Attracting Customers Through Direct Search
May 15, 2007 9:15 AM PT
Direct search, or direct navigation, occurs when a potential customer guesses a domain name and types it into his or her browser address bar. The domain name often corresponds to the type of product or service being sought.
Direct search is responsible for less than 20 percent of the online connections between potential customers and businesses. However, direct search is correlated with stronger customer purchasing behavior than traditional search engine referrals by at least a factor of two.
Potential customers may not know whether such a domain name exists. However, if it does, shoppers are more likely to make a purchase or establish positive connections to the site's brand than if they had found the site through organic (unpaid) or paid search engine advertising results. As described earlier here in regard to Aristotle's theories of rhetoric, a customer who believes they are in control of a commercial interaction is more likely to initiate a purchase than a customer who experiences a lack of control.
Getting Down to Business
In paid or organic search engine results, each paid or unpaid listing competes against all the other listings on a page. With a direct search, you have the customer all to yourself. Visitors arriving through direct navigation are more likely to drill down through a Web site to search out information or purchasing options that initially motivated them to arrive at the site.
You can reward customers who are smart enough to go directly to your Web site with helpful, topical information. Introduce your main portal's Web address, so customers can find their way back to you again.
Direct search can be exponentially cheaper than paying for search engine advertising. A domain name used for direct navigation that receives eight hits per month can break even for the year in just one month, compared to paid search advertising that costs $1 per click-through. Compared to the cost of paid search engine ads at $4 per click-through, which is not uncommon, a domain name used for direct navigation that receives eight hits per month can pay for itself in just one week.
Direct search and search engine optimization (SEO) are not entirely separate. They complement each other and should be used together (along with paid advertising) to build a well-rounded marketing program. The difference is that spending money on direct searching can be considered as an investment, versus the expenses incurred with other marketing methods.
Finding the Way In
A business needs to imagine itself as a building sitting in the middle of a chaotic urban environment. Instead of forcing all customers to navigate through crowded, noisy neighborhoods until they find the main entrance to the storefront, a business needs to open a variety of doors that customers can use to find their way inside. Direct search opens those doors.
Rather than simply acquiring domain names to direct Internet searchers to a company's main Web page, dedicated landing sites can be put together to correspond to the idea expressed in a domain name used for direct search. Then customers can be steered towards the relevant pages of a company's Web site.
Landing pages used for direct search can contribute to a company's search engine rankings and broaden the number of search engine keywords used to attract customers. Landing pages for direct search traffic can also be optimized for search engines.
Consider hosting a chat feature on your landing pages to allow potential customers to immediately begin discussions with you. Meebo is a free Web-based chat service that InternationalStaff.net is currently testing on its Web sites. Meebo allows you to select different chat identities for individual landing pages.
The Right Recipe
Eight ingredients for successful direct search campaigns are:
- Emphasize relevance
- Prioritize dot-coms
- Use country-code extensions for national markets
- Combine locations and service offerings
- Attract traffic directly with non-hyphenated domains
- Support SEO with hyphens
- Ignore keyword popularity
- Budget and prioritize
The ingredients of direct search are presented below.
1. Emphasize RelevanceDomains should represent the types of services that your firm provides now or is considering providing in the future. Stay away from typo squatting on misspellings of competitors' trademarks. Instead, experiment with misspellings of your own service's offerings and brands.
Generic domains should consist of commonly-understood words that potential clients are likely to enter into their browser address bars when seeking a specific type of service. Forward thinking about where your market is heading can help you anticipate new terms for your services.
Add futuristic terms to your acquisition wish list. If it turns out that some domains are not attracting the right kind of traffic or any traffic at all, they can be sold off or allowed to expire.
Whereas it is unethical to use a competitor's brands and trademarks in direct search, this is not the case for paid search advertising. Try some searches of the leading firms in your industry and see whether a competitor's ads appear alongside the organic results.
Ad costs are lower for company names and trademarks than for corresponding generic keywords because there is less competition. Is anyone using your company's name as a keyword for paid search?
