War, the Long Tail SKU Search Domination

It’s probably been said by Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, a thousand other military strategists… or I’m completely making this up: but I believe it’s a fundamental axiom equally applicable in the battle for eCommerce market share: first, fight only the battles you can win.  Secondly, win every battle.

For mortal eCommerce merchants involved in search marketing- on a budget- this means adroitly picking the right search terms and channels to market your wares and then fully vesting them to ensure their don’t just appear in those search results but appear, appear and reappear yet again… not only across multiple SKUs but again and again for a single SKU.  Don’t just show up for the first page search results party.  Crash it. Own the page.

Picking the Right Fight: The Tail.

The much touted concept of the “Long Tail of search” is an important concept for search marketers and merchants in particular.   As the oft put perspective goes- the “head” of customer search volume represent a great deal of traffic and competition for these very general, broad “head” product keywords. Fewer in number larger in volume.  On the other end of the spectrum is the vaulted “Long Tail” of search consisting of a much greater quantity of specific keywords albeit with a much smaller audience per keyword.

The Long Tail

For example, take the search volume for “cameras” October produced 30 million search request on Google.  And with that many eyeballs there’s a whole lot of competition for these coveted slots and, as a result, out-of-reach PPC cost.

As for the Organic listing fight?  Do you reeealllly want to go head-to-head in the organic rankings fight against Nikon, Ritz, Canon and Camera.org?  Forget it.  There’s a small army of people who have been diligently laboring to grab good ranking and holding the front page for these terms years before the thought ever occurred to you.

So what’s a merchant, with real world resources to do?  Clearly, the answer is to pick another battle.  Invest your time at the other end of the search, invest in the proverbial “long tail” of searches which are composed of more brand name or even model numbers for specific products.  While the cost and competition for front page search results listing for “camera” is intimidating, it is decidedly less so for the more focused term “Nikon D Series”.  And Further still for “Nikon D90” Far less searches, and yes -for these popular products- still competitive but “doable” in terms of both SEO and paid search investments.

Moreover, the “Long Tail of search” offers not only less friction with competition but provides better conversions from browsers to customers.  As searchers have narrowed their purchase options down to the specific feature or products they seek, they are tantalizingly closer to that Golden Moment of the purchase.

Winning the Battle: Saturate Search Results.

But, next, I’d argue don’t just appear on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP), dominate them.  Make that Golden Moment of conversion your Golden Moment not your competitors!  Work to get your SKUs to appear in multiple instances either on the primary results page itself or in the next layer of those first page results.   That is to say, linked listing in the data feed sourced pages (Shopping Comparison Engines, etc) listed in the original search results

To take a real life example, Blue Acorn is helping our clients do just that: dominate the SERP for specific SKUs.

SERP

Note in the screen shot for the specific product SKU “aim8 five”.  The yellow call-outs indicate primary presentations of this SKU for our client.  You click the link, you go to our client’s aim8 five product page.  The orange callouts represent secondary listing.  While the link won’t take you to our product page directly it will take you to a site where our product or store link is shown.  Certainly primary results are most desirable, but secondary listings create the kind of search saturation that lead shoppers to your store almost wherever they go from this first page SERPs.

Clearly creating this kind of saturated presence isn’t the case with every SKU, the more competitive the harder it is to produce this coverage, but nor is it particularly uncommon to find, at the long tail end of search SKUs that aren’t competitive and avail themselves to this blanket coverage.

This SKU, long tail tactic is a pimped out version of data feed marketing.  Utilizing your catalog database output to produce a flat file you can manipulate it to meet the specific needs of the various Shopping Comparison Engines (SCEs) is the very definition of data feed marketing.

Taking it from data feed marketing to the next level of full SKU marketing requires extra work, but you’ll be well rewarded to take that same feed and re-format it complete with all the various keyword permutations, associated Adgroups and loading it in your Adwords campaign.  The results of this effort are specific SKU “Tail” keywords with product pages destination URL greeting the shoppers who know the specific model of the product they want. The Golden Moment.

You will not only be reward with the direct affects of your SKU marketing- shown in the channels you’ve submitted- but also in channels you’ve never touched.  With the incestuous nature of SCEs these days it’s possible to be seen in a great many places just with your presence in a single SCEs and Adwords.

SCEs results algorithms seek to give searchers (and google’s spiders) their directly paying merchants first, but where they have no good results for the requested product search, they backfill their results with their results with other and sometimes competing SCEs.  In this example alone, you see Retrevo.com and Epinions.com powering backfill results by Shopping.com who, in turn includes Amazon and Ebay in their results.

In fact, of the 19 Google search results links for the “aim8 five” search query in this example:

  • 3 primary listings showing the merchant directly (via GPS, organic results and an Adwords data feed load.)
  • 4 secondary listing surfacing via the single listing in Shopping.com
  • 5 reference from Adwords

Notably, some listing showed both our target product/store from both the Shopping.com feed AND our Adwords listing on the same page.

Moreover, in the love triangle of backfilled results between the various SCEs, Amazon surfaces in almost all of them.  I’ll save my accolades for Amazon Seller Central for another blog post, but had our datafeed been submitted to Amazon and Amazon alone, it is conceivable this product would surface in 12 of the 19 results for this search!

The challenges of SKU marketing.

So, we’ve avoided the nasty competition in the land of “head” terms, for a more open ground on the “tail” complete with “do able” SEO, affordable PPC rates and SCE marketing, easy right?

Not exactly.  While there may only be a few dozen maybe 50 at most keywords around head terms like “camera”, SKUs on the other hand may have 5-10 keywords per SKU!  1000 products 5,000-10,000 keywords.  2 data feed engines 1000 products to monitor and optimize in each.  Very easily and very quickly we’ve scaled to a potential 12,000 keyword/products to submit, monitor and optimize across 3 channels.

It’s a lot of work to prepare and manage your feed (particularly for Awords) but, in relative terms, its a quick way to present thousands of SKU specific keywords, complete with product landing pages in search results closer to the Golden Moment of conversion.  And a hell of a lot easier than playing in the “Head” battle field.

But if battles were easy they wouldn’t be called “battles”( :) ).  And, while the sheer volume of these SKU marketing efforts represents a challenge, it is a winnable fight.  Managed effectively SKU marketing delivers the promise of “long tail” lower cost and high conversion and with a mix of the right channels in the face of competitors who don’t take the time to engage in SKU marketing, you’ll not just appear a on the SERPs you can dominate them.

Google Search Engine Results Page for the Term “Aim8 Five”

Grid

[Blue Acorn note: We start off 2010 with a new post from Scott Buck, one of our eCommerce consultants.  This is Scott's first contribution to the Blue Acorn blog, and we hope you enjoyed his work, and expect more thorough pieces from him throughout the year]

DISCUSSION

2 Comments

  1. Welcome Scott,

    Great opening post, couldn’t agree more! :)

  2. Yanet Gomez

    Hello Toni,

    I was wondering if you could tell me some ways e-commerce websites are doing doing search engine optimization for their SKUs? What are some tips for getting started with SKU marketing?

    Thank you,
    Yanet

ADD YOUR COMMENT