Are You Advertising on Your Most Profitable Search Results Yet?

Dec 21st

What is Visible?

One of the biggest problems with this site from a business model perspective is how much free content (including tools) that we give away...as the site was started out of passion with intent to help people, rather than to maximize short term revenues. That lead to me helping people for free way more than I should have, and not earning as much as I could have from paying customers (because I spent too much time helping people who had no intent of becoming customers). Shifting the business model to charging a recurring fee fixed part of that problem...using economics to add a layer to filter out real customers from freeloaders.

Another large problem is that I have asked forum members not to mention specific forum threads without getting permission from other members who contributed this to the thread. People love the forums and leave unsolicited testimonials virtually every day, but rarely do people write publicly about the forums due that restriction.

Khalid Saleh recently highlighted the forums publicly when he referenced me as a top online marketer:

Many top SEO professionals no longer spend time on forums. That is not the case with the SEO book community forum. The caliber and quantity of top seo experts who are ready to answer any question sets the forum apart. Let alone the personal effort Aaron invests ensuring that no question goes unanswered.

But such public mentions are rare due to the above restriction.

The combination of limited public discussion of the paid content with so much discussion of the freebies creates a website that is easy to mention to attract pageviews, but does not convert anywhere near as well as it should because the conversion process is nowhere near as refined as it could be.

This site gets a ton of traffic...but we have enough to where it makes sense to put more effort into sales.

Building the Perception of Value

It is hard for people to accurately value information they do not have access to...which is why many hyped up marketers have systems built around duping newbies with fake testimonials, affiliate schemes, and "launches" promoted through email list spamming. (Everyone is talking about it, so it MUST be good!)

I hate asking people for money, but if I simply do not then this site will only perform at a fraction of its full potential. My wife is a much more aggressive sales person than I am (she did high tech marketing in the past and was responsible for landing a huge deal that ended up getting her company acquired by their biggest competitor for big money). She is always pushing me to be more aggressive. I have been naively reluctant on some fronts, but am slowly coming around bit by bit. ;)

Value systems are built through marketing and publicity. This site makes way more than what it needs to for me to consider it successful, but there is a lot of money left on the table. I bet the upside potential from conversion improvements is at least 200%...maybe way more.

How Much Are Your Internal Search Results Worth?

If a site has conversion issues, the easiest way to fix them is to break down the conversion process into steps and processes. I thought I would take a step in that direction by advertising our community forums and training program on our internal search results.

Generally there is no better place to advertise than on your own site.

Each day hundreds of people use our public facing site search, and they have done over 100,000 searches in the past year or so. My average cost per click on Google's search results is over $1 per click, and yet I have never advertised on my own search results. Think about that number...over 100,000 times people have found the brand then done a specific search on this site with 0 of them seeing an advertisement. As a marketer that is an embarrassing failure.

Advertising on Your Internal Site Search Results

Here is what I did to fix the above issue...

  1. Signed up for the Google custom search engine to allow us to include their technology into the site. Labeled and feature content from key portions of the site to promote them within those search results.
  2. Created a custom CSS file for the search page, which allowed me to make the search results skinnier and the related advertising column wider (when compared to other pages on the site).
  3. Included mini-logos, search boxes, and testimonials from the training section and user forums on the search page.
  4. Used a PHP page such that I could pull the search variable from the URL string and add the query in the page content (in various places - including headings and search boxes).

Here is how to pull a variable from the URL string

<?php
$val = $_GET['q'];
echo "$val";
?>

Example Search Result

See how I added the advertisements on this search for page titles.

Cost/Benefit Analysis

Was the above worth the effort? I am not certain yet, but I have to imagine so. If it helps convert 1 person a day that is worth over $100,000 a year for the one hour of effort it took to implement. There are aesthetic improvements that can still be made, but at least now that page has potential to build revenue rather than just being a sunk cost.

Published: December 21, 2008

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Comments

December 21, 2008 - 11:34am

Careful with the code:
"<?php
$val = $_GET['q'];
echo "$val";
?>"

It's prone to XSS/injection.

December 21, 2008 - 12:18pm

/sitesearch/ is blocked via robots.txt.

Is there a better way to include a variable from the URL without risking any xss issues?

December 21, 2008 - 7:32pm

Here's a more secure version for you:

<?php
/**
* Use Drupal's internal XSS filter and set the allowed HTML tags to an empty array.
*/
$val = filter_xss($_GET['q'], $allowed_tags = array());
echo $val;
?>

December 21, 2008 - 7:32pm

XSS injection in echo?? What exactly? At worst you can have the malicious user display some javascript to himself. Big deal. Even the code in the article is too much, all you need is
echo $_GET['q'];

December 21, 2008 - 10:05pm

Hi Aaron,

I'm surprised you did not mention mailing lists.

I know, I know, there are bad-for-us-all marketers that live off email list spamming fake launches.

But there are also honest online marketers that care about their clients and propose something like this:

- Give away something of REAL value as an incentive for your visitors to joining your mailing list.

- Build a good relationship with your mailing list by continuing to providing real, good value: ebooks, additional tips & tricks, timely information about new developments, etc.

- Once in a while do a survey asking people in your list what they really want. Or what their biggest challenge or problem is.

- Whatever they still want or whatever the challenge or problem is, I'd assume that your list does not think it's being addressed by your free info.

- Develop a product that specifically solves the problem, handles the challenge, offers a solution, suggests how to deal with it, etc.

- Offer that product to your mailing list at a fair price.