2. Prioritize Dot-Coms
Priority should be given for acquiring dot-com domains. In the United States, dot-com domains generally receive at least 10 times the amount of direct search traffic as equivalent dot-net names. If resources are limited, dot-net names can receive secondary priority, except for names with strong branding potential.
Dot-org names may be appropriate in limited circumstances. You can also go after domains with country code extensions in international markets that you serve, with non-English words for non-English-speaking markets.
3. Use Country-Code Extensions For National Markets
Country code domains can, and should, be acquired for your company's primary brands in every country where you may conduct business. Localized, linguistically and geographically targeted Web sites can then be constructed to appeal to local audiences.
Examples of country codes are .cn for China, .ca for Canada and .de for Germany. In the United States, businesses have been slow to use the .us extension, preferring to focus on the .com extension instead.
The Dubai-based international airline of the United Arab Emirates, Emirates Airlines, provides an example of a company that effectively uses country code domain names to attract business from the markets it serves across the globe.
Emirates has registered numerous individual country code domain names such as Emirates.ae that draw in local customers from each of the countries it serves (in this case from the UAE) to be subsequently processed on the airline's main Web site, Emirates.com.
4. Combine Locations and Service Offerings
Domains for direct navigation can include geographical terms that your clients or the clients of your competitors may be seeking, combined with the name of a product or service. Are your clients seeking (and can you provide) inbound call center services or outbound telemarketing in China? Then names such as ChinaInbound.com and ChinaTelemarketing.com can attract customers.
Looking to build on the emerging brand momentum for Indian call centers and business process outsourcing (BPO) facilities located in Bengaluru, the city formerly known as Bangalore? If so, then variations on BengaluruCallCenter.com, BengaluruBPO.com and BengaluruOutsourcing.com will start to draw high-quality traffic when the city's recent name change begins to take hold.
Major investors in domain portfolios have placed significant emphasis not only on location-service combinations for the business-to-consumer market, but also on zip codes. Seattle-based Marchex, for example, has numerous zip code domains that it has turned into automated mini-portals, supported by a mix of consumer-generated content, agency-supplied ads and paid ads from Yahoo.
On the landing page for the Marchex domain 90210.com, Yahoo ads appear on the right with imported content below. Building on the popularity of America's best known zip code, 90210.com connects consumers to businesses throughout the Los Angeles area, with an emphasis on tourists and business travelers.
5. Attract Traffic Directly With Non-Hyphenated Domains
Domains consisting of two or more words connected by a hyphen receive 5 to 25 percent of the direct search traffic of the same number of words appearing together without a hyphen. In Africa and Asia, traffic rates are at the higher end of that range, whereas in the United States, traffic is usually at around 10 percent.
Depending on where a direct search campaign is seeking to draw an audience and the funds available to it, an initial concentration on domains without hyphens may be in order. Where resources are limited and the value of each hit received is low, traffic rates from domains without dashes can be assessed before a decision is made on whether to register variants with dashes.
Where relevant domains without hyphens are not available, you may have no choice except to invest in hyphenated ones. Even with minimal direct navigation traffic, however, hyphenated domains can still serve a purpose because they can receive favorable treatment by search engines.
6. Support SEO With HyphensIf you are seeking to build up subsidiary Web sites for SEO purposes, then hyphens in multi-word domains can be a good investment because search engines often rate Web pages higher if domains consist of keywords separated by hyphens. The domain Aids-Prevention.com, for example, would receive higher search engine rankings than the same domain without the hyphen, even if page contents were identical.
A well funded program for SEO and direct search may seek to acquire both hyphenated and non-hyphenated variations of domain names.
7. Ignore Keyword Popularity
Keywords are terms that people enter into search engine queries. Web site meta tags and page content can be optimized to include keywords selected to attract site visitors arriving through organic search engine results.
How can you find out which keywords are most in demand by both advertisers and search engine users? The major search engines provide free keyword tools that help advertisers and Web site publishers figure out what keywords people are using and the relative popularity of different keyword combinations. To find keyword tools, enter "keyword tool" into a search engine.
Prices for advertisements that appear in search engine results are determined according to keyword popularity. Advertising customers bid against each other to purchase desired keywords.
