Somewhat recently, another life science marketing agency (who shall remain anonymous), wrote that “No one ‘peruses’ websites from the homepage anymore. Sites need to be optimized to have an infinite number of ‘front doors’.” They’re largely correct on the first part – many users today will find your web content via search or other avenues which will lead them to an entry point that is not your homepage. However, the claim that every page should be a “front door” is flat-out wrong. If you’re not controlling the entry points to your website, you need a good dash of … SEO.
SEO, despite its name, isn’t all about simply ranking our website higher in the search engine rankings. Another crucial component of SEO is controlling which one of your website’s pages will show up highest for any given search term. Life science companies need to not only assess what terms they want to optimize for, but what content they want searchers for those terms to find. The best SEO plan is the one that executes on both of these factors.
The most basic tool for life science SEO is the landing page. Landing pages are single web pages that are designed to provide highly targeted content for a particular purpose. In the context of SEO, landing pages are often “one-way” pages designed to be content-rich on a particular topic, pulling in searchers for that term. Targeted audiences might be for a particular type or class of product, researchers using a particular type of sample or organism, or scientists looking to perform a specific type of analysis. Often the content of landing pages is too specific to make sense having on the more general sections of your website, but provide information that is highly relevant to your audience.
Landing pages are just one tool in the life science SEO toolbox, however. There are many other methods to control entry to your website, and not all of them even occur on your own site. For example, there are ways of “donating” SEO from one page to another. There are ways of creating super-effective landing pages outside your main website, then using those to drive traffic back to your site. The list of tools in the toolbox goes on…
Your website is not simply at the mercy of the search engines. Search engine optimization can be used to not only improve search rankings, but also to channel search traffic through specific paths and optimize how viewers interact with your website. Your website is your most important internet marketing tool, and controlling entry points is a key factor in wielding that tool properly.
I was having a conversation about web design and search engine optimization with a life science tools distributor recently, and he asked me how to target a website to a particular region? This got me thinking about search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) for distributors.
One of the limitations of search is that it is difficult to organically target a website to a region, at least in the life sciences. Search engines recognize some searches as inherently local. Search for “pizza” in Google for example and it will read your IP to determine your location and return local results. Search for electrophoresis gel boxes or Ras1 antibodies, however, and that location-specific context isn’t there. Therefore the simple answer to his question: “How do you target a website for a particular region [using SEO]?” – is that you don’t.
The next logical question: is SEO important to distributors? Often, but not always. If you can do a better job of optimizing for relevant terms than your life science supplier(s), then yes, you should optimize for those terms. It would be far better for a potential customer to find you than find a competing manufacturer or distributor. Likewise, if your country or region’s language(s) are different the language that your suppliers’ websites are written in, then SEO may be important as well since your customers may search in your local language (although newer technical and scientific terms are often the same across languages). If you do not have exclusive distribution rights and are effectively competing with other distributors in overlapping regions, then SEO may be very important. However, if your suppliers are well SEO-optimized, if you have exclusive distribution rights, and if your region speaks the same language as your suppliers’ websites are written in, then SEO is not of particularly great importance. In this scenario, which is actually quite common, you should be able to rely on your suppliers to pass along leads to you and in most situations they should have a listing of distributors directly on their website.
Unlike search engine optimization, search engine marketing can very easily be targeted to a particular region. SEM also allows companies to buy a top spot in the search results even if they are not doing so organically. Distributors often ignore SEM, leaving it to their suppliers, but there is no practical reason to do so. Even if you and your supplier are effectively advertising for the same product, having two listings in the paid advertisements only increases the odds that a searching scientist will click on one of them. If your suppliers are not performing SEM, and especially if their search engine rankings are not very high, you should be using SEM to target scientists in your region and get a placement near the top of the search results. So long as SEM campaigns are well-managed, they should be creating a good ROI and be well worth it for distributors.
