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Automotive Brands Lift The Hood On Their Search-Influenced Strategies

CAPTIVA ISLAND, Fla.--Intuit, Cars.com and Lincoln Educational Services are companies in different verticals, with divergent target audiences and customer acquisition models. Yet each one has used analytics and consumer insights gleaned from search to solve a unique marketing dilemma. Executives from iCrossing and SendTec, among others, shared their case studies on search "in the wild" with Search Insider Summit attendees on Tuesday.

Article written by Tameka Kee, Wednesday, May 21, 2008

For Intuit, parent company of the Quicken, QuickBooks and TurboTax brands, the issue was figuring out how to best market its full roster of products online (including the 13 separate applications under the QuickBooks name). According to Janel Landis, senior director of search strategy and development at SendTec, the first step was to get the search activity for every product under one umbrella--which was what happened when SendTec took over the account.

"A number of the products were being handled by different agencies," Landis said. "And there were seven management teams, and they all wanted to bid on the word QuickBooks." So once the SendTec team was appointed as a company-wide search marketing resource, they got to work figuring out whether running multiple paid search ads with Intuit's branded keywords (like "QuickBooks") was an effective strategy. On paper, it seemed like one of the best ways to segment the amount of traffic and leads each product was driving, as well as dominate the search landscape for Intuit's vertical.

But SendTec quickly discovered that it was not a winning strategy. The simultaneous ads tended to cannibalize the budget and drive up average costs-per-click (CPCs). And even when the ads were served in rotation, the more effective ad was only being served half the time.

"ROI decreased, and we found that consumers were better served by one ad that allowed navigation to various products throughout the site," Landis said. SendTec also helped Intuit develop a set of rules of engagement across subdivisions for complementary bidding practices, multivariate testing and knowledge sharing.

With Cars.com, search data helped influence the company's mobile Web site design. "We soft launched the mobile site in April of 2007," said Dan Perry, SEO manager at Cars.com. "We wanted to extend the Cars.com brand and develop an ad channel for future growth."

In roughly a year, traffic to Cars.com is up to over three million page views per month. Perry said the growth has been sparked by continuous site improvements built upon user search patterns. "We have an in-house usability lab, and found that most people search for used cars, then new, and then Kelley Blue Book info," Perry said. "So we optimized the navigation path and put used car search as the first link." New car search and then Kelley Blue Book links follow, respectively, to minimize the number of clicks it takes to get the most-requested info.

Perry also said that Cars.com eliminated drop-down boxes in favor of scrollable links, to make it easier for mobile browsers to access content. The company included a prominent search by ZIP code option, which will allow them to serve geotargeted auto ads in the future. Cars.com also used search data to get a clearer picture of who the typical mobile searcher was, and found two distinct customer types. "There are users on the lot, in the late stage, physically standing next to the car," Perry said. "They're seeing if the sticker price matches what they saw online, or going through and searching in a 5- to 10-mile radius for a lower price."

Perry said that the other segment was an early-stage shopper, or potential car buyers that were looking at reviews, blogs, photos and original content like top 10 lists. And like the ZIP code info, in time, the search data will allow Cars.com to serve mobile browsers the most appropriate ad.

Meanwhile, Lincoln Education Services, an adult education organization with some 37 campuses across the U.S., tapped iCrossing to use search to inform the redesign of their entire Web site. "We used market research, persona development and search analytics to help identify, target and engage the Lincoln's different audiences," said Rob Garner, strategy director at iCrossing.

The organization includes schools like the Center for Culinary Arts and Southwestern College, so the Web site needed multiple entry points as opposed to one "start page" so that users could arrive from a search for keywords like "culinary careers" and "culinary careers in Florida" and not land on a disorienting page.

Before tweaking any HTML code or choosing a color scheme, iCrossing delved into the personalities of current Lincoln students with focus groups and one-on-one interviews, to find out how they perceived the brand. The agency also used search data to come up with a linguistic profile of each division's target audience, in addition to forming a set of competitive terms. "We said, here's where you are, and here's where your competitors are, when it comes to these words," Garner said.

Armed with the insights, iCrossing presented Lincoln with the redesign plan, which was to be measured by stats like site traffic, length of visit, and number of leads generated. And the results were stellar. "The site relaunched in August, and leads were up by 54.9%," Garner said. By September, October and November, the number of leads generated increased by 74%, 123% and 113%, respectively."

The SEO benefits of the redesign were also quite positive, as Lincoln Education Services averaged first-page rankings for 294 of their chosen keywords post-relaunch. In contrast, the Web site only garnered first-page rankings for 11 keywords in the previous months.

Tameka Kee can be reached at tameka@mediapost.com

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