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9 Ways To Sell In China: Tips For Ecommerce Marketers

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9 Ways To Sell In China: Tips For Ecommerce Marketers

You don’t have to have an MBA from Wharton to spot the opportunities the Chinese market presents for ecommerce.

The world’s most populous nation, the People’s Republic of China, has the world’s second-largest economy, with a GDP of nearly $16 trillion. And what’s truly astonishing is that most of its economic growth has occurred over the last three decades.

If you’re like most foreign (i.e., not based in the PRC) companies, this potential probably has you licking your chops.

But unfortunately, this is a notoriously difficult market to enter for Western companies because it presents several unique challenges. These often include:

  • Difficulty navigating a complex and inconsistent bureaucracy.
  • A poor understanding of consumer buying habits.
  • Governmental challenges include corruption and a lack of transparency.
  • Sourcing local labor and managing employees.
  • Intense competition (and rules that favor domestic companies).

That said, it’s not impossible, and the possibilities far outweigh the cost and time required.

In this piece, we’ll discuss the unique challenges of doing business and look at nine things ecommerce companies can do to not only get their foot in the door but also thrive.

Ecommerce Tips For Marketing In China

1. Understand Chinese Consumer Behavior

Chinese digital shoppers do not behave in the same manner as their American and European counterparts.

For one thing, thanks in no small part to censorship laws, Western search engines have no significant presence in the PRC.

Instead, the Chinese have several home-grown search engines, each with its niche in the market.

And the vast majority of shoppers are using these on mobile devices, with 99.7% of Chinese internet users accessing the web via smartphone. 

But, those are far from the only differences in consumer behavior.

Chinese citizens also prefer single-entry-point shopping, where they can choose between brands rather than visiting a shopping platform of a single company.

For example, they’re more likely to buy Nikes from Tmall (an Amazon-like store) than from the Nike site itself.

Chinese consumers are also heavily swayed by influencers and social media.

Chinese companies actively encourage celebrities to use their apps as a channel for product launches. And direct links from social media posts to online stores make it easy for shoppers to find and buy the exact shoes their favorite star was wearing.

Additionally, the vast economic growth the country has undergone led to an increased emphasis on quality, convenience, and customer service when making decisions.

2. Select The Right Products

Whereas previous Chinese generations may have valued collectivization and sought benefits for society, modern Chinese consumers have moved into a more individual mindset.

In a whitepaper entitled “Chinese Consumer Insights 2022,” Ireland-based professional services company Accenture found an 11% increase in consumers willing to buy products that highlight their identity between 2013 and 2021.

This should come as no surprise in a country that now boasts more than 700 million middle-class citizens.

To ensure the success of your ecommerce marketing in the PRC, you need to sell the type of products they’re looking for.

Goods for leisure activities, technology, beauty and makeup, and clothing remain hot items on the Chinese digital market.

There is a high demand for foreign products, but they must be considered premium alternatives to domestic items.

According to the South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper owned by Alibaba, China claimed 32% of the global luxury goods market in 2020.

This is a huge opportunity for foreign companies looking to expand into the Chinese marketplace.

3. Set Up Local Hosting For Your Website

Chinese search engines tend to prioritize websites hosted on servers within the country. Launching a Mandarin version of your existing online store alone will not cut it.

To show up in the searches of Chinese consumers, you need a site hosted in China. But it’s not as simple as clicking a few buttons and filling in your credit card information.

Before any website can be hosted in the PRC, you must apply for an Internet Content Provider (ICP) registration with the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

Depending on which industry you fall under (e.g., education, healthcare, financial services), you may have to receive permission from a relevant government agency before applying. 

You need to receive your ICP commercial license, as well as an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) if you plan on processing data and transactions.

However, if you plan on having a physical presence in China, you may not need an ICP.

Just be aware if you do need one, the entire process may take several months.

4. Use Trusted Payment Processors

The way payment works in China differs from what you’re probably used to.

For one thing, the model varies depending on the type of transaction. You could try to navigate these complex requirements on your own, but it’s recommended that you work with a third-party online payment platform like Alipay or Tenpay.

Alibaba’s Alipay is the primary payment method for major Chinese ecommerce platforms, TMall and Taobao. It offers escrow capabilities to reduce risk when receiving payments.

You’ll need a Chinese phone number, bank account, and a Chinese business license to use it.

Tencent’s Tenpay also offers escrow and is simpler to set up.

