The cost and value of relevance
Failing to understand – and exploit – search relevance can result in poor quality website traffic and more expensive pay-per-click ads.
- by Peter Labrow
The concept of ‘relevance’ in both search optimisation and enquiry conversion isn’t always appreciated fully.
Let’s take a look at what’s meant by relevance.
If someone’s looking to buy a car, they’re really quite unlikely to type “car” into Google. It’s patently too broad a search term to be useful, returning (as I type this) around 679,000,000 results.
As smart as Google is (and it is smart – the top result is for a UK used car website, while fairly high in the rankings are car dealers close to me) it would help to search on a narrower search term; something more specific.
Perhaps I’m looking for a second-hand car: I’ll type “second hand car” into Google. That’s slightly better: 31,200,000 results. Interestingly (and unlike the first search) Google is now offering me a fair number of paid ads as well as the organic search results – we’ll come back to this shortly.
It’s still probably too broad, so I’m going to look for “second hand Toyota Prius Manchester”. This narrower search term delivers a far more relevant set of search results – at 451,000 sites, it’s still far too many, but pretty much all of the sites returned on the first few pages do fully meet my search criteria.
This is typical of how most people actually search – really. For example, one in five searches is in some way related to location. One in five.
This highlightstwo really important considerations for website owners.
The first is that it’s pointless to try to optimise a website for short search terms (especially one word) – and a waste of energy getting upset when your website doesn’t show up in Google’s search results. Sure, you’re fighting enormous odds – but, more importantly, it’s likely to be a waste of time getting a high ranking for a short term, because your website simply won’t be relevant to most of the people viewing those results. Statistically, the chances of your site being relevant at that level are probably close to winning the lottery.
Most people seeing it won’t click on it and those who do won’t stay on your site long – you’re not offering what they’re looking for, so why should they?
The second consideration relates to those advertisements which I mentioned earlier.
When you place an ad using Google AdWords, you choose when it will appear. Simply put, you can pay for it to appear when someone types “car” or when someone types “second hand Toyota Prius Manchester”.
If you’re foolish enough to pay for “car” then you’ll be spending a lot of money on each click, just to have someone either ignore your ad or click on it, then leave your site right away.
But, at the other end of the scale, interesting things happen.
First, the cost per click of using “second hand Toyota Prius Manchester” will be far, far lower than “car” and much lower than “second hand car” and quite a bit lower than “second hand Toyota”. Why? Because it’s more specific. Fewer people are bidding for it – and yet, it can actually be far more successful.
This is because more people are likely to click on it, because it’s only appearing to people who are genuinely looking for a second-hand Prius, in Manchester. You might get lower traffic, but the traffic is of far greater value.
But there’s another factor too – and it’s one of which many people aren’t aware. Google rewards relevance in AdWords, by lowering the cost of more successful, more relevant ads. The more your ad gets clicked on, the lower the price will go, because it’s proving its relevance.
By looking carefully at search phrases – and investing mainly in those which are most relevant – it’s possible to lower your cost per click and improve your visitor quality.
When optimising a pay-per-click campaign, it’s also more than useful to check how each of your search phrases performs in the organic search results. If, for example, you already appear in the top five organic listings, you may well be better saving your money for different terms, ones where you don’t score so well – since people may well click on the free organic listing. If you decide that you want to be more visible still, then it’s not really worth paying a middle-range price to appear halfway down the ad listings (it’s only giving you the same visibility as your organic listing) – you really need to pay more, to appear higher. Since you’ll probably have to pay a lot more, it would be more cost-effective to invest in other, lower cost, more relevant search terms.
A quick look around Google’s ads tells me that many, many companies get this wrong. They pay for keywords for which they already get good organic results, or pay for keywords which are too broad to be realistically relevant – so they’re only driving low-quality traffic to the website.
The final piece of the jigsaw is to optimise your website landing pages for visitors for each specific key phrase – at the least directing them to the most relevant page on your website, or perhaps setting up a tailored landing page based on their needs.
Remember: it’s not all about the amount of traffic, it’s about channelling the more relevant traffic and then working hard to convert those visitors into customers.