Tuesday, April 14, 2009

There's More to Online Visibility Than Search!

As an online marketing strategist, when I talk to clients and colleagues about the importance for brands to be visible online, the conversation almost always gravitates towards search, both natural and paid search.

While it's true that many, many users start their online experience via search and go on to make a purchase or complete their task from there, there are 2 distinct components to online visibility in my mind.

1. Discovery with intent. If you know what you want online, you are likely to go to a specific site directly or use search. In this situation where you are probably further down the purchase funnel, it's imperative that brands have SEO-friendly sites and well-designed websites once the user arrives.

2. Discovery without intent. But what about when you're just surfing the web, catching up on news, keeping up with friends on Facebook, or watching the latest SNL skit on YouTube? You may not have anything in mind, but that doesn't mean you're not impressionable. In fact, you may have a latent need that could lead to an impulse buy. How many times have you noticed something in the storefront window and decided to wander in to make a purchase? Online, coming across a brand in these social spaces where you hang out may alter your perception of it. It is this part of the equation that many folks overlook when it comes to maintaining visibility. While being visible and engaging in theses places may not have an immediate sales ROI, I would argue this leads to greater brand consideration down the road if the brand is being useful and relevant to consumers.

Here's an analogy I have developed from the offline retail world:

Let's say you're a brand like Williams-Sonoma. In the offline world, you ensure customers can find you when they are in "discovery with intent" mode. Having highly visible retail stores in high-traffic areas and being listed on the mall directory takes care of that. The online equivalent, as mentioned above, is having a SEO-friendly, highly usable website.

For "discovery without intent," it's important for the brand to try to be visible when the customer is hanging out at the rest of the shopping center. The food court or plaza where folks gather, movie theater, and other stores in the mall have their online equivalents, as I depicted above. Allowing and incentivizing consumers to fan, friend, or follow you is a great way to build a relationship with them so that they will keep you top of mind.

Note: Alisa Hansen, who's been preaching this POV for a while, "inspired" this posting. She also came up with these 2 "discovery" names. I was previously stuck in the old "push" versus "pull" metaphor. I like these terms a lot more! Thanks, Alisa!

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