To receive your license, you must prove to Tencent you want to do business in China and provide a foreign ecommerce website.

This requires a China-visible WeChat account, a cross-border payment account, and a WeChat ecommerce website.

Note: You can apply for your WeChat account and foreign business license directly through Tencent, though this is not a standard process.

Minimize your payment risk with product inspection certificates that attest your items meet agreed-upon quality requirements.

5. Provide Exceptional Customer Service

Chinese business is built upon a concept known as guanxi. Roughly translated, this means personal relationships with an implied level of trust and mutual obligation.

Because this has historically been such an important aspect of how business is done, Chinese consumers have an ingrained expectation of hierarchy, negotiation, and customer service.

While the first two are not so important to ecommerce companies, the third is crucial.

Competition in the digital marketplace is fierce, meaning Chinese shoppers are used to superior customer service.

They expect – and you should provide – things like fast delivery and returns, clear communications in Mandarin, and easy mobile payment options.

And they’re not afraid to share their opinions on social media sites, so bad customer experiences can have far-reaching effects.

6. Choose The Right Logistics Solution

Late deliveries, damaged items, and difficult return policies will turn Chinese customers off. That means your logistics must be iron-clad.

Unfortunately, finding high-quality providers can be difficult in mainland China.

This leaves you with three options: Build your own, partner with or acquire existing firms, or find a good third-party provider.

The first two options are time-consuming and prohibitively expensive for most ecommerce companies, so that leaves only option number three.

Logistics providers in the PRC generally fall into two categories:

  • Companies compete based on their large network.
  • Companies that compete based on superior service.

Choosing which is right for you will depend on what you’re selling.

For example, if you’re selling pet rocks throughout China, size is more important than service.

Your product is unlikely to be damaged, and your primary goal is getting it into the hands of the buyer, wherever they’re located.

On the other hand, if you’re selling crystal birdhouses in the Shanghai metropolitan area, a smaller logistics company that can provide a higher level of care and service is probably preferable.

7. Reach More Shoppers By Using The Top Marketplaces

As was mentioned in the first tip, Chinese online shoppers prefer marketplaces to brand websites.

While you can sell through your site, you’ll be exposed to a much larger audience if you’re part of one of China’s big online marketplaces, like Taobao, Tmall, or JD.

In 2019, Taobao surpassed $490 billion in gross merchandise volume. Tmall was second at $463.5 billion, and Jingding claimed third at $301 billion.

As you can see, the sheer volume of sales these sites account for is incredible. Taobao and Tmall are both owned by Alibaba. Jingding, or JD, is supported by Tencent.

Selling on these platforms usually requires your company to be registered in mainland China, though there are exceptions in some product categories.

These platforms are not interchangeable. Tmall is generally viewed as the luxury version of Taobao, and consumers trust it to find authentic branded items from abroad.

JD offers a wide variety of goods, from frozen foods to electronic books.

8. Take Advantage Of Shopping Festivals

Like Western online retailers have Cyber Monday and the run-up to Christmas, Green Monday, and Amazon Prime Day, China has its major shopping festivals.

To maximize your sales, you should be aware of these and use them to your advantage. These include:

  • Pre-New Year’s (January-February) – Just like the days before Christmas see massive shopping numbers in the West, the months before the Nian Huo Festival or Chinese New Year are busy shopping times for ecommerce retailers.
  • International Women’s Day (March 8) – Called the “Queen Festival” by Alibaba and the “Butterfly Festival” by JD, this day and the day before (Girls’ Day, March 7) are big online shopping days as men give presents to their significant others.
  • Mother’s Day (Second Sunday in May) – Filial piety is a big part of Chinese culture, so it’s no surprise that Mother’s Day is a big deal, with a corresponding increase in gift purchasing.
  • Love Day (May 20) – An unofficial Valentine’s Day, Love Day falls on this day because “five two zero” is a homonym for “I love you” in Mandarin. Valentine’s Day is also celebrated on its traditional date.
  • Midyear Shopping Festival (mid-June) – China’s answer to Prime Day, this summer event was started by JD but adopted by other online retailers.
  • Golden Week (starting October 1) – Beginning with China’s National Day, this week-long holiday sees a massive influx in spending because of traditions involving travel, family reunions, and gift-giving.
  • Singles Day (November 11) – First celebrated in 1993, 11/11 has become a big online shopping day in which people celebrate being single. A month later is Singles Sequel, on December 12 (12/12), many online retailers run inventory clearance events.

