Online Republic explains the thinking behind Search Republic
Mike: We have been competing in the online travel sector since 2004 and have built a strong, profitable business with 100 staff and considerable revenue generated worldwide.
For years we viewed search engine marketing (SEM) – particularly Google and Yahoo as a massive cost to the business – and you can understand why given we spend millions each year! However, a year or two ago, we realised SEM must be viewed as a core capability of our business, not a cost. In our trading categories, which are predominantly online travel, we have seen that the businesses who lead in SEM are not just beating their competitors – they’re crushing them.
We’ve seen a lot of big, successful, entrenched companies fail to take SEM seriously and it’s often too late by the time they realise that their market share has been stolen by new competitors who are aggressive with SEM.
We have been obsessive in our focus to beat out our competitors in the search space. As a business which spends 98% of our ad budget online, we’ve made it a primary priority to be the best, and hire the best SEM experts.
We’ve learned a great deal about outsmarting the competition by spending our own money and studying carefully what works and what doesn’t. Now we want to bring this capability to other New Zealand companies to help them succeed on the world stage.
Mike: In general, no. I worked in the advertising industry for 15 years prior to setting up Online Republic (originally named iMall), and am still well connected in that business. In my ad agency days there was too little accountability for how client’s budgets were being spent and I haven’t seen a huge amount of evidence to suggest this has changed. There is still too much money directed into ineffective mediums, and too many poor results validated by the excuse of increased brand awareness.
With our e-commerce business I love the accountability. You spend a dollar, and you instantly know whether you have made $2 or $5, or in some cases a loss of 80 cents. This makes it thrilling, especially when you get your approach right, you have a worldwide product, and you realise you are happy to spend any amount provided the return is right.
So to answer the question more directly – I think a lot of New Zealand companies are still seeing their advertising budget steered into the wrong media. I believe there are several reasons: 1. Some clients and ad agencies simply don’t get SEM. 2. Ad agencies like charging fees, and struggle with the smaller commissions in spending clients’ budgets on search. And 3. Some clients are still in love with the glamour of seeing their brand in sexy
media, regardless of the marginal return. Perhaps it looks better on the CV when you can show a television commercial you created.
I think saying you grew your business by 39% through SEM would be a more compelling achievement on your CV.
Mike: We start by learning as much as we can about your business. We only work with businesses who can provide us with a key decision maker who understands the dynamics of their business, the competitive landscape, where the sales are coming from – and is interested in learning about search. Education is a big part of what we offer clients. We want them to understand exactly what is working for them and what isn’t.
In our own businesses our product managers sit down with our search experts on a weekly basis, reviewing campaign performance, discussing market dynamics, analysing new competitive activity. We discuss what our customers have told us that week and what database changes and site testing ideas we could implement to solve these issues. It’s a team approach, with constant review and analysis.
Mike: I am very careful what I promise, and am aware of the useless promises other agencies make to clients. What I can promise though, is that we will turn over every stone to uncover extra revenue, generate new business, and reduce the cost of acquiring your customers. We know how to maximise your return from SEM and SEO. But we also know how to increase site conversion, maximise returns from ancillary products, and extend the customer life cycle.
Competing in the toughest e-commerce categories for 8 years has been a tough, but effective schoolmaster.
Mike: Our online travel businesses compete globally against the massive resources of multi-billion dollar American, European and Australian companies. We are exposed to all of their tactics and strategies on a daily basis. The competition in markets like the UK and US is often tougher than the local NZ market, so we are constantly testing ourselves against the best.
Competing in worldwide markets also means we see new innovations in search thinking and technology, well before local businesses have heard of them. For example, we were seeing the impact of Google remarketing, site links and seller star ratings almost 12 months before local businesses started using them. And in addition to all this, we have hired two ex-Googlers who understand search inside and out!
Isreal: We take a pragmatic, accountable approach towards search engine optimisation (SEO). The Search Republic team has come out of Online Republic, which itself owns over 3,000 websites. During the last 7 years, we have developed an approach and experimented with what has and hasn’t worked with our own websites using our own money.
During this time, we have seen a lot of changes in what works and doesn’t work for SEO. Because our business owns so many websites, we are subject to countless sales pitches. I’ve heard them all. Most of them use smoke and mirror tactics. Examples of two very misleading questions I’ve heard are: “Did you know your website has 340 HTML errors, this is preventing you from ranking!” and “Did you know your website is not ranking for such and such term?” For the first question, the salesperson runs your website through a HTML validator tool, such as validator.w3.org, to determine the number of HTML errors. If you run almost any successful e-commerce site through such a tool you will get hundreds of errors. Last time I checked, Amazon had over 275 errors and eBay had over 500. Most of these errors have nothing to do with getting your site ranked in search engines, yet it’s a common fear tactic. The second question comes down to how well you know your own search terms. For example I will get a call saying that I am not ranking ‘acme widgets’ or ‘bright blue widgets’. Well, I know from my own business that ‘acme widgets’, although in the same vertical we advertise, is not a high value term for us. So why concentrate SEO on low value terms when we make more money out of other terms? We do sell ‘bright blue widgets’, but I detect the salesman’s accent is Australian. I asked if he used google.com.au to check the rankings, and he said yes. I then proceed to check the rankings here in New Zealand and see we are ranked very well. Google knows our business is New Zealand, but apparently this salesman did not (Google will often favour local results). Our goal with both SEM and SEO is to work with your business to find what works.
