Organic Search: Still King of the Hill in Generating Web Traffic

online searchingIn recent years, the focus on “content marketing” has become stronger than ever: the notion of attracting traffic via the inherent relevance of the content contained on a website rather than through other means.

It seems eminently logical.  But content marketing is also relatively labor-intensive to build and to maintain. So there’s always been an effort to drive web traffic through “quicker and easier” methods as well.

But the newest findings on web traffic really do demonstrate how fundamental good content is to meeting the challenge of generating web traffic.

An analysis by web analytics and measurement firm BrightEdge reveals that organic search (SEO) drives over half of all traffic to websites (both business-to-business and business-to-consumer).

By contrast, paid search (SEM) accounts for only one-fifth of SEO’s result, and social is lower still:

  • Organic search: Generates ~51% of all web traffic
  • Paid search: ~10%
  • Social media: ~5%
  • All other methods (e.g., display advertising, e-mail and referred): ~34%

Web traffic driversSource:  BrightEdge, 2014. 

In other words, all forms of advertising put together don’t drive as much traffic as organic search.

The BrightEdge statistics also remind us that social media, however popular it may be to millions of people, isn’t a highly effective traffic generator like search. Here are some of the key reasons why:

  • Social shares are fleeting and can get drowned out easily.
  • Most users don’t go on a social platform, only then to click on different links that take them away from social.
  • Not everyone uses social media, whereas everyone uses a search engine of some kind when they’re in “investigative” mode.

That’s the thing:  People use SEO when they’re seeking answers and solutions — often in the form of a product or a service.  Unlike in social or online display advertising, there’s no need to “disrupt” the user’s intended activity.

And if you’re in the B-to-B realm, organic search even more prevalent:  Organic search drives ~73% of all web traffic there.

Even consumer categories like retail, entertainment and hospitality find that organic search is responsible for attracting 40% or more of all web traffic.

The takeaway for companies is that any marketing strategy that doesn’t adopt “content development” as a core tactic instead of an “ornamentation” is probably destined to fall well-short of its full potential.

What do B-to-B buyers really want in a website?

Hint:  Forget social media.

btob web surfingAs online communications continues to evolve, B-to-B marketers have more options than ever to interface with prospects and suspects.

In fact, it’s pretty easy to get distracted by the latest “shiny objects” in marketing … and we sometimes see a lack of focus — and “prioritization all over the map” — as a result.

With company websites serving as the “hub” of marketing communications, it’s only natural to try to align the information provided to prospective customers with what they’re seeking.

A recent survey of several hundred B-to-B companies conducted by DH Communications and KoMarketing Associates sought to determine what business-to-business buyers are doing once they land on a vendor website. Which elements on the site increase a vendor’s credibility … and at the other end of the scale, what causes visitors to leave?

The results of this survey confirm what many have suspected. In a nutshell:

  • Buyers come to a vendor’s website with one thought foremost in mind: to qualify the company in order to begin the process of moving towards a purchase.

And this:

  • Buyers believe the vendor qualification process should be simple and straightforward, and they don’t have time to deal with it any other way.

This mission manifests itself in the following typical behaviors when landing on a website:

  1. The first place visitors go is straight to the products and services pages.
  2. They want to see technical information … and published pricing information, too.
  3. They look for testimonials or case examples to see how others have solved their problems using the products or services.
  4. If they don’t already know the company, they check out the “about us” pages to gauge its credibility as a supplier – but only after they’ve determined that its products or services are aligned with their needs.
  5. They have little interest in social media – and hence mostly ignore those elements.

Website Must-Haves

The survey asked respondents which informational content elements are “must-haves” for a B-to-B website. It found that these elements are of greatest importance:

  • Contact information: ~68% consider a “must-have”
  • Pricing information: ~43%
  • Technical information: ~38%
  • Case studies/white papers/articles: ~38%
  • Shipping information: ~37%

The first item on the list above may seem like a given. But it turns out that many websites don’t offer visitors the most preferred methods of contact: an e-mail address (~81% want this option) and/or a phone number (~57% want this).

What about “Contact Us” forms? It turns out that quite a few visitors don’t like them at all. It makes sense to offer them … but also to provide other contact options. Otherwise, some visitors will leave the site without any further engagement — or so they claim.

Axing the Distractions

Because most visitors come to vendor websites to gather information and research products in preparation for making a buying decision, things that detract from those objectives are viewed as an interruption and a distraction.

Some elements are so irritating, they’ll compel visitors to leave the website altogether.  What are those? Video and/or audio clips that play automatically, animated web designs and other visual hijinks, plus pop-up messages are the worst offenders.

Basically, anything that interrupts the visitor’s train of thought reduces the vendor’s credibility and helps the push the company further down the buyer’s list of prioritized vendors.