9. Promote On Chinese Social Networks

Chinese citizens love their social media platforms like the rest of the world.

And while none of these have direct correlations with more familiar platforms like Facebook or Instagram, many share similar features – including paid advertising. 

In tip #1, we mentioned these sites’ role in online sales.

The ability to click on an item in a Chinese social post and be linked directly to that item in an online store allows influencers to wield massive influence over purchasing decisions, which is a good reason to foray into this market.

Additionally, just like Westerners, the Chinese spend a good portion of their daily lives on these sites, which means well-placed products will generate a lot of exposure.

Here are some of the most popular social media sites in the PRC:

  • WeChat – Sometimes referred to as the Chinese Facebook, WeChat is more accurately a combination of Facebook, WhatsApp, Google News, and a dating app combined. It has 1.2 billion monthly active users worldwide. An all-in-one messaging app from Tencent, it also has games, shopping, and financial services.
  • Sina Weibo252 million people use this micro-blogging app every month. It is most similar to Twitter in that it has character limits while allowing the posting of videos, images, and gifs.
  • Tencent Video – The fourth largest streaming service worldwide, Tencent Video has 1.2 billion monthly active users. China’s online video market is highly competitive, but Tencent Video is the leader, outpacing rivals IQiYi and Youku.
  • Xiao Hung Shu – A hybrid ecommerce/social media site, this platform allows users to post reviews, participate in discussions, and post content. Most content is focused on product photos and shopping experiences. It has 100 million active users each month.
  • Douban – With 200 million monthly active users, Douban is a social networking platform dedicated to lifestyle content. The platform has integrated functionality allowing users to download ebooks, listen to music, and buy tickets for movies and concerts.

Chinese Ecommerce Is Worth The Work

As you can see, getting into the Chinese digital market requires a fair bit of work. But because online shopping is a huge piece of the Chinese economy, it’s worth the effort.

Be aware that you will probably face legal, cultural, and digital hurdles. And the process of getting set up will take much longer than you’re accustomed to.

With that said, if you have the time, patience, and language skills to navigate the complicated bureaucracy and develop a strategy that may feel alien initially, you’ll be gaining a foothold in one of the world’s biggest online markets.

Chinese citizens are strongly interested in international brands, particularly those perceived as high-end. But if you’re not a luxury goods company, don’t let this dissuade you.

The Chinese online marketplace provides a tremendous opportunity for businesses of all types and sizes.

Do your homework, follow the proper channels, and you’ll become a successful ecommerce player in China.


Featured Image: William Potter/Shutterstock

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What Are They Really Costing You?

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What Are They Really Costing You?

This post was sponsored by Adpulse. The opinions expressed in this article are the sponsor’s own.

As managers of paid media, one question drives us all: “How do I improve paid ad performance?”. 

Given that our study found close variant search terms perform poorly, yet more than half of the average budget on Google & Microsoft Ads is being spent on them, managing their impact effectively could well be one of your largest optimization levers toward driving significant improvements in ROI. 

“Close variants help you connect with people who are looking for your business, despite slight variations in the way they search.” support.google.com

Promising idea…but what about the execution?

We analyzed over 4.5 million clicks and 400,000 conversions to answer this question: With the rise in close variants (intent matching) search terms, what impact are they having on budgets and account performance? Spoiler alert, the impact is substantial. 


True Match Vs. Close Variants: How Do They Perform?

To understand close variant (CV) performance, we must first define the difference between a true match and a close variant. 

 

What Is a True Match? 

We still remember the good-old-days where keyword match types gave you control over the search terms they triggered, so for this study we used the literal match types to define ‘close variant’ vs ‘true match’. 

  • Exact match keyword => search term matches the keyword exactly. 
  • Phrase match keyword => search term must contain the keyword (same word order).
  • Broad match keyword => search term must contain every individual word in the keyword, but the word order does not matter (the way modified broad match keywords used to work).   

 

What Is a Close Variant? 

If you’re not familiar with close variants (intent matching) search terms, think of them as search terms that are ‘fuzzy matched’ to the keywords you are actually bidding on. 

Some of these close variants are highly relevant and represent a real opportunity to expand your keywords in a positive way. 

Some are close-ish, but the conversions are expensive. 

And (no shocks here) some are truly wasteful. 

….Both Google and Microsoft Ads do this, and you can’t opt-out.

