By Andrew Hood, Lynchpin Managing Director

The concept of keyword success is hardly new. The growth of search marketing has, arguably, been fuelled by the ability to track the sales delivered by individual clicks, conversion rates and keyword return on investment.

Actually, consumers are embarking on a journey when they begin researching products or services online.  Often the search engines are not just the first port of call. Buyers may start off looking for a specific product, and then a particular deal on that product and finally come back, searching for the brand they intend to purchase from.  Having complete coverage of this path of keywords is essential to ultimately capturing the customer.

So, obsession with individual keyword conversion rates may be misplaced.  Some clicks are never destined to turn into sales during the same visit, yet are still vital to driving the eventual conversion: days, weeks or even months later, once the research cycle has been completed.

Offline sales processes can teach us a lot about consumer behaviour online. Take mortgages as an example.  Even the most enlightened, decisive buyer is unlikely to walk into a bank and sign up for a “discount tracker mortgage” there and then. Equally, when a consumer is ready to take out a discount tracker mortgage, they don’t walk down the high street wondering which bank they’ll pop into to make their application.  By that stage, the intention is to “Go to bank X to get the mortgage sorted”.

A similar path is often evident in search engine usage, with consumers typically starting off looking for very generic terms or concepts at the start of their research, refining this down to a more specific product and more often than not, coming back with a search on the brand name at the point of conversion. While the effect can be limited in a low-value retail context (“fire and forget purchases”), these interactions can happen over weeks or months for bigger commitments like loans and holidays.

The challenge is to attribute the value of conversions across the research cycle and understand the mix of keywords that work together to drive them. While it might be tempting to come up with complex statistical formulae to attribute the value of conversions based on timings or other variables, ultimately, the important information, is the number of searches undertaken (and thus the average real cost of acquisition) and picking out the groupings of product/promotion/brand that perform best together.

These successful combinations can be fed back into keyword selection to identify groups that will deliver the best results over time.  The ability to track the sequences of keywords prospective customers use gives companies a strong competitive edge for their search engine marketing strategy.

With the search space getting increasingly competitive and consumers more and more savvy in their research online, understanding keyword migration and matching the research path with the search path is key to maximising return on investment from search.


Andrew Hood is Managing Director of Lynchpin Analytics, a provider of online marketing analytics and related consultancy services.