What’s Missing from Vendor Websites

The survey also asked respondents to cite what they feel is lacking on many vendor sites. Their responses to this question could be considered an indictment of B-to-B websites the world over!

  • Case studies/white papers/articles: ~54% say these are most lacking on websites
  • Pricing information: ~50%
  • Product reviews: ~42%
  • Technical support details: ~42%
  • Testimonials/client list: ~31%

Social Media?

To consider the social media attitudes revealed in this survey of B-to-B buyers is to wonder what all the fuss has been about over the past five years. In citing how impactful social media is on the buying process … it’s clear that the impact isn’t great at all:

  • Social media isn’t a factor: ~37%
  • Neutral feelings about social media: ~26%
  • Social media is a factor, but not a “deal-breaker”: ~30%
  • Social media is a big factor: ~6%

The takeaway?  If B-to-B web content managers spent less time on social media and more time on pricing information, case study testimonials and robust technical data, it would be a more valuable use of their energies.

I’ve summarized some of the key survey results above – but there are more research findings available in a 32-page report summary just published by KoMarketing Associates. You can download it here.

Consumers Still Finding Weaknesses in Brands’ Web Presence

Temkin Group logoThe most recently published Temkin Web Experience Ratings of more than 200 companies across 19 industries reveals continuing widespread disappointment with the quality of the “web experience.”

The Temkin Web Experience Ratings are compiled annually by Temkin Group, a Newton, MA-based customer experience research and consulting firm.  The ratings are based on consumer feedback when asked to rate their satisfaction when interacting with each company’s website.

Temkin ratings are established for companies garnering responses from 100 or more of the ~10,000 randomly selected participants in an online survey conducted by the research firm in January 2013.

Rankings are calculated via a “net satisfaction” score based on a 7-point rating scale from “completely satisfied” to “completely dissatisfied” by taking the percentage of consumers selecting the two highest ratings and subtracting the percentage who selected the bottom three ratings.

Just 6% of the brands earned strong or very strong “net” trust ratings, while ten times as many (~63%) were given weak or very weak scores.

And there’s this, too:  Not much improvement is happening.  More than half of the ~150 companies that were included in both the 2012 and 2013 Temkin evaluations earned lower scores this year than last.

Managing partner Bruce Temkin summarized it succinctly:  “The web is a key channel, but online experiences aren’t very good – and are heading in the wrong direction.”

The latest Temkin ratings give Amazon the top-rank position with a 77% overall rating score.  Other companies ranked near the top include Advantage Rent A Car, U.S. Bank and QVC.

At the other end of the scale, MSN, EarthLink and Cablevision earned the lowest ratings – MSN worst of all.

Indeed, the following industries had composite company ratings that ended up in the “very weak” column:

  • Airlines
  • Health plans
  • Internet service providers
  • TV service providers
  • Wireless carriers

Do any of these industries seem like ones that shouldn’t be on this list?

I didn’t think so, either.

Which ones are the industries that score best in the Temkin analysis?  By order of rank, they are as follows:

  • Banks
  • Investment firms
  • Retailers
  • Credit card issuers
  • Hotel chains

Come to think of it, I haven’t encountered problems online with companies or bands in any of these five industries.

It’s also interesting to consider which companies have improved the most over time.  When comparing year-over-year results for the ~150 companies that were included in both the 2012 and 2013 studies, eight of them showed double-digit improvements in their scores:

  • Blue Shield of California
  • Citibank
  • Humana
  • Old Navy
  • Safeway
  • Toyota
  • TriCare
  • U.S. Bank

On the other hand, a much bigger contingent of 21 companies saw their ratings decline by at least 10 points; the six firms that dropped by 15 points of more were these:

  • Bright House Networks
  • Cablevision
  • MSN
  • ShopRite
  • Southwest Airlines
  • United Airlines

You can view the scores (and trends) for all 200+ companies by clicking here to download the full report.

If you notice any rankings that seem surprising – or that don’t comport with your own online experiences – please share your thoughts and perspectives below.

The $25 Tweet

Value of a tweetA marketing analytics firm is claiming that the average tweet on branded Twitter sites is worth a little over $25.

Yep, you read that correctly; $25.62, to be precise.

The revenue estimate comes to us courtesy of SumAll, a data visualization and analytics firm.  It reached that conclusion after reviewing more than 900 of its customers’ social media program efforts.  SumAll published its findings last week in an infographic.

To those who might look at the ~$25 figure and scoff (that may be most readers), it should be noted that once the total number of people who see an individual tweet is taken into consideration, the amount of revenue gained per impression is only about one half of one penny, on average.