To give an example: if you were a music therapist, you might bid on the phrase match keyword “music therapist”. An example of a true match search term would be ‘music therapist near me’ because it contains the keyword in its true form (phrase match in this case) and a CV might be ‘music and art therapy’.


How Do Close Variants Compare to True Match?

Short answer… poorly, on both Google and Microsoft Ads. Interestingly however, Google showed the worst performance on both metrics assessed, CPA and ROAS. 

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

1718772963 395 What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

Want to see the data – jump to it here…

CVs have been embraced by both platforms with (as earlier stated), on average more than half of your budget being spent on CV variant matches. That’s a lot of expansion to reach searches you’re not directly bidding for, so it’s clearly a major driver of performance in your account and, therefore, deserving of your attention. 

We anticipated a difference in metrics between CVs and true match search terms, since the true match search terms directly align with the keywords you’re bidding on, derived from your intimate knowledge of the business offering. 

True match conversions should therefore be the low-hanging fruit, leaving the rest for the platforms to find via CVs. Depending on the cost and ROI, this isn’t inherently bad, but logically we would assume CVs would perform worse than true matches, which is exactly what we observed. 


How Can You Limit Wastage on Close Variants?

You can’t opt out of them, however, if your goal is to manage their impact on performance, you can use these three steps to move the needle in the right direction. And of course, if you’re relying on CVs to boost volume, you’ll need to take more of a ‘quality-screening’ rather than a hard-line ‘everything-must-go’ approach to your CV clean out!

 

Step 1: Diagnose Your CV Problem 

We’re a helpful bunch at Adpulse so while we were scoping our in-app solution, we built a simple spreadsheet that you can use to diagnose how healthy your CVs are. Just make a copy, paste in your keyword and search term data then run the analysis for yourself. Then you can start to clean up any wayward CVs identified. Of course, by virtue of technology, it’s both faster and more advanced in the Adpulse Close Variant Manager 😉.

 

Step 2: Suggested Campaign Structures for Easier CV Management  

Brand Campaigns

If you don’t want competitors or general searches being matched to your brand keywords, this strategy will solve for that. 

Set up one ad group with your exact brand keyword/s, and another ad group with phrase brand keyword/s, then employ the negative keyword strategies in Step 3 below. You might be surprised at how many CVs have nothing to do with your brand, and identifying variants (and adding negative keywords) becomes easy with this structure.

Don’t forget to add your phrase match brand negatives to non-brand campaigns (we love negative lists for this).

Non-Brand Campaigns with Larger Budgets

We suggest a campaign structure with one ad group per match type:

Example Ad Groups:

    • General Plumbers – Exact
    • General Plumbers – Phrase
    • General Plumbers – Broad
    • Emergency Plumbers – Exact
    • Emergency Plumbers – Phrase
    • Emergency Plumbers – Broad

This allows you to more easily identify variants so you can eliminate them quickly. This also allows you to find new keyword themes based on good quality CVs, and add them easily to the campaign. 

Non-Brand Campaigns with Smaller Budgets

Smaller budgets mean the upside of having more data per ad group outweighs the upside of making it easier to trim unwanted CVs, so go for a simpler theme-based ad group structure:

Example Ad Groups:

    • General Plumbers
    • Emergency Plumbers

 

Step 3: Ongoing Actions to Tame Close Variants

Adding great CVs as keywords and poor CVs as negatives on a regular basis is the only way to control their impact.

For exact match ad groups we suggest adding mainly root negative keywords. For example, if you were bidding on [buy mens walking shoes] and a CV appeared for ‘mens joggers’, you could add the single word “joggers” as a phrase/broad match negative keyword, which would prevent all future searches that contain joggers. If you added mens joggers as a negative keyword, other searches that contain the word joggers would still be eligible to trigger. 

In ad groups that contain phrase or broad match keywords you shouldn’t use root negatives unless you’re REALLY sure that the root negative should never appear in any search term. You’ll probably find that you use the whole search term added as an exact match negative much more often than using root negs.


The Proof: What (and Why) We Analyzed

We know CVs are part of the conversations marketers frequently have, and by virtue of the number of conversations we have with agencies each week, we’ve witnessed the increase of CV driven frustration amongst marketers. 

Internally we reached a tipping point and decided to data dive to see if it just felt like a large problem, or if it actually IS a large enough problem that we should devote resources to solving it in-app. First stop…data. 

