As part of Delineo’s ‘Are you being found online?’ search marketing report, we’re pleased to launch the fifth in a series of 10 case studies focussing on various industry sectors. The purpose of our research is to establish the following:
• On-site and off-site factors which influence and affect keyword rankings.
• How successful companies implement these factors to enhance relevant, targeted traffic.
• Examples of good practice in the field of search marketing.
Microsoft, founded in 1975 by Bill Gates and his business partner Paul Allen, is best-known for its Microsoft Windows and Office software. With its headquarters based in Redmond, Washington employing over 90,000 individuals worldwide, Microsoft is one of the world’s largest manufacturer of software for personal and business computing. As of April 2011, Microsoft sales were valued at $66.69B with a profit of $20.6B, according to Forbes’ Global 2000 list.
As with the previous case studies in the series, the first element which Manchester digital agency Delineo focussed on for Microsoft online was the organic search behaviour, in order to build knowledge of the traffic levels of the domain. Looking into this reveals there are 4,090,000 global monthly searches on average. This figure however, is a result of exploring the branded search term ‘Microsoft’ and does not include any variations, as well as ‘Microsoft + location/product/service’. This ‘perfect’ scenario unfortunately does not exist as we are all aware, but allows us to build up a reflective ‘ballpark’ figure.
When compared with other major software manufacturers such as IBM, HP and Apple, it is possible to ascertain the search hierarchy and recognise which company performs well for branded searches. As mentioned previously, advertising significantly affects these results and impacts branded search results.
Microsoft Search Behaviour
It is no surprise that Microsoft performs well for branded search terms. It is a sound argument that the widespread global use and market dominance of the Microsoft software products, such as Microsoft Office, enhance branded search traffic in comparison to the somewhat ‘smaller’ software manufacturers. Above the line advertising adds significant brand awareness, such as the current Internet Explorer 9 television advert launched in the UK on the 5th March 2012.
Looking more closely at non-branded search terms, there is a level of visibility for the vast majority of products or services on offer from Microsoft, however there is significant room for improvement. To research into the range of non-branded keyword terms further and understand how Microsoft optimise its domain for these keywords, we have chosen to focus on various relevant keywords. We have then compared this against our set of rankings correlation data to produce an estimate of web traffic per month.
Note that the above search research data is a sample and represents a proportion of Microsoft’s web traffic based on a variety of non-branded search terms. The data allows us to identify the performance of a variety of search terms relating to its product offerings.
Looking at the results of the non-branded search traffic, it is clear to see Microsoft relies heavily on branded search traffic relating to its product range, rather than focusing its efforts on non-branded keywords. Rather surprisingly, it appears Microsoft have a significant amount of work to do in this area if they wish to gain a competitive advantage.
Microsoft Paid Search
Microsoft take advantage of an extensive Google AdWords campaign, targeting both branded and non-branded keyword search terms. This approach allows Microsoft to capture both user behaviour data and maximise outreach i.e. organic listings and paid advertising users.
The paid adverts for branded search results includes Google’s recent addition to PPC adverts, displaying site links in the advert. This allows for six additional links under the main PPC ad allowing users to access deeper content of the site.
The non-branded PPC campaign for Microsoft appears to be setup to target popular, specialist keyword phrases, such as ‘cloud services’ and ‘office software’ whereby the user cannot source a free download of the software rather than less specialist terms such as ‘web browser’. Microsoft clearly adopts this strategy with the firm understanding that implementing this tactic targets the customer at a later stage of the purchasing cycle and may potentially increase the likelihood of a sale through the Microsoft store.
What influences organic search for Microsoft?
The structure of the Microsoft site has been well-designed with the customer in mind. As we are well aware, site architecture and design is a key feature in converting speculative users to purchase a product. For a more in depth overview of site architecture, read our post on Pets at Home SEO.
Relevant, branded keyword terms are well utilised throughout the site predominantly forming the anchor text to the individual software product or service pages. As we have discovered, Microsoft appears to focus on branded keywords rather than non-branded and this becomes more apparent when exploring the site content and design.
Another factor affecting organic search is the meta description attached to the site pages. Although the description may not be particularly important in terms of search engine rankings, they are vital in attracting the user onto the site from the returned search engine results. We can clearly identify the targeted set of non-branded keywords from the page title and meta description used by Microsoft below:
Microsoft: Calls to action
As with any well designed ecommerce site, the call to action ideally is placed in the most prominent position, displaying the latest product offer. This approach eases the customer journey and provides the relevant content the user is looking for, increasing the likelihood of a product purchase.
www.microsoft.com is a brilliant example of well-designed content with multiple calls to action, allowing simple navigation to deeper level pages from the homepage. Rather than using a front-facing sitemap or complex navigation structure, a simple right-hand navigation menu has been placed on the homepage allowing single-click access to the four main sectors of the product range.
The Microsoft site is a clearly structured, user-facing website with multiple objectives in terms of delivering product information and the ability to purchase or download a range of software solutions, full software support and a range of other services surrounding the product range. The organic and PPC approach focuses predominantly on informed, specialist keyword terms or brand-related queries. This allows Microsoft to focus primarily on the customer willing to purchase the product or seek further support through the Microsoft site rather than seeking an alternative software platform.
The site is structured in a way that the user is able to quickly navigate to the specific area of the website they require, rather than being embedded in a long list of links or other untidy content. As discussed in the calls to action section of this case study, the right-hand navigation menu has been placed on the homepage allowing access to the four main sectors of the product range, reinforcing this approach. To find out more about heat maps and website layout please refer to the previous Superbreak SEO case study for further information.
As expected with a renowned, global brand such as Microsoft, the site performs superbly in terms of branded keywords and is complemented by a whole series of advertising to increase the level of brand awareness. Looking more closely at the search hierarchy, the site receives less branded search terms when compared to the like of Apple and HP. Although there is an opportunity for Microsoft to focus more attention on the non-branded keyword terms, as outlined in the non-branded research data, however it appears branded queries are the focus primarily.