By Jeff Watts, Bazaarvoice Search & Syndication Product Manager 

I love to watch the kid at the fountain drink machine who puts cola, root beer, and orange drink in the same cup.  It seems like a good idea, but whether the kid admits it or not, the mixture tastes gross — worse than any of the three would taste on its own.  This is similar to the way that some of us forget about segmentation in our search engine optimization.

One of the best ways to think about natural search segmentation is that you (the marketer) are in partnership — not in competition — with the search engine.  You want to publish interesting, unique content and you want to make it as easy as possible for the search engine to determine the meaning or "theme" of that content.  If you truly have the best piece of content on the web for a given search query, both you and the search engine want your page to rank number 1.  Segmenting content means that you publish content with different themes on separate pages.

Consider the venerable product page.  Most product pages contain many of the same elements: the name of the product, a description of the product, a list of product specifications, a list of product accessories or services, and pricing, shipping and contact information, to name a few.  Marketers invest much time and expense in optimizing each page for product-specific search queries and in editorial review to ensure accuracy, to correct grammatical mistakes, and to ensure brand consistency.  When a search engine crawls a product page, it can tell that every word on the page is related to the product, spelled correctly, and written in the same tone as the rest of the site, so it is easy for the search engine to determine the theme of the page.

Now, suppose the marketer decides to add a new type of content, such as product reviews, to the product page.  Intuition says that, because review content is product-related, it should live inline on the product page.  From a search engine standpoint, though, this is not a good idea — you will actually drive more traffic by segmenting your content into two parts.  One content segment focuses on "product" content, and the other focuses on "review" content.

To understand why, consider three ways review content differs from product content:

  1. Review content is written by customers of your product.  This means the size of the contributor base (and thus the variance in tone) is orders of magnitude larger for reviews than for products.
  2. Review content goes through little to no editorial review, which means that it will almost always contain more spelling or grammatical mistakes than formal product content.
  3. Review content is focused on a customer’s experience with a product, so it contains more "personal" statements like "I did …" and "My experience was …"

Does this mean that review content is bad or inferior to product content?  Of course not — it is just different content written in a different style by different people to accomplish a different objective.  Standalone review content presents a very consistent theme to the crawling search engines, just as standalone product content does.  Because each type of content has its own theme, each will ultimately rank well for its own set of search phrases. 

Although a much larger percentage of review content search referrals come from phrases that include words like "reviews", one of my favorite examples of how review content drives traffic comes from a misspelling:  as of this writing, a page on reviews.overstock.com ranks number 1 on Google for a search on "odasity of hope".  Overstock actually receives referrals for this search phrase, but only because their searchers and one of their reviewers are misspelling the same word ("audacity").  Such a misspelling would be edited out of formal product page content, but it is a terrific way to reach down further into the long tail of search using review content.

What would happen if this review content was not segmented onto separate pages, like the one on reviews.overstock.com?  The product content and the review content would dilute one another and the resulting theme would not be as easily discernible as the theme of either of the two pages standing on their own.  Failure to segment different themes will result in an opportunity cost of missed traffic, or worse, cannibalization of existing traffic.  Segmenting different themes not only increases your aggregate traffic, but also provides you an easy opportunity to share links between two very related pages — the product page and the review page for that product.

I encourage you to identify segments in your content, just as you might identify segments in your markets.  You will be happy with your increase in search traffic, and we will toast your success — you with your cola and me with my root beer — separate cups of course.

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