Our study of CV performance started with thousands of Google and Microsoft Ads accounts, using last 30-day data to May 2024, filtered to exclude:

  • Shopping or DSA campaigns/Ad Groups.
  • Accounts with less than 10 conversions.
  • Accounts with a conversion rate above 50%.
  • For ROAS comparisons, any accounts with a ROAS below 200% or above 2500%.

Search terms in the study are therefore from keyword-based search campaigns where those accounts appear to have a reliable conversion tracking setup and have enough conversion data to be individually meaningful.

The cleaned data set comprised over 4.5 million clicks and 400,000 conversions (over 30 days) across Google and Microsoft Ads; a large enough data set to answer questions about CV performance with confidence.

Interestingly, each platform appears to have a different driver for their lower CV performance. 

CPA Results:

Google Ads was able to maintain its conversion rate, but it chased more expensive clicks to achieve it…in fact, clicks at almost double the average CPC of true match! Result: their CPA of CVs worked out roughly double the CPA of true match.                 

Microsoft Ads only saw slightly poorer CPA performance within CVs; their conversion rate was much lower compared to true match, but their saving grace was that they had significantly lower CPCs, and you can afford to have a lower conversion rate if your click costs are also lower. End outcome? Microsoft Ads CPA on CVs was only slightly more expensive when compared to their CPA on true matches; a pleasant surprise 🙂.

What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

ROAS Results:

Both platforms showed a similar story; CVs delivered roughly half the ROAS of their true match cousins, with Microsoft Ads again being stronger overall. 

 

1718772963 395 What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

Underlying Data:

For the data nerds amongst us (at Adpulse we self-identify here !) 

1718772963 88 What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024


TL;DR

Close variant search terms consume, on average, more than half an advertiser’s budget whilst in most cases, performing significantly worse than search terms that actually match the keywords. How much worse? Read above for details ^. Enough that managing their impact effectively could well be one of your largest optimization levers toward driving significant improvements in account ROI. 


Image Credits

Featured Image: Image by Adpulse. Used with permission.

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How To Uncover Traffic Declines In Google Search Console And How To Fix Them

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How To Uncover Traffic Declines In Google Search Console And How To Fix Them

Google Search Console is an essential tool that offers critical insights into your website’s performance in Google search results.

Occasionally, you might observe a sudden decline in organic traffic, and it’s crucial to understand the potential causes behind this drop. The data stored within Google Search Console (GSC) can be vital in troubleshooting and understanding what has happened to your website.

Before troubleshooting GSC traffic declines, it’s important to understand first what Google says about assessing traffic graphs in GSC and how it reports on different metrics.

Understanding Google Search Console Metrics

Google’s documentation on debugging Search traffic drops is relatively comprehensive (compared to the guidance given in other areas) and can, for the most part, help prevent any immediate or unnecessary panic should there be a change in data.

Despite this, I often find that Search Console data is misunderstood by both clients and those in the first few years of SEO and learning the craft.

Image from Google Search Central, May 2024

Even with these definitions, if your clicks and impressions graphs begin to resemble any of the above graph examples, there can be wider meanings.

Search Central description  It could also be a sign that…
Large drop from an algorithmic update, site-wide security, or spam issue This could also signal a serious technical issue, such as accidentally deploying a noindex onto a URL or returning the incorrect status code – I’ve seen it before where the URL renders content but returns a 410.
Seasonality You will know your seasonality better than anyone, but if this graph looks inverse it could be a sign that during peak search times, Google is rotating the search engine results pages (SERPs) and choosing not to rank your site highly. This could be because, during peak search periods, there is a slight intent shift in the queries’ dominant interpretation.
Technical issues across your site, changing interests This type of graph could also represent seasonality (both as a gradual decline or increase).
Reporting glitch ¯_(ツ)_/¯ This graph can represent intermittent technical issues as well as reporting glitches. Similar to the alternate reasons for graphs like Seasonality, it could represent a short-term shift in the SERPs and what meets the needs of an adjusted dominant interpretation of a query.

Clicks & Impressions

Google filters Click and Impression data in Google Search Console through a combination of technical methods and policies designed to ensure the accuracy, reliability, and integrity of the reported data.

Reasons for this include:

  • Spam and bot filtering.
  • Duplicate data removal.
  • User privacy/protection.
  • Removing “invalid activities.”
  • Data aggregation and sampling.

One of the main reasons I’ve seen GSC change the numbers showing the UI and API is down to the setting of thresholds.

Google may set thresholds for including data in reports to prevent skewed metrics due to very low-frequency queries or impressions. For example, data for queries that result in very few impressions might be excluded from reports to maintain the statistical reliability of the metrics.