With about half of life scientists stating that they look for product information on Google before anything else, a strong search presence is not only important to the sales of any life science tools company, but can deliver a great ROI. When deciding on how much resources to devote to search, distributors have different factors to consider than do suppliers. A strong SEO / SEM presence by suppliers can reduce the importance of SEO / SEM for distributors when compared to other marketing channels, but too many scientists use search to find products for it not to be at least a strong consideration in any distributor’s marketing strategy.
A 2011 survey performed by BioBM found that when looking for a new laboratory product, 90% of life scientists will first turn to one of two places. Half of that 90% will first turn to colleagues for recommendations, and the other half will turn to search engines (and the search engine of choice for scientists is overwhelmingly Google). Ensuring that your products are held in high esteem by a large enough number of life scientists to influence the 45% that turn to colleagues first for product recommendations is a complex, difficult problem, as well as one that takes a significant amount of tiime and money to tackle. Being seen by those 45% that will turn to Google or other search engines, however, is much easier and cheaper. Consider this: an Enquiro / Eyetools eye-tracking study (Enquiro, “Enquiro Eye Tracking Report I: Google”, March 2005) found that 100% of people performing Google searches will see the top three search results. Not to understate the competitiveness of organic search, but if your search engine optimization efforts are sufficient to get you into the top three search results for the relevant terms, you can more or less guarantee yourself that your products will be seen by 45% of scientists who are looking for your kinds of products. That is huge.
Now while much of the life sciences is competitive enough that getting into the top three positions in a search term is not a trivial task, you can still make a significant difference in your web traffic (and subsequently your leads and sales) by, for example, going from the fourth page of a major search term to the second page. Various research has shown that 70-90% of searchers do not go past the first page, and 90-99% do not go past the third page. Also, the aforementioned Enquiro / Eyetools study found that the position on the page makes a huge difference as well. While 100% of study participants saw the first three results on a search page, only 10% saw the 10th result. Moving from 9th or 10th to even 5th or 6th can make a big difference.
So… What do you need to know to help prop up your search rankings? Instead of writing a book on the topic, we’ll just list some tips below. If you have any questions or would like some elaboration, feel free to contact us.
- The page title is very important to SEO. The meta description is important to the searcher, but is irrelevant to SEO. Using the wrong title HTML (meta_title= instead of title=) can significantly hurt your SEO.
- Content is king. Nothing will improve your SEO better than more content, especially if you don’t have a lot of content to begin with. What is “not a lot of content”? Under 100 pages is certainly little enough content that more content can yield an easily noticeable improvement. If you are looking for ways to increase content while staying relevant, look into content marketing methods, such as blogging.
- If you have content on external websites, try to bring it onto your site. For example, some companies have a primary website and then an online store at a different URL (either because of the restrictions of the e-commerce platform they are using, or just due to poor planning). Many companies have off-site blogs. These things should be brought onto your primary site so your SEO is not diluted across multiple sites.
- Links back to your site are also very important for SEO. Google also determines contextual relevance, so links back from more relevant sites are more important, as are links from more popular (read: high traffic) sites. Just as an example, we recently did a very fast back-link campaign where we deployed about a dozen relevant links via product news releases and the client saw an average 13 place jump in search rankings for relevant terms.
- Don’t try to fool Google. They know most of the tricks, and trying to trick them will likely either hurt your SEO or get your site completely de-listed. (see the Wikipedia article on “spamdexing” for a good list of what not to do)
- Site traffic is highly important and creates a bit of a chicken-or-egg problem. Traffic is a very important factor in determining search engine rankings, but in order to get a lot more traffic you need better search engine rankings. Honestly, it’s not as much of a conundrum as it sounds. The key is trying to maintain the upward spiral (better SEO → more hits → better SEO → more hits, etc…).
- Checking your search rankings manually is a pain. Seobook.com used to have a Rank Checker plugin for Firefox that allowed you to save up to 100 desired search terms and then to see if you are in the top 200 results on Google, Yahoo, and Bing and output the results as a csv file, which you can open in Excel. Unfortunately, last I checked it was no longer working. Until it’s up and running again, the rankchecker.net SEO tool should hold you over.
- Trial-and-error is okay. Play with your content and see what works.