We don’t take our clients for fools, we see them as our business partners.
Isreal: Would you invest your hard earned business money to a stranger who had a hot stock tip? Probably not. These techniques to get quick ‘rankings’ are often terms which have no commercial value to the client or are achieved by non-sustainable methods. In some cases I have seen top rankings, but these rapidly fizzle out. The goal is to build SEO that can sustain long term rankings.
Isreal: Absolutely. We have found that they work hand in hand. We have found the best 1-2 punch you can have in e-commerce is by having a top organic ranking with a top paid ranking. Typically, you get short term results with paid marketing and long term results with organic rankings – one is not better than the other, both are needed in today’s marketplace.
Isreal: In our business we typically spend about 20% on SEO vs paid marketing per month. I acknowledge that this can and will vary by business. For Online Republic, SEM is the ‘here and now’ of search. Someone wants to buy something now? Get seen, and get in the game immediately with paid marketing. SEO is more about getting long term results.
Brad: It comes down to one small point – it is real time advertising. Real time meaning at the exact point in time a potential customer is looking for a rental car, a digital camera or travel insurance – advertisers have the ability to serve them up an ad that is 100% targeted to exactly what they are looking for. Nothing compares to this in the advertising world.
Nothing is as targeted as paid search. Other channels such as Facebook profess to be highly targeted to people’s profile information; however those people are on Facebook to catch up with friends NOT to find a car to rent. With paid search your business will reach a potential client at the time they want to be addressed and not spam them when they are catching up with friends.
Brad: Let’s imagine you run a car rental company. A potential customer types into Google the key phrase: “car rental Christchurch airport”, approximately 0.13 seconds later we serve them up an ad triggered by the keyword which features your Christchurch airport based rental cars. Plus to increase click through rates your ad can offer a choice of links (google site links – up to 8) for the customer to click on.
I have seen many under utilise the opportunity of search, not just because it is difficult to get right, but because of their eagerness to jump onto the next ‘new thing’ in online advertising. I’ve also seen many agencies diverting budgets into channels where most of the spend disappears into ‘creative’ – and not on driving your business. It’s true search isn’t the sexiest of the online channels – but we at SR believe you are in business to win customers and hit targets not to win awards.
Search Republic draws from its many years of relentless optimisation of Online Republic’s search advertising profitability. Online Republic came up on my radar whilst I was at Google about four years ago. I took a lot of notice of them, not because they were by multiples NZ’s biggest spender of Google adwords, not because they were hugely profitable – but because they were using search marketing to take on the toughest most advanced online players in NZ, Australia, US and UK and winning! They were the most understated but unparalleled group of e-commerce over-achievers that I had met – from both client and agency sides. Since then they have tripled both their revenue and their focus on being better than everyone else at search marketing.
Brad: Mike and his team have spent the last seven years building NZ’s most successful and profitable online travel company. In the face of global financial crisis’ and huge international competition they have confidently spent $12 million in 2014 on Google adwords to generate $200m in profitable sales. During this period OR has trialled and tested and accrued an unparalleled amount of research data and experience in search engine marketing – SEM. Through competing in the toughest most mature search markets around the world, we can trial and test new trends before they hit New Zealand shores and access historic information for future trending. With a team of ex-Googlers we can access know-how business etiquette right from the ‘horse’s mouth’, so our clients benefit exactly where they want to see results.
Brad: While SR’s approach will vary greatly depending on the individual client and their needs, we will look into your campaign history to understand who your best customers are and target them. For example, we may discover that for the keyphrase “car rental Christchurch airport”, those living outside English speaking countries don’t convert well, therefore we would only target English speaking countries. Which we can then narrow down further to those countries and regions who are the best converters. We will optimise the campaigns around conversion hubs and localise adwords copy.
‘Dayparting’ is another standard application to ensure that your ad spend is adjusted to the most conversion likely day and time.
SR can also target searchers using smart phones, serving up different ads that are optimised to mobile users, linking them through to mobile optimised landing pages and serving up click to call options within the ad.