Average Position

Google Search Console produces the Average Position metric by calculating the average ranking of a website’s URLs for a specific query or set of queries over a defined period of time.

Each time a URL appears in the search results for a query, its position is recorded. For instance, if a URL appears in the 3rd position for one query and in the 7th position for another query, these positions are logged separately.

As we enter the era of AI Overviews, John Mueller has confirmed via Slack conversations that appearing in a generative snapshot will affect the average position of the query and/or URL in the Search Console UI.

1718702762 996 How To Uncover Traffic Declines In Google Search Console AndSource: John Mueller via The SEO Community Slack channel

I don’t rely on the average position metric in GSC for rank tracking, but it can be useful in trying to debug whether or not Google is having issues establishing a single dominant page for specific queries.

Understanding how the tool compiles data allows you to better diagnose the reasons as to why, and correlate data with other events such as Google updates or development deployments.

Google Updates

A Google broad core algorithm update is a significant change to Google’s search algorithm intended to improve the relevance and quality of search results.

These updates do not target specific sites or types of content but alter specific systems that make up the “core” to an extent it is noteworthy for Google to announce that an update is happening.

Google makes updates to the various individual systems all the time, so the lack of a Google announcement does not disqualify a Google update from being the cause of a change in traffic.

For example, the website in the below screenshot saw a decline from the March 2023 core update but then recovered in the November 2023 core update.

GSC: the website saw a decline from the March 2023 core updateScreenshot by author from Google Search Console, May 2024

The following screenshot shows another example of a traffic decline correlating with a Google update, and it also shows that recovery doesn’t always occur with future updates.

traffic decline correlating with a Google updateScreenshot by author from Google Search Console, May 2024

This site is predominantly informational content supporting a handful of marketing landing pages (a traditional SaaS model) and has seen a steady decline correlating with the September 2023 helpful content update.

How To Fix This

Websites negatively impacted by a broad core update can’t fix specific issues to recover.

Webmasters should focus on providing the best possible content and improving overall site quality.

Recovery, however, may occur when the next broad core update is rolled out if the site has improved in quality and relevance or Google adjusts specific systems and signal weightings back in the favour of your site.

In SEO terminology, we also refer to these traffic changes as an algorithmic penalty, which can take time to recover from.

SERP Layout Updates

Given the launch of AI Overviews, I feel many SEO professionals will conduct this type of analysis in the coming months.

In addition to AI Overviews, Google can choose to include a number of different SERP features ranging from:

  • Shopping results.
  • Map Packs.
  • X (Twitter) carousels.
  • People Also Ask accordions.
  • Featured snippets.
  • Video thumbnails.

All of these not only detract and distract users from the traditional organic results, but they also cause pixel shifts.

From our testing of SGE/AI Overviews, we see traditional results being pushed down anywhere between 1,000 and 1,500 pixels.

When this happens you’re not likely to see third-party rank tracking tools show a decrease, but you will see clicks decline in GSC.

The impact of SERP features on your traffic depends on two things:

  • The type of feature introduced.
  • Whether your users predominantly use mobile or desktop.

Generally, SERP features are more impactful to mobile traffic as they greatly increase scroll depth, and the user screen is much smaller.

You can establish your dominant traffic source by looking at the device breakdown in Google Search Console:

Device by users: clicks and impressionsImage from author’s website, May 2024

You can then compare the two graphs in the UI, or by exporting data via the API with it broken down by devices.

How To Fix This

When Google introduces new SERP features, you can adjust your content and site to become “more eligible” for them.

Some are driven by structured data, and others are determined by Google systems after processing your content.

If Google has introduced a feature that results in more zero-click searches for a particular query, you need to first quantify the traffic loss and then adjust your strategy to become more visible for similar and associated queries that still feature in your target audience’s overall search journey.

Seasonality Traffic Changes

Seasonality in demand refers to predictable fluctuations in consumer interest and purchasing behavior that occur at specific times of the year, influenced by factors such as holidays, weather changes, and cultural events.

Notably, a lot of ecommerce businesses will see peaks in the run-up to Christmas and Thanksgiving, whilst travel companies will see seasonality peaks at different times of the year depending on the destinations and vacation types they cater to.

The below screenshot is atypical of a business that has a seasonal peak in the run-up to Christmas.

seasonal peaks as measured in GSCScreenshot by author from Google Search Console, May 2024

You will see these trends in the Performance Report section and likely see users and sessions mirrored in other analytics platforms.