Another strategy worth noting is to become the first result for an ancillary search term. Regarding ancillary results, allow me to give an example using a company that I’m familiar with. Next Advance manufactures a high-throughput bead-mill homogenizer for disruption and lysis of tissue and cells. There are a lot of companies that sell homogenizers, many of which are larger than Next Advance and have been around for a long time. This crowding makes it relatively difficult to get to the top of search results. For the search term “homogenizer”, Next Advance first shows up on the fourth page of the results, as result #34. However, they know that “homogenizer” is not the only thing their potential customers are searching for, so they also optimized for less competitive terms. If you search for “tissue homognizer” they are 5th. For “liver homogenization” they are first. By enacting SEO strategies that allow them to leverage these alternate terms, they can drive a lot of traffic from search without having to compete for the highly competitive terms.
SEO is a great marketing tactic, especially for small companies on a limited marketing budget. It’s a low-cost, high-ROI form of internet marketing that can put your life science company directly in the sights of your potential customers by being where they are looking: search engines. It’s not rare at all for SEO to be a company’s highest-ROI form of marketing, and given the massive amount of scientists that are turning to search engines for product information, that shouldn’t be a surprise. With a meager budget and some sustained effort, you can help your company drive web-derived leads and sales through SEO.
There are many reasons why any life science tools company should be using search engine marketing (SEM), yet many do not. Scientists are frequently on search engines to look for publications, protocols, product info, scientific knowledge, and more. In a field so highly dependent on information, and on such a wide variety of information from so many different sources, you can bet that scientists are on search engines a lot. Search engine marketing can not only provide a large audience to market to, but since you select which search terms you want your ads to appear on, it can provide a highly targeted audience as well. Best of all, and my favorite thing about any cost-per-click (CPC) based marketing – you only pay for results.
Please note that the following advice pertains mostly to major search engines (such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing), as they will have the full set of features that these tips assume the search engine to have. There are certainly other search engine tools that have reasonably good features and very competitive cost-per-click rates, but although some of the advice will likely be applicable to smaller and / or more focused platforms as well, we will leave those for a separate discussion.
Understand how SEM works
If you and your life science company are new to search engine marketing, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the basics. It’s easy to have a poor ROI if you don’t know what you’re doing. Each search engine will likely have a wealth of literature for you to read and watch, likely enough for you to gain quite a good proficiency with each system if you bother to take the time. For example, you could spend weeks reading all the information that the Google AdWords help center provides. Perhaps one of the most important lessons to learn before you initiate an SEM campaign is how the bidding process works and how CPC is determined. Again using Google AdWords as an example, they have a helpful intro video explaining the process (albeit a bit simplified from how it actually works).
Use the tools that each SEM platform provides
Google AdWords, for example, will provide you with all sorts of lovely info. It will give an index of competition for any given keywords, provide estimates on how many searches are performed for any given term, both globally and within a given region, and estimate the cost-per-click that you would need to bid. It will even provide suggestions on additional search terms, and give historical search estimates month-by-month. This information can help you tremendously in determining what search terms are best to target.
Be an opportunist
In part because life science tools companies do so little search engine marketing compared to the breadth of terms used in the field (and perhaps in part due to many life science marketers general inexperience with SEM), there are a lot of opportunities out there that can drive down your cost-per-click, drive up your ROI, and result in more sales. To start doing this, think like a scientist. What could they be searching for that may not be a product, but may be related to your product. For example, if you are selling DNA extraction kits, perhaps you could target not only users who are searching for DNA extraction kits, but DNA extraction protocols, phenol / chloroform extraction, DNA purification, etc. There are many terms that would indicate that someone is performing DNA extraction. Alternative methods, related upstream or downstream procedures, and even names of competitors products are all good search terms to consider. Find those terms with a low CPC and take advantage of them.