It would exhaust this space to touch on the breadth and depth of functionality paid search can offer and I am just scratching the surface here. It takes time and a lot of experience to know how to research and optimise your search campaigns to source the type of visitors that convert. Yet with SR you have experts at your service who draw on experience and at the same time are ahead of the curve and have trialled, tested and understand new features fully by the time they hit NZ shores due to their overseas head start.
Brad: The job is not over when the visitor hits your site – it’s only beginning. If visitors don’t like your website landing page they simply hit the back button (that’s what happens to over 40% of all paid search traffic within 8 seconds) the click has been paid for and they are gone. What is worse, this negative customer experience has a big influence on the quality score of your keyphrase – if people click and bounce your adwords quality score drops for that keyphrase and the cost per click to maintain the same position in the search results increases.
The landing page on your website is hugely important. What SR can help with is ensuring visitors land on a perfectly optimised page.
We have spent the last 7 years optimising landing pages so they display everything a potential customer would want to see including relevant ‘calls to action’ to generate conversions. From the visitors search we know exactly what they are looking for – so we make it as easy as possible for them to find a car and book it, plus ensure Google likes it too. We don’t guess, we test and let real customer data make the decision for us.
Conversions require time and effort using analytics to understand the different target audiences. By understanding you and your product we will get it right more often than your competitors – as long as you’re better than them … you’re winning.
Brad: At Search Republic ROI is at the heart of everything we do. We do not spend budgets for the sake of spending them – every dollar counts and is measured. Our belief is if its working and generating desirable ROI then there should be no limitations on spend!
Likewise if we feel your search budget could be better invested in different channels we’ll tell you that also.
The way we achieve great ROI with Paid Search is by testing and measuring on a continual basis. Using insights gained we optimise campaigns – targeting converting customers, locations, times and devices on an on-going basis so money follows good traffic and bad traffic is turned off. Only then does paid search reign supreme as the greatest ROI of all marketing channels.
Do we guarantee you that we’ll beat every other marketing channel or agency? No. We don’t run around making guarantees, but what we do know this that we have been in the search game a long time. We are a mixture of ex-Googlers and Online Republic search experts who are committed to treating your search budget as if we were your in-house marketer and the budget was ours. We are considerate; we’ll listen to you and are confident we’ll find the perfect search strategy for you.
Brad: Mike and his team at Online Republic have not only grown revenue and market share, they have crushed many of their competitors through consistently outperforming them in search marketing. They have built their in-house search expertise quietly to generate hugely understated success.
New Zealand businesses on average spend 60% less on search than UK businesses, and often that spend is not fully optimised by the agencies managing it. OR has always had a close relationship with Google and has now teamed up with ex-Googlers to create Search Republic. This brings many years of experience with large organisations across all verticals to create the ‘ultimate team’, bringing an unparalleled depth and breadth of search expertise to New Zealand businesses. It will enable you to harness the power of search – so your business can achieve what OR has achieved both here in NZ and on the international stage.
Campbell: It’s much more than that. CRO is the process of scientifically changing elements of your website in an attempt to make your website more effective. The science combines user feedback and the analysis of your website data to produce an experiment hypothesis which is then used in a series of tests on your site to increase your conversion rate. The elements being tested may be as wide ranging as entire web pages or landing pages through to individual images, words, buttons or functions. By increasing total conversions you will increase overall site revenue.
Campbell: The objective of both is to increase ROI. In the same way that SEO and paid search work best when applied in tandem, you need both a strategy for attracting visitors (SEO) and converting them into customers (CRO). They’re a partnership and one will just not work successfully without the other.
Investing in SEO will ensure your website ranks well in a search engines natural search rankings. That’s great news for increasing those traffic volumes to your site but how are you going to ensure you effectively convert all those visitors? Traffic is only one component of a websites success, if those visitors aren’t buying, signing-up or completing your conversion goal you’re leaving money on the table.
A solid SEO performance will provide a basis for undertaking CRO. If your current site visitor levels are light then you will need to focus SEO efforts in this area before CRO can become an option. CRO is an organic progression that relies on a series of split tests, the outcomes of which are only of value if the sample size is reasonable.
Campbell: What works on someone else’s website will only work on yours if you have very similar objectives and are attracting the same visitor intentions. Conversion rate optimisation is all about discovering what is wrong with your site, and fixing it. This doesn’t necessarily mean pulling out the best practice guide and working through a list, though ensuring you have performed a basic health check on your site is an excellent start. Ask yourself and others not as familiar with your site these questions.
1. Is the purpose of the site obvious? In other words, are the products and/or services you are selling clearly displayed and sufficiently explained?
2. Can the site be easily navigated? And the content architected in an intuitive and accessible way,
3. is it visually appealing but not distracting? 4) Is your content; informative, understandable and to the point.
5. Is your site fast, cross-browser compatible, and SEO-enabled?
6. Is your site a good reflection of your business and your brand? For many people, your website may be the first or only touch-point they have with your business.
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