During a seasonal peak, Google may choose to alter the SERPs in terms of which websites are ranked and which SERP features appear. This occurs when the increase in search demand also brings with it a change in user intent, thus changing the dominant interpretation of the query.

In the travel sector, the shift is often from a research objective to a commercial objective. Out-of-season searchers are predominantly researching destinations or looking for deals, and when it is time to book, they’re using the same search queries but looking to book.

As a result, webpages with a value proposition that caters more to the informational intent are either “demoted” in rankings or swapped out in favor of webpages that (in Google’s eyes) better cater to users in satisfying the commercial intent.

How To Fix This

There is no direct fix for traffic increases and decreases caused by seasonality.

However, you can adjust your overall SEO strategy to accommodate this and work to create visibility for the website outside of peak times by creating content to meet the needs and intent of users who may have a more research and information-gathering intent.

Penalties & Manual Actions

A Google penalty is a punitive action taken against a website by Google, reducing its search rankings or removing it from search results, typically due to violations of Google’s guidelines.

As well as receiving a notification in GSC, you’ll typically see a sharp decrease in traffic, akin to the graph below:

Google traffic decline from penaltyScreenshot by author from Google Search Console, May 2024

Whether or not the penalty is partial or sitewide will depend on how bad the traffic decline is, and also the type (or reason) as to why you received a penalty in the first place will determine what efforts are required and how long it will take to recover.

Changes In PPC Strategies

A common issue I encounter working with organizations is a disconnect in understanding that, sometimes, altering a PPC campaign can affect organic traffic.

An example of this is brand. If you start running a paid search campaign on your brand, you can often expect to see a decrease in branded clicks and CTR. As most organizations have separate vendors for this, it isn’t often communicated that this will be the case.

The Search results performance report in GSC can help you identify whether or not you have cannibalization between your SEO and PPC. From this report, you can correlate branded and non-branded traffic drops with the changelog from those in command of the PPC campaign.

How To Fix This

Ensuring that all stakeholders understand why there have been changes to organic traffic, and that the traffic (and user) isn’t lost, it is now being attributed to Paid.

Understanding if this is the “right decision” or not requires a conversation with those managing the PPC campaigns, and if they are performing and providing a strong ROAS, then the organic traffic loss needs to be acknowledged and accepted.

Recovering Site Traffic

Recovering from Google updates can take time.

Recently, John Mueller has said that sometimes, to recover, you need to wait for another update cycle.

However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be active in trying to improve your website and better align with what Google wants to reward and relying on Google reversing previous signal weighting changes.

It’s critical that you start doing all the right things as soon as possible. The earlier that you identify and begin to solve problems, the earlier that you open up the potential for recovery. The time it takes to recover depends on what caused the drop in the first place, and there might be multiple factors to account for. Building a better website for your audience that provides them with better experiences and better service is always the right thing to do.

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SEO

Barriers To Audience Buy-In

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Barriers to audience buy-in with lead generation

This is an excerpt from the B2B Lead Generation ebook, which draws on SEJ’s internal expertise in delivering leads across multiple media types.

People are driven by a mix of desires, wants, needs, experiences, and external pressures.

It can take time to get it right and convince a person to become a lead, let alone a paying customer.

Here are some nuances of logic and psychology that could be impacting your ability to connect with audiences and build strong leads.

1. Poor Negotiations & The Endowment Effect

Every potential customer you encounter values their own effort and information. And due to something called the endowment effect, they value that time and data much more than you do.

In contrast, the same psychological effect means you value what you offer in exchange for peoples’ information more than they will.

If the value of what you’re offering fails to match the value of what consumers are giving you in exchange (read: their time and information), the conversions will be weak.

The solution? You can increase the perceived value of the thing you’re offering, or reduce the value of what the user “pays” for the thing you offer.

Want an exclusive peek into tactics we use when developing our own lead gen campaigns? Check out our upcoming webinar.

Humans evaluate rewards in multiple dimensions, including the reward amount, the time until the reward is received, and the certainty of the reward.

The more time before a reward occurs, and the less certain its ultimate value, the harder you have to work to get someone to engage.

Offering value upfront – even if you’re presenting something else soon after, like a live event, ebook, or demo – can help entice immediate action as well as convince leads of the long-term value of their investment.

It can even act as a prime for the next step in the lead gen nurturing process, hinting at even more value to come and increasing the effectiveness of the rest of your lead generation strategy.