Monitor, update, repeat
Major search engines will try to maximize their income by displaying the ads that make them the most money. This, simply stated, is based on cost per click multiplied by the click-through rate (CTR). Click-through-rate is the rate at which your ad is clicked on by searchers for any given term. If your ad gets clicked on a lot, the search engine gets more money, and you get more visitors. Everyone goes home happy. Search engines will reward ads that have a higher CTR with lower CPC, higher ad placement, or both. An eye-tracking study found that the top-placed ad to the right of Google search results is viewed five times as frequently as the ad that is fifth on the list, so ad placement is an important thing that should not be undervalued. By monitoring your results and tweaking our ads as necessary, you can drive up your CTR, lower your CPC, and improve your ad placement.
One last thing deserves mention. We are often asked by life science companies how much is the correct amount for them to dedicate to search engine marketing. This question doesn’t have a numeric answer. The answer is: as much as you can while getting the desired ROI (and without breaking your budget). Note that this will not be an “infinite” amount of money; you will be limited by the number of searchers. However, so long as you are achieving the desired return-on-investment from your SEM campaign, you should continue to reinvest in it to continue to drive sales growth.
Search engine marketing is a valuable, highly scalable, and readily accessible tool that can generate lots of traffic for your site and, more importantly, lots of sales for your company. Properly utilized with a well-designed site including the appropriate landing pages, your life science tools company can realize a high ROI from your SEM investment and grow both your sales and your company.
Website analytics can provide very useful information to bioscience companies. It can be used to assess the effectiveness of your marketing messages, optimize your site navigation, and track external marketing campaigns. At it’s most basic, and without spending too much time on the matter, most companies want to know one thing: how much traffic are we getting? For most purposes, however, this isn’t the question they should be asking.
By “traffic”, most people are referring to visits – how many people viewed their website over a given period of time. Alone, that doesn’t really tell us much. Another measure of traffic is pageviews – how many pages on a website were viewed over a given period of time. Again, that doesn’t really tell us much on its own. Where you get to some rich metrics is in the pages per visit and the bounce rate. Pages per visit is exactly what it sounds like – how many pages the average visitor is viewing. A “bounce” is when a visitor views a page and then leaves the site without viewing any other pages. Having high pages per visit and a low bounce rate is indicative of quality visits. It is an indication that your content is relevant to the people that are finding your site, and you are successfully engaging those people with your content.
Another good thing to focus on is your search engine optimization as measured via search rankings for relevant search terms. While you can’t get your search rankings via Google Analytics or similar free analytics tools, there are tools on the internet for determining your search rankings. Our favorite is Rank Checker from SEO Book. It’s a plugin that operates in the Firefox web browser and can tell you your rank for up to 100 different terms at a time in Google, Yahoo, and Bing search engines, save searches and output results into .csv files which can be opened in Excel. Knowing where you stand in search rankings, and keeping track to see if you’re moving up or down in key search terms, is key for driving relevant (and free!) search traffic. This information can be analysed in conjunction with search traffic data from Google Analytics to determine if you’re optimizing for the right terms. If you’re very high in the search rankings for a particular term, but you’re not getting much traffic from searches for that term, then it’s likely that few people are searching for that term in the first place and you should consider how you can re-optimize for a more popular but still relevant term.
If you dig just a little deeper into your analytics instead of just looking at raw traffic, you can learn a lot more useful information.
I don’t think anyone will dispute the power and influence of the internet. According to data from the International Telecommunications Union (a United Nations agency), internet penetration in the developed world will exceed 70% this year. Scientists are even more heavily influenced by the internet. We rely on it as a vast and trusted source of readily accessible data, a gateway to the tools and databases we use on a regular basis, a necessary communication tool, and a platform for collaboration across countries and continents. Fueled by fast, extensive business and university networks, internet penetration among life scientists is virtually 100%.
Just as individual consumers are turning more and more to the internet for both information and to make purchases, so are scientists. Researchers, geared towards finding their own information and encouraged by the ready availability of online information, look to the internet for information on products and services prior to purchase, and ever more are using use e-commerce for fast and efficient purchases. Because of this, it is imperative that life science companies leverage the internet to maximize their exposure, ensure that they manage their online brand image, present compelling online marketing, effectively capture online leads and convert these into sales, and utilize e-commerce where possible to reduce the barriers to purchase and increase sales efficiency.