To put this into context, $0.005 revenue-per-impression is lower than most other marketing tools and about on par for AdWords revenues-per-impression.

The imputed revenue from tweets amounts to about 1%-2% in incremental revenues, according to SumAll’s study group.

Not surprisingly, this announcement was met with questions … and some skepticism.  Asked to explain further how SumAll came up with its results, a SumAll spokesperson replied on the company’s blog:

“… Our data comes from our own user base of over 30,000 people.  We anonymize the data first and then aggregate all the data to derive new, interesting insights from a broad population.  For this infographic, we collected data from all users who have a Twitter stream and commerce stream, and conducted some calculations to derive the value of each tweet.”

There, that should clear up matters nicely, right?

As if pre-anticipating the muffled sniggers or raised eyebrows in reaction to this “non-response response,” the blog response continued:

“This is obviously a little overgeneralized, but I hope that [it] clears some things up.”

Uh-huh.  Or as radio NPR talk show host Diane Rehm might say, “All right and we’ll leave it at that.”

The experience of our clients hasn’t approached what SumAll is reporting … but I’m interested in hearing what kind of results other companies may have experienced using Twitter as a social marketing platform.  Any particularly positive stories (or negative ones) to report?  Please share you observations here.

More B-to-B Web Behavior Findings from Optify

Optify logoThis is my second post on the very interesting findings from Optify’s analysis of the behavior of visitors to business-to-business websites during 2012.

[Refer to my earlier post for a quick overview of salient “top-line” results.]

As part of its analysis, Optify uncovered some interesting factors pertaining to “organic” web searches, which represent ~41% of all visits to B-to-B websites.  Here’s what stands out in particular:

  • Forget all of the talk about Bing/Yahoo taking a bite out of Google on the search front. Optify found that Google is responsible for nearly 90% of all organic search activity in the B-to-B realm, making it the #1 referring source of traffic – and it isn’t even close.  (Bing’s coming in at a whopping ~6% of the search traffic.)
  • Organic search visits from Bing do show slightly better engagement rates in the form of more page views per visit, as well as better conversion rates (e.g., filling out a form). But with such low referring traffic to begin with, it’s fair to say that Google was — and remains — the cat’s meow when it comes to organic search.
  • “Branded” searches – ones that include the name of the company – account for nearly one-third of all visits from organic search. Plus, they show the highest engagement levels as well: ~3.7 page views per visit on average.

Optify notes a few clouds on the horizon when it comes to evaluating the success of a company’s organic search program. Ever since Google introduced its “blocked search data” securred socket layer (SSL) option (https://google.com), the incidence of blocked referring keyword data has increased rapidly:

  • Block referring keyword data now represents over 40% of all search queries.
  • Non-branded keywords that are known (and thus available for analysis) have dropped to just 35% of all organic searches.

Here’s the bad news:  As blocked keyword searches continue to grow in popularity – and who wouldn’t choose this option when it’s so easy and readily available – it’s creating a veritable “data oblivion” confronting marketers in their attempts to analyze and improve their SEO performance.

In a subsequent blog post, I’ll summarize key findings from Optify pertaining to paid search (SEM) and social media in the B-to-B realm.

Charting e-mail read rates. (Correction: non-read rates.)

E-Mail Read Rates (Open Rates), Return Path, 4th Quarter 2012One of the great things about e-mail marketing is the ability to track nearly everything about its success (or lack thereof).

A recent Return Path Intelligence Report on e-mail statistics covering the 4th Quarter of 2012 is a case in point. Return Path conducts these studies by monitoring data from thousands of e-mail campaigns that utilize its delivery platforms.

Specifically, the  study tracks the inbox, blocking and filtering rates for more than 400,000 campaigns that use Return Path’s Monitor and Email Client Monitor suites, along with panel data from the company’s Inbox Insight program.

For the 4th study, Return Path reviewed nearly 250 ISPs in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

And what does its most recent study find? Fewer than one in five e-mails (17%) were opened. And that rate is slightly lower than what was recorded in the 2011 4th Quarter study.

However, some business sectors performed substantially better than the average:

  • Finance sector: ~28% open (read) rate
  • Business sector: ~24%
  • Real estate sector: ~20%

Shopping e-mails fared less well, with a read rate of ~15% (down from ~17% the previous year).

E-mail open rates in the education (~11%) and entertainment (~10%) fields were lower still.

And the worst sectors? News sector e-mails had an average open rate of only ~8%, while social networking e-mails fared even worse at ~6%.

Moreover, both of these bouncing-in-the-basement sectors experienced very significant drop-offs from the previous year, underscoring how they continue to struggle in their efforts to be interesting and relevant to readers.

For those who wish to view additional results and analysis, the Return Path report is available here.  It’s a free download.