It’s another reason why inbound content is a critical support for lead generation content. The short-term rewards of highly useful ungated content help prepare audiences for longer-term benefits offered down the line.

3. Abandonment & The Funnel Myth

Every lead generation journey is carefully planned, but if you designed it with a funnel in mind, you could be losing many qualified leads.

That’s because the imagery of a funnel might suggest that all leads engage with your brand or offer in the same way, but this simply isn’t true – particularly for products or services with high values.

Instead, these journeys are more abstract. Leads tend to move back and forth between stages depending on their circumstances. They might change their minds, encounter organizational roadblocks, switch channels, or their needs might suddenly change.

Instead of limiting journeys to audience segments, consider optimizing for paths and situations, too.

Optimizing for specific situations and encounters creates multiple opportunities to capture a lead while they’re in certain mindsets. Every opportunity is a way to engage with varying “costs” for time and data, and align your key performance indicators (KPIs) to match.

Situational journeys also create unique opportunities to learn about the various audience segments, including what they’re most interested in, which offers to grab their attention, and which aspects of your brand, product, or service they’re most concerned about.

4. Under-Pricing

Free trials and discounts can be eye-catching, but they don’t always work to your benefit.

Brands often think consumers will always choose the product with the lowest possible price. That isn’t always the case.

Consumers work within something referred to as the “zone of acceptability,” which is the price range they feel is acceptable for a purchasing decision.

If your brand falls outside that range, you’ll likely get the leads – but they could fail to buy in later. The initial offer might be attractive, but the lower perception of value could work against you when it comes time to try and close the sale.

Several elements play into whether consumers are sensitive to pricing discounts. The overall cost of a purchase matters, for example.

Higher-priced purchases, such as SaaS or real estate, can be extremely sensitive to pricing discounts. They can lead to your audience perceiving the product as lower-value, or make it seem like you’re struggling. A price-quality relationship is easy to see in many places in our lives. If you select the absolute lowest price for an airline ticket, do you expect your journey to be timely and comfortable?

It’s difficult to offer specific advice on these points. To find ideal price points and discounts, you need good feedback systems from both customers and leads – and you need data about how other audiences interact. But there’s value in not being the cheapest option.

Get more tips on how we, here at SEJ, create holistic content campaigns to drive leads in this exclusive webinar.

5. Lead Roles & Information

In every large purchasing decision, there are multiple roles in the process. These include:

  • User: The person who ultimately uses the product or service.
  • Buyer: The person who makes the purchase, but may or may not know anything about the actual product or service being purchased.
  • Decider: The person who determines whether to make the purchase.
  • Influencer: The person who provides opinions and thoughts on the product or service, and influences perceptions of it.
  • Gatekeeper: The person who gathers and holds information about the product or service.

Sometimes, different people play these roles, and other times, one person may hold more than one of these roles. However, the needs of each role must be met at the right time. If you fail to meet their needs, you’ll see your conversions turn cold at a higher rate early in the process.

The only way to avoid this complication is to understand who it is you’re attracting when you capture the lead, and make the right information available at the right time during the conversion process.

6. Understand Why People Don’t Sign Up

Many businesses put significant effort into lead nurturing and understanding the qualities of potential customers who fill out lead forms.

But what about the ones who don’t fill out those forms?

Understanding these values and the traits that drive purchasing decisions is paramount.

Your own proprietary and customer data, like your analytics, client data, and lead interactions, makes an excellent starting place, but don’t make the mistake of basing your decisions solely on the data you have collected about the leads you have.

This information creates a picture based solely on people already interacting with you. It doesn’t include information about the audience you’ve failed to capture so far.

Don’t fall for survivorship bias, which occurs when you only look at data from people who have passed your selection filters.

This is especially critical for lead generation because there are groups of people you don’t want to become leads. But you need to make sure you’re attracting as many ideal leads as possible while filtering out those that are suboptimal. You need information about the people who aren’t converting to ensure your filters are working as intended.

Gather information from the segment of your target audience that uses a competitor’s products, and pair them with psychographic tools and frameworks like “values and lifestyle surveys” (VALS) to gather insights and inform decisions.

In a digital world of tough competition and even more demands on every dollar, your lead generation needs to be precise.

Understanding what drives your target audience before you capture the lead and ensuring every detail is crafted with the final conversion in mind will help you capture more leads and sales, and leave your brand the clear market winner.

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