How Important is A Website?
Online, your website is who you are. The quality of your website will be perceived to reflect the quality of your company and, by association, your products. Customers expect that the same kind of companies who create and maintain high-quality, well-performing products will put the same effort into creating and maintaining high-quality and well-performing websites. An outdated look or feel, errors, poor navigation, and a large list of other website faux pas will hurt your image and reputation. Unless you have an extremely strong reputation among your target market, you can assume that every new prospective customer who is interested in your product will look at your website for information before purchasing, and it is likely that your website will be the first place they look … unless they search for it and someone else comes up higher in the search results. Even with a strong reputation, many will still look to your website for more information. While a beautiful, well-structured website alone will not be enough to sell your products (you still need the proper content) a poor website can dramatically hurt your sales.
Refining Your Marketing Message / Having the Right Content
Your online marketing message is arguably the most important one that you will present. It is, in effect, constant; your online brand and marketing are always there for anyone to view. Again, it is very likely that almost all of your customers will view information for your products or services online at some point before purchase. You therefore need to have the appropriate mix of technical information and compelling marketing messages to encourage scientists to either buy the product at that time or inquire for more information immediately.
It will not do you any good if your company has an excellent website that no one can find, and how you get found is through search. ComScore’s global search report has indicated that Google alone gets 1.5 million searches per minute, or well over one billion per day! Having insight into how search engines serve search results to these hundreds of millions of people is crucial to ensure that scientists looking for products or services online find yours and not those of your competitors. Search engine optimization is a tricky thing – search engines guard their algorithms and make only vague public statements as to how they work, so having someone with expert knowledge manage your SEO is crucial. For example, there is a sweet spot between a site having too few keywords, which will result in sub-optimal rankings, and too many keywords, which search engines will penalize you for. Experts have spent years figuring out the optimal “keyword density” along with many other SEO considerations and know what works and what doesn’t. Even with expert help, organically improving your search engine ranking takes time. To get around this, and get you to the critically important first page of search results today, you can make use of search engine marketing. Remember: 90% of searchers never go past the first page of search results, and 99% will not go past the third page, so being on the first page is of extreme importance. A properly managed SEM campaign can economically get you to that critically important first page page of the search results regardless of SEO, and even with good SEO it has been shown that a well-run SEM campaign will still result in an average 20% more hits. Another benefit of SEM: since most SEM campaigns are pay-per-click, you know that most of the people clicking are in your target market. After all, people most often click on links that are of genuine interest to them. Also, search engine marketing prices their advertising by the keyword, and a lot of life science keywords are niche markets, and therefore are less saturated which leads to lower costs and a higher return on your advertising dollars.
According to a study by Forrester Research, sales via electronic commerce will increase by an estimated 60% from 2009 to 2014 in the United States. In Europe, the estimated increase over the same time period is 68%. A burgeoning societal tendency to make purchases online compounded by extremely high internet usage among scientists and the ease of finding products and information online, ever more researchers are turning to the internet for laboratory purchases wherever possible. Particularly for lower-cost items which do not require purchase orders or budgeted line-items (usually $2500 maximum for universities and research institutes and around $5000 for pharmaceutical or biotech companies), a well-implemented e-commerce backend to your website can make it easier for customers to buy your products, help you process orders more efficiently, and even integrate with customer relationship management and / or accounting software to automatically capture customer and order information. The most important factor, however, is the ease and speed of ordering for customers. At all times, you want to ensure that it is as easy as possible for customers to order your products.
These are only some of the considerations that a company should think about when analyzing their online presence. I did not touch on Social Media Marketing (SMM), forms of online advertising other than SEM, online brand presentation, and many other factors (a quick tangent since I’ve brought up social media marketing; if you think the most popular site on the internet is Google, you are wrong). However, the above points are perhaps some of the most important for a small life science company to consider when establishing, updating, and / or maintaining an online presence. We’ll be tackling each in more detail, including social media and the other topics we didn’t cover at all here, so be sure to follow us on twitter or add our blog to your RSS feed if you’d like to stay up to date with the latest posts.