Part 12 in a Series on Analytics for Search Engine Marketing
This is the last analytic topic in my extended series on SEM Analytics. In the course of this series, I’ve covered topics ranging from getting setup for measurement, selecting the proper optimization points, measuring the cross-channel effects of PPC and SEO, and a variety of different techniques for measuring and optimizing specific parts of a SEM program. A good many of these analytic techniques are somewhat different than the traditional view of web analytics as a hunt for solutions to particular site or campaign problems.
There’s a good reason for that. Much of the basic optimization in SEM programs – especially PPC programs – happens outside the web analytics solution. Your bid management solution is the natural locus for most of the basic optimization. Web Analytics is often supplementary. This is especially true since web analytics tools often lack the essential data (cost per click, click rate, impressions, position, etc.) necessary to make sense of the actual marketplace. Even where this data is available, it’s not clear that the web analytics solution provides reports and analysis that are particularly useful for really understanding and optimizing this data.
The topic I’m taking up today is similar – though for slightly different reasons. A great deal of effort in the past two years has been focused by serious PPC buyers on the optimization of the Landing Page. It’s become something of a specialty – with whole companies devoted to this particular art. Multivariate testing, in particular, has grown up as a discipline largely driven by the particular needs of Landing Page optimization.
What’s somewhat ironic is that multivariate testing is done largely outside traditional web analytic packages. That seems ridiculous, but if it is ridiculous, it’s not the fault of users – who really haven’t had much choice in the manner. Multivariate testing capabilities have tended to be siloed solutions that integrated their own tracking capabilities. This made it easier for MV vendors to sell their stuff to companies – and it has been hard to argue with since WA companies lacked credible capabilities in this space. Nor was it possible to generate good MV tests with most CMS solutions and then piggyback measurement on top.
This may all be changing, of course, with Omniture’s recent acquisition a very positive sign. But then again, it may not be changing as much as we all hope. It seems to me that the proper place to put MV serving capabilities has always been the CMS – not the WA solution or any 3rd Party solution. Ideally, I’d like to have good MV serving capabilities in the CMS and then be able to integrate my analytics solution easily on top of that to track the testing. This would subsume multivariate testing into the same basic content generation/serving/analytics paradigm that is used for every other part of the web site.
Any other type of solution seems jury-rigged.
But for now, that’s not the world we live in. Most companies Semphonic works with have either turned to a 3rd Party Landing Page optimization vendor deploying custom multivariate testing or have deployed the Google Site Optimizer and are managing multivariate testing there.
In either scenario, you won’t be using your base web measurement reports to track landing page success – you’ll be using your multivariate test suite to both serve content and measure outcomes.
This doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t some interesting aspects to Entry Page analysis using web analytics.
One fairly interesting type of analysis that is part of understanding the overall relationship between PPC and SEO is to measure the incremental value of controlling the Landing Page. With organic search optimization, the pages that are most relevant (according to the Search Engine) become the de facto landing pages for your sites. These may not, however, be pages that are particularly strong in driving to the core business goals of your site.
There’s a pretty good chance that nearly every page on your site will show up somewhere in the Google rankings for key terms. So, in that sense, nearly every page is a Landing Page for many key terms. But in the real world, only pages ranked in the top 30 or so listings will get any volume. And only listings in the top 10 will usually get enough volume to matter.
When you buy PPC ads, on the other hand, you control the landing page [Can you multivariate test on heavy organic Landing Pages? You can, and it’s certainly an option worth exploring. I can’t make head-nor-tail of the Google rules when it comes to this practice and I have no idea what would constitute abuse – if anyone can explain this I’d welcome the information!].
To really understand the impact of cannibalization, you need to understand the differential in effectiveness between your organic and paid landing pages. If there is a significant differential, then you might want to ENCOURAGE cannibalization. In fact, it’s conceivable that you might be better off REDUCING the organic position of the page. Otherwise, you can’t keep people from going to the wrong place on your site.
This isn’t an issue I’ve heard discussed – and I know of no SEO professional who has ever been asked to reduce a page rank (for an owned site, at least). But the logic is impeccable.
The measurement of differential effectiveness is reasonably straightforward. You can simply measure conversion (or appropriate optimization measure) for PPC sourced visitors to the PPC Entry Page vs. conversion for the Organic Entry Page.
As with so many web analytic techniques, however, there is a danger of self-selection in this analysis. It may be that visitors who use PPC or organic listings have a built-in differential in quality. If so, then your straightforward comparison of conversion will miss the actual significance of controlling the Landing Page. Here’s where piggy-backing this analysis on top of a cannibalization analysis is interesting. Because when you measure the shift in traffic from cannibalization, you can also track whether or not there is any change in measured conversion effectiveness.
One aspect of PPC and SEO integration that shouldn’t be overlooked is simply taking learnings from your PPC optimizations and applying them to popular SEO landing pages for the same keywords. This isn’t a task that demands any high-level of analysis – but it is the kind of thing an analyst should always be prepared to do. Not all of web analytics requires a web analytics tool. If you know that certain messages and link paths work well for PPC-sourced entries, there’s a very good chance they’ll work well for SEO sourced entries as well. And many times, this type of knowledge can be applied to Entry pages without significantly altering their SEO profile.
In a similar vein, studying the differential effectiveness of SEO Landing Pages (Bounce Rate and Conversion Rate for SEO Entry Pages Compared) AND the SEO to non-SEO differential effectiveness of Pages (Click-Thru and Conversion Rate when SEO sourced and when accessed in any other manner) can yield considerable insight into two classes of SEO misoptimization. First, you may find pages that simply don’t perform very well relative to other SEO entry points for the same or similar keywords. When you find these cases, you can try to either figure out design cues (links or content) that you can borrow or you can focus SEO efforts on the better performing page.
When you find pages that perform much worse when accessed via SEO, you need to consider whether the design template is appropriate for a Landing Page and when types of content might be necessary to improve it. Keep in mind that the bare fact of a page performing worse when accessed via SEO isn’t all that interesting. What’s interesting is comparing the differential between Page X accessed via SEO and otherwise and Page Y accessed via SEO and otherwise.
In general, I’ve found that SEO is less carefully measured, less optimized for conversion and less tested than PPC. So the web analyst is quite likely to find numerous places where SEO optimization is misguided. The frequently monomaniacal focus on traffic generated by position in SEO has created an atmosphere where vendors get rewarded for driving traffic whatever its quality. As I’ve mentioned before, this practically guarantees bad traffic or – in the case of Entry Pages - bad site entry placement or bad page performance.
This last point sums up so much of what the web analyst needs to keep in mind when it comes to SEM analytics. The simple fact of source is one of the key behavioral facts the analyst has available. And it turns out that it regularly makes a big difference. But SEM Analytics lives in a peculiar place – both in terms of web analytics and Search Marketing. As a web analyst, you aren’t generally responsible for optimizing your SEM program – either PPC or SEO. And there’s a pretty good chance that the people that are in charge of that optimization aren’t going to welcome outside measurement. That makes life a lot more difficult and challenging than it really ought to be.
I’ve covered many aspects of SEM analytics from a practical perspective. In my final post in the series, I’m going to address this peculiar political position and what organizations can do to make web analytics a more effective part of their Search Engine Marketing Effort.