They'll not only love you for it, you'll probably increase your income not by 200%, but by 2000%. All that while giving your readers what they want.

No disrespect intended with what you're doing, just my honest opinion.

Hope this helps and feel free to get back to me if you'd like to chat.

Warm regards,

Rov
http://FromSuccessfoolToSuccessful.com

December 21, 2008 - 11:59pm

Aaron,

In your post you mention how you hate asking people for money, but based on the content I have seen from you so far, it looks like people should be throwing money at you for the value you offer.

It is outright value when you say that four simple steps will increase your online income over $100,000 a year for just an hours work!

If you could just package those detailed steps in a book along with the results, people would be knocking your door down with money in their hands!

I would be the first to link to it on my site.
http://www.marketingwithpaul.com

I agree with you on your view on lists to the extent that I am on many "gurus" lists. True, most just try to suck the money out of newbies, but a few I have found in the process have added tremendous value to me.

I would like to know how it all turns out. Please keep us informed.

Paul

December 22, 2008 - 7:19am

You should sanitize that _get[] data before echoing it. Just pass it through htmlentities(). But this is example code. Real code might store the data (don't use htmlentities if you will store it) or use the data in another way. In each case, there are specific concerns.

Best practice suggests never using data direct from the _get[]. Store it into a variable and be sure to properly santize that variable according to what you will do with it. A great reference is http://www.nyphp.org/phundamentals/storingretrieving.php

As for the rest of this article, remember that some people will not promote their favorite forum if they think it would be degraded by increased popularity.

December 22, 2008 - 8:25am

Thanks for both tips John :)

December 22, 2008 - 8:27am

Hi Aaron,

It may sound a little pedantic, but I couldn't actually see what you were talking about in your search results at first - until I scrolled down to the bottom of the page. My laptop has 1024x768 screen res so hopefully a little CSS tweak could solve that wrapping issue and you could convert more.

Definitely a great, worthwhile idea and it would be interesting to see any results in a month or so if possible.

December 22, 2008 - 8:32am

I think that is an issue with IE7 that I still need to fix. I tested on Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and IE8...but you are the second person to tell me there are issues...are you using IE7?

December 22, 2008 - 10:00am

Hey Aaron, you mention it yourself, but I think the search results page is quite cluttered. A lot of bold text in the side bar and the tailing Join Us advert.

While I'm thinking about it, it's great to track search data using Analytics to track what your visitors are searching for. I created custom pages for my top 10 searches. My search script first checks if the search query matches one of the top 10. If so, the person is brought to a page with custom content on that search query, and the page is tuned to convert for that search query.

December 22, 2008 - 10:13am

Same problem as alfie: 1024x768 screen size on this comp and it's forcing it to jump down the page.

I'm using Firefox 3 though.

December 22, 2008 - 11:17am

Aaron, first of all congratulations on being one of the top ten online marketer.

If it helps convert 1 person a day that is worth over $100,000 a year

How did you reach that figure?

The adverts in the search result page takes to the membership site.

It costs $100 per month to join.

So in a year = 1 * 365 = $36,500.00

(And I have not even excluded dropouts.)

Do you have any other revenue model?

Its great to know your wife knows marketing... my wife sends me for marketing (I mean buying vegetables etc.) ;-)

Dilip Shaw

December 22, 2008 - 12:01pm

The average person stays for at least 3 months...probably longer. Multiply your $36,500 by 3.

December 22, 2008 - 12:30pm

Aaron I think I may not be clear.

1 sale extra a day = $100 a day.

Multiply this by 365 days in a year = $36,500 ...thats it!

Now, why should I multiply this by 3?

I am sorry, but maybe I am missing something.

December 22, 2008 - 12:56pm

If the person stays a member for 3 months then you multiply your number by 3. Many of our members signed up for only one month, thinking they would join for 1 month then leave... but have stayed with us for close to a year because they still get great value from the site.

December 22, 2008 - 1:30pm

Yes got it. If they pay for at least 3 months on an average, then I multiply by 3.

Thanks.

Why didn’t you think about it before? What a loss!

It will be interesting to know how many you actually convert. Do keep us informed. This is a great case study of advertising your own service on your website – will be good for people getting a lot of searches on their site.

December 22, 2008 - 11:35am

I really like the PHP idea.

How exactly do you do this?

If I become a member will you explain it in more detail? If yes, then I'll sign up today!

Regards

Alex

December 22, 2008 - 12:02pm

Hi Alex
All of the advice is in the above blog post. Steps 1 - 4 above, including the PHP code snippet.

December 22, 2008 - 2:09pm

Thanks Aaron. I can see the snippet and can understand exactly what it does. But how to implement it when you don't know about PHP.

By the way, this for me was one of your best posts. Thanks bud and have a good xmas.

December 22, 2008 - 6:16pm

Very nice internal search there. Probably an advantage to using G custom over WP's internal search, even hacked up like Joost suggests.

Q: Do you find more people using your internal search or visiting your archives and browsing manually?

December 22, 2008 - 7:00pm

I tend to be more of a search person whereas some people are more browse oriented. The thing is a few power users can really skew the data, and most of our traffic still comes from direct referral, brand searches, other searches, and references on other websites.

December 23, 2008 - 3:41am

as long as you have php on your server the instructions work... grabbing the search keyword and placing whereever you put the code

but join and learn tons more

December 23, 2008 - 9:29am

Very good analysis of internal search Aaron. It all comes down to the way you look at things doesn't it. Plugins will no doubt appear.

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