It is not necessary for domain names used for direct search to have a positive correlation with the popularity of keywords used in search engine queries. In fact, there is often a weak or even inverse relationship between direct search traffic and keyword popularity statistics from search engine queries.
Little published data exists in regard to statistical correlations between keyword popularity and direct search traffic. It is clear, however, that popular keywords can make lousy brands and generate only marginal direct search traffic.
For example, the keyword string "Southeast Asian Restaurant" was responsible for 46,932 search queries on Yahoo during November, dwarfing the 9,034 search queries on Yahoo for "Asian Food" during the same period. On the direct search side, however, SoutheastAsianRestaurant.com has been found to generate less than 10 hits per month (prior to the publication of this article) since December and would not be considered a strong brand name for a business because it is too long and too bland.
8. Budget and Prioritize
Initial attempts at building up direct search capabilities can be accompanied by irrational exuberance. Starting small is often the best strategy, except for those with the confidence and decisiveness to purchase a high-profile domain name on the secondary market. Domains purchased on the secondary market can become a company's primary identity.
Establish budgets and use monitoring tools for cost control. Server logs can provide incoming traffic data on a domain-specific basis and produce first-level monitoring results. Tracking cookies can follow visitors around a site and attribute purchasing activity back to originating domain names.
There are two phases in portfolio construction for direct search. The first phase is to decide on your priorities and determine what domain names might best suit your needs. The second phase consists of efforts to acquire domains that meet your criteria.
Four methods for identifying and prioritizing opportunities for direct search:
- Ask your customers what they think about before deciding to seek out your company or purchase its goods.
- Brainstorm to come up with a list of keywords and domain ideas.
- Consult an advertising agency or international brand consultant with experience in direct search.
- Visit Web sites with domain name generator tools such as NameBoy.com, which provides synonyms and a list of available versus already registered names.
There are several options for building up a portfolio of domains for direct search.
First, take your high-priority shopping list and register domains that are not already registered. Avoid registrars designed for retail consumers. Both the top two registrars (eNom and GoDaddy) have bulk registrar services for businesses that maintain large portfolios of domain names. Many businesses maintain accounts on both registrars to minimize the transfer times for inbound names acquired from third parties.
Domain names on your priority list that are already registered may be for sale on the secondary market, regardless of whether they are currently pointed towards fully operational commercial sites. Engage in direct search to verify the use and current status of these names.
Look up the registration status of domain names on free sites such as BetterWhois.com. Pay attention to registration information and look for clues that a domain may be available for purchase.
Check on secondary marketplaces such as Afternic and Sedo to see whether any of your priority names are being offered for sale through those sites. Those secondary marketplaces can give you additional ideas on similar domains that may be available.
Also available are services that snap up expired domain names as soon as they are released for registration by new owners. Those services offer dropped domain names for sale on an auction basis. They are popular among owners of large existing portfolios. Existing portfolio owners can use their industry experience to conduct sophisticated economic analysis and decide on bid prices before dropped domains become available through auctions.
It is often cheaper to acquire a popular domain directly (but anonymously) before it expires, rather than wait and compete with other customers on an auction site.
Troubled competitors can be approached with offers to buy their domain names. In some cases, this could include their branded Web sites. The cheapest method for approaching competitors is through secondary marketplaces that can forward your offer anonymously. Otherwise you can expect inflated prices from sellers.
Last but not least, direct search campaigns can be outsourced to an online ad agency or an international brand consultant. Because of the structure of online ad agencies' billing rates, be careful of agencies that may steer you in the direction of an excessive reliance on paid search and other recurrent expenditures. Some agencies are now segmenting their billing for creative work separately from other billing categories.
As for finding an international brand consultant, most have been slow to recognize and explore the value of direct search or the power of the Internet in general. If not, InternationalBrandConsultant.com would have been registered before October 16, 2006.
Anthony Mitchell , an ECT News Network columnist, has been involved with the Indian IT industry since 1987, specializing through InternationalStaff.net in offshore process migration, call center program management, turnkey software development and help desk management.