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Boosting Sales with Search & Social Media: Stephan Spencer Interview

SEO, PPC, and Social Media can and do help online sales. Few practitioners can succinctly explain how these three disciplines combine to help ROI.

Stephan Spencer is the President and CEO of Netconcepts. His firm helps clients optimize ROI by blending the aformentioned disciplines together and creating an amplified effect. Look for the link in the Resources section, directly after the interview.

I recently interviewed Stephan and have since read his answers at least 3 times. Each time I read this transcript, I get more out of it.

Here now is my interview with Stephan Spencer.

SEO and Paid Search Synergies

Larry Chase: You have talked about the cumulative effect of SEO, or natural search, with paid search. How do you know that works? Are businesses getting more sales at the back end of the conversion tunnel?

Stephan Spencer: There have been some studies to show the synergistic effects of both. One study showed a 20% lift in clicks on your natural listing if you had a paid listing above it or on the upper right side. Showing up twice makes your No. 1 ranking get 20% more clicks.

What is very exciting in terms of synergies between paid and natural search is the ability to identify new keyword markets.

For example, if you are chasing after long-tail keywords, you probably already have a good-size list of them. Wouldn't it be great if you could significantly expand that list with long-tail keywords that actually convert for you?

Long-Tail Keywords

LC: Would you define long-tail keywords?

SS: These are keywords related to more esoteric search terms. They are four or five words long, or model numbers, or multiple product attributes. It's a more specialized search. Also, these searchers are closer to the buying stage.

If they were doing a search for "digital cameras," for example, they may well be at the research stage. If they are typing in "Canon G10 Digital Camera Lens" and a particular model number, then they know what they want, and they have their wallets out.

Power of Negative Keywords

LC: Why are "negative keywords" so important in paid search?

SS: When you buy keywords in AdWords that are "broad match," they will capture other phrases and search terms that incorporate those words in the term you are bidding on.

For example, if you are doing broad match on "shoes," you will show up for "shoes" or "dress shoes." That's fine if you are a shoe store. You don't want to show up for "brake shoes," "horseshoes," "snowshoes," etc.

You don't want to pay for those search terms. They also would hurt your click-through rate and would cause your bid price to go up. If people click through to your site on such keywords, they are unlikely to buy because they're looking for something you don't sell.

You need a negative keywords list. Each ad group has its own negative keyword list. Google allows you to specify up to 10,000 negative keywords.

LC: How do you research negative keywords?

SS: It's extremely hard. There's a solution most people don't know about called Epiar that will populate your negative keywords in AdWords with the full 10,000 maximum.

LC: Is this the tool that costs $9500?

SS: Yes, for the first 10,000-word list.

LC: So in order for this to pay out decently, you have to have a monthly PPC budget of, what, $50,000?

SS: I'm sure it varies, but if you're only spending, say, $5,000 a month on paid search, it would take a long time to recoup your investment. Using a service like Epiar makes a lot more sense as you spend more money with Google on AdWords.

LC: Is there a threshold? Or, does it depend on lifetime customer value or merchandise cost?

SS: It does depend on those factors and others as well. Say you're doing mostly exact-match and very little broad match. You're not going to see a big savings just by instituting negative keywords.

But, if you're spending a lot of money on AdWords, you'd still want to incorporate negative keywords to save money when you're doing broad match. You're saying, "I want this keyword but not all these other keywords." It gives you the freedom to bid on a lot more broad-match keywords.

Social Media Impact on Ecommerce

LC: What do you make of social media's impact on ecommerce? How important are user reviews?

SS: When user reviews augment catalog and product descriptions, that is fantastic.

That's a good thing from an SEO standpoint because duplicate content is a thorn in the side of every SEO person, where the same product description is on a whole bunch of different Websites.

You can get filtered [from the search results] for that. You're not getting penalized for it although it feels like a penalty. That's because Google chooses one site for the ranking and filters the others out so that searchers would not see a lot of repetitive sites.

It would be a very poor user experience if seven of the 10 results look like copies of each other. The other six are still in the index, but for that search, Google chooses one of the seven to be displayed, and the others are not displayed. If you're not the one who's chosen, then it feels like a penalty.

LC: So, Google has the result in the index but suppresses it in search results?

SS: You're going to lose traffic and sales if you're one of the duplicates. If you're filtered out, you're not going to show up. Your competitor who was chosen is the one who's going to win.

You need to differentiate yourself. The way to do that is to augment or paraphrase. Adding an extra sentence to a five-paragraph chunk of manufacturer-supplied copy is not going to do it.

User-generated content, in the form of many customer reviews, will augment that product copy. Now you've differentiated yourself enough that you're not going to get stuck in the duplicate-content filter with all of your competitors.

You're basically outsourcing your copywriting to your users and doing it for free.

Twitter's Impact on Search

LC: People are having a hard time figuring out how to monetize their Twitter campaigns. Can you give us a convincing argument from a Search Marketing point of view?

SS: As many of your readers probably know, one example where Twitter is being used successfully by an online retailer is Zappos.

From an SEO standpoint, look at all the links pointing to "twitter.Zappos.com." Zappos commands a fair amount of link authority going to that microsite. That's all link juice they wouldn't have gotten any other way.

Then, consider all the articles and blog posts about Zappos and its Twitter effort, all or most of which link to the Zappos site. All that link authority is attributable to their efforts with Twitter.

Finally, you have all the tweets that mentioned Zappos and link to the Zappos site. Those links count as well because they're archived on the [Twitter site]. None of this falls off into nowhere.

LC: Can all of that link juice be measured as to how much it caused in sales?

SS: That is harder, and it's one of the problems with SEO. It's extremely difficult to track the impact of your efforts. If you get all these great links, it could push you from No. 2 to No. 1 for a really important keyword because of all this inbound link authority. But, how do you know that was what moved you from 2 to 1?

The click-through rate from your Google results page is about 10% for No. 2. One out of every 10 clicks on the results page goes to the No. 2 listing. Forty-four percent goes to the No. 1 listing. There is a huge differential between being No. 2 and being No. 1.

LC: Isn't the No. 2 crowd more qualified from a conversion standpoint?

SS: I think that's a stretch. I think people don't think of Google so much as a search engine but as an "answer" engine. They expect Google to get it right every time.

The dissatisfaction level goes up when searchers have to scan down the page. Ninety percent of them are not going to go to Page Two of their results. Also, they aren't scrolling. They're just going straight down the page, seeing the first word or two of the search listing.

How Important is Video?

LC: All the leading "searchies" I talk to say video is now very important. You agree?

SS: It's all important. It's not the only thing, but all of these different media are important now.

LC: Tell me about a video that has been an absolute grand slam.

SS: One of our clients is Steve Spangler Science. He's a science guy like Bill Nye The Science Guy. Steve Spangler is the guy who came up with the Diet Coke/ Mentos experiment that swept through YouTube.

If you add a whole pack of Mentos into a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke, the liquid will shoot several feet in the air. Steve actually invented a product that you screw onto the lid of the bottle, and it allows you to load in a full pack of Mentos. When you pull the trigger pin, the Mentos drop in, and the liquid shoots farther, like 30 feet in the air.

This has been a very popular video on YouTube with a lot of people replicating the experiment.

LC: How does this make money?

SS: Steve gets a lot of links from these videos. With more links, you make more money through search. The more links [the videos] can drive to his site, the higher it will rank. He's the No. 1 organic search result for "science experiments." That would not have happened if he didn't leverage video for SEO.


Stephan Spencer is President and CEO of Netconcepts.

Information on Epiar, a Canadian SEO firm, is here.

View Zappos' Twitter site to view Tweets mentioning the company.