importance of content marketing mean that in-house ownership and commitment to invest is vital. Take a look at the new ASOS live marketplace feed from their blog to see what massive investment in content used to fuel a business looks like.

IR: Is this an area that retailers spend enough time thinking about? Do you think this area of ecommerce is going to simply get harder and harder, and are there any things that retailers can do now to make it easier on themselves in the future?

DC: Search is so important in retail, that I think that compared to other sectors, companies are aware of the importance of search visibility and they do invest in it. The effectiveness of their investment varies a lot depending on the quality of their strategic thinking and, perhaps even more importantly, their analytical skills. Google Analytics is now a very powerful tool if you exploit this power and we’ll be looking at some of the new features available specifically to help optimise your search and social investments.

I think everyone is aware of how Google makes many changes to its algorithms for natural search to keep the spammers at bay and to improve the quality of its results. Google engineer Matt Cutts reported that there were over 500 algorithm change projects last year. But there are also many ad innovations too, both within within the paid search results and on the wider display network. These give an opportunity for those who are sufficiently nimble in their thinking and technically adopting the new formats to get an edge. For example, Google Adwords has its well known product extensions and Ad Sitelinks but also new offer, social and location and seller rating extensions.

Hear Dave Chaffey’s presentation, Search – will they find you?, firsthand at IRX 2012. He will be speaking in the Fast Track Conference on March 21 at 12 noon.

Entrance to IRX 2012, which will be held at the NEC in Birmingham on March 21 and 22, is free. More than 4,000 visitors are expected at the event, which features an exhibition of 150 suppliers to the ecommerce and multichannel industries alongside a two-day learning programme, Selling in the Digital Age.

The programme features four conferences, dedicated to Mobile and Social Commerce, Fast Track, Enterprise and Customer Experience, as well as a series of workshops, learning sessions and demonstrations of the latest technology.

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