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News that the search giant is mulling a major change in the way it displays search results means retailers must diversify to stay on page one, according to expert Alex Wares

Google’s recent move to research the possibility of reducing its page one search results from ten to seven and the ongoing favour given to paid results in Google shopping, means that search rankings are going to be harder fought than ever before. 

Alex Wares, who is managing director at search marketing agency Mediarun, said such potential change creates a good time to analyse retail marketing budgets and ensure they are getting the maximum from their search spend.

Changing strategic spending plans

According to Wares, under a system that displays seven results per page, pay per click (PPC) and digital marketing would become increasingly important alongside search engine optimisation (SEO) as overall opportunities would be reduced. 

“Combine this with the announcement that only paid listings are to be shown within the Google shopping results in the US from this autumn, with Europe and Asia following next year, the need to spend wisely has never been greater,” he said.

With this potential tapering of page one results, Wares also argued that retailers spreading their spend across digital marketing, PPC and SEO as part of a coordinated approach would have a much better chance to stay on page one than those that continue treating these disciplines separately.

Taking a more diverse approach

“One strong example of this diverse approach in the retail sector is John Lewis,” he added. “Yes, this is a big company with similarly big budgets, but there is no question that they are utilised effectively. The company’s PPC has a sensible seasonal focus that always peaks during the Christmas period, a fully optimised mobile site (something that is still surprisingly rare) and SEO that ensures consistent page one rankings for key search terms.

“It also produces adverts that stick in our minds, particularly its Christmas campaigns which use heart-warming stories and popular cover versions of songs to maximise recall. It all combines to create a strong brand presence across platforms.”

Wares counselled that there are many options to be explored when formulating a revised plan, but there is no need for retailers to start from scratch. “For example, a company that already employs PPC can use its data to inform a smarter organic SEO approach – even a tactical SEO campaign,” he said. “The accurately measurable nature of PPC allows retailers to highlight their most successful terms and incorporate them into ongoing organic activity and optimisation of assets as a general cause.” 

Mobilising power of social media

Social media is also an avenue worth exploring as, according to Wares, done well, it can be a very valuable tool for bringing attention to your brand and ultimately gaining conversions. Strong recent examples he cited include the campaigns undertaken by Strongbow and VO5. “In the case of Strongbow, the company asked for suggestions for the dialogue delivered after the first sip of the product was taken in its ‘sofa delivery’ advert earlier in the year, with a monthly winner selected to appear in the latest TV advert or a campaign where the brand engages and creates a two-way communication system with customers,” he explained.

VO5’s campaign was similar. “Its adverts featured a girl singing while using its products and people were to submit their own musical effort with a performance on the Garden Stage at the Isle of Wight Festival being the prize on offer. Both of these campaigns have generated a lot of activity and brand visibility and are strong demonstrations of how brands can actively engage with their audiences,” he added.

Ultimately, the end goal for all online retailers is to drive as much traffic as possible to their websites for the least cost in order to deliver the greatest return on investment. Given that page one accounts for 85% of traffic generated, Wares concluded that retailers would be wise to operate an integrated approach across all of the available disciplines to ensure they make the very most of their budget.

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