Using search trends to boost your bottom line…

14 May

Source: The Age – Enterprise – Valerie Khoo (www.theage.com.au)

When you run a small business, you have the flexibility to call your own shots. Unlike big corporates that are often weighed down by clunky structures and policies, you are more likely to be able to make quick decisions – and implement them immediately. Some small businesses do this by responding quickly to search trends. That is, if you know what consumers are searching for – if you know exactly what they want – you can gain a competitive advantage by tweaking your product or service to exactly what your prospects are looking for.

Using search trends to boost your bottom line

In a recent post, I wrote about how to find business opportunities in trends. These include social, political, economic, environmental and legal trends. It can refer to the zeitgeist or that intangible force otherwise known as what’s “in”. That means you need to have your finger on the pulse in order to interpret what these trends are.

However, analysing search terms – that is, what people are searching for on Google and other search engines – is something that can be done by any small business owner. You don’t have to have your finger on the pulse because a tool such as Google’s Insights for Search can do that for you.

A free tool with big returns

The best part of this valuable tool is that it’s free. Penny Parsons is joint CEO of Takeabreak.com, an online holiday accommodation site, which competes with the likes of lastminute.com.au and wotif.com. Parsons says she uses Insights for Search to stay on top of what her customers are looking for when they book holiday accommodation.

“Insights for Search was first suggested by our search engine optimisation agency,” says Parsons. “We’re always looking for new tools that will help us gain a competitive edge, and Insights for Search was free so we decided to give it a try … It has given us a much better understanding of our customers and what they’re looking for online. We use it to make sure that our website matches what our customers are searching for, and not just what we think they want.”

Parsons says she has made a number of changes to her website as a result of information she’s gathered using the tool. For example, she discovered a rise in the number of people searching for pet-friendly accommodation. See the graph here. So Parsons enhanced the information available to people searching for pet-friendly accommodation options.

During the GFC, Parsons also use Google’s Insights for Search to discover that searches for accommodation deals increased as people were more frugal with their money. See the graph here. So she integrated a section on the right hand side of each page dedicated to special deals from providers, who pay her for the right to have their deal displayed in this section. It’s an additional stream of revenue.

Bespoke shoe site responds to trends

Michael Fox is a co-founder of Shoes of Prey, an online custom-made shoes business that began about six months ago. As a former employee of Google, Fox was already familiar with Insights for Search. However, he quit his corporate role to build his online shoe business which he runs with his wife and a business partner.

“I was fortunate that I was working at Google when Insights for Search was released, and it was my job to train Australian advertising agencies how to use it.” says Fox. “Using the tool I came to realise how much potential it had for letting businesses understand what people are searching for on the web, then tailoring their products and marketing to suit. When I started Shoes of Prey, I wanted to try it out with my own business – along with many of the other online marketing techniques I’d learnt.”

Fox has used it to determine the most recognised phrases to use in their marketing materials. See the graph here. For example, when people were searching for their product, Fox wanted to determine whether they searched for “custom shoes”, “design your own shoes” or “bespoke shoes”.

Using Insights for Search they found that “custom shoes” is the most popular of the three but people tend to also be searching for “sneakers” when they search for custom shoes. They found that “design your own shoes” was the best phrase to use, though they should include the term “bespoke” in the UK market.

It’s all in the timing

Fox also used Insights for Search to determine when people started searching for seasonal gifts such as Valentine’s Day. See the results here. He did in this on order to work out when to start marketing their Valentine’s Day gift certificates. This graph shows searches for the term “Valentine’s ideas” start to take off each year in mid January – so they used that to inform when they’d begin their AdWords campaign.

Measure your marketing

Looking at this graph shows how a recent YouTube marketing efforts had a massive impact on people searching for the Shoes of Prey brand. The business recently partnered Blair Fowler, a 16 year-old video blogger who has a cult following in the US, to run a promotion through her YouTube channel and drum up interest from the American market. In one week, there were 500,000 visits to the Shoes of Prey website and you can see the spike on the graph.

What can you do?

If you haven’t used Insights for Search before, don’t worry. It’s not hard. It’s free – and you won’t break it! Google Small Business expert, Will Easton, shares some tips for Australian small businesses to get started on Insights for Search.
Once you’re on Insights for Search at www.google.com/insights/search/#, you can use it to:

1. Understand what your customers really want

Investigate rising searches and top searches in your category. Like Michael Fox’s discovery that ‘bespoke’ is a term used mainly in the UK, the search tool can help you identify the subtle differences in the way people from different areas look for your product or service.

Knowing what your customers are looking for is the first step to successfully reaching them.

2. Anticipate seasonal spikes in demand

By seeing which queries peak at certain times of the year. For example, in the lead-up to Christmas, there is a spike each year in searches for the iPod. If you’re a consumer electronics retailer then this knowledge combined with some smart thinking about how to maximise your online presence, would allow you to accurately target your precious marketing budget to take advantage of this seasonal surge.

3. Understand your competitors

Compare searches for your business with those of your competitors. Are your customers looking for different terms when they search for you versus a rival company? With Insights for Search, you can learn a lot about your customers based on how they’re searching for your competitors.

4. Capture buzz in your category

Your business may not have the budget to run huge offline advertising campaigns but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of those who are. If one of your competitors is pushing a certain deal, investigate related search terms which you may be able to add to your AdWords campaign.

5. Research new markets

By using the location filter you can find out which states register the highest volumes for search terms that relate to your business. Do the rising searches give you any clues about what might be the next big thing in your market – or where the next new market might be?

Take the guesswork out of your marketing

I’ve already been glued to my computer screen, tapping in search terms associated with my business. Getting into the heads of your prospects can give you a clear edge over your competitors. While you’re not likely to acquire mind reading skills any time soon, Insights for Search may well be the next best thing.

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