Black SocksBefore reading too much into the title, please make note that this article pertains to the paid search engine marketing practices of Amazon and Zappos.

While getting dressed this past Monday, I found that through general laziness toward laundry and a hectic travel schedule, I was left with one pair of dress socks.  These socks were getting old, and had sprouted a few holes in them through everyday wear and tear.

For most normal people, there is a clear solution; go to the store and buy new socks.   I wish it were that easy for me. The truth is that I live in the frigid state of Minnesota, and the cold weather conditions have lead me to despise shopping in "brick and mortar" anytime during our cold season, which generally runs from October to May.

Even if I were to put on my parka and trek to my local department store to purchase some socks, the truth is that they wouldn't be able to accommodate my huge feet.  I wear a size 13 shoe, which is the largest sized shoe that is commonly found in US stores (you can sometimes stumble into a size 14, but it's rare).  Any bigger and you need to special order your shoes from a catalog or online.

For some reason socks work differently.  They are carried in a single size that covers all feet shoes sized 6-12, and stores rarely carry anything larger; especially when it comes to dress socks.  Throughout the years I have become accustomed to just dealing with this fact and I just wear smaller socks and pull really hard to get them on my feet.  This often results in ripped socks with lots of holes, which leads back to my recent experience.

I decided to try to find socks online, assuming that there are plenty of sock options available on the web.  I went to my old friend Google seeking a solution to my sock problem.  Knowing that specific queries will yield me the best results, I searched for "size 13 black dress socks"

Desperately Seeking Dress Socks

From the sponsored results, I can clearly see that Amazon and Zappos offer socks in my size - perfect!  All I need to do is click through and purchase and I can get back to work, right?

Not exactly.  Only one of these e-tailers got it right.

Zappos Frustrates Me, Loses Sale

Hey Zappos, Where is the size 13?

When I click through on the Zappos ad, I am brought to the above page (click to view larger image), and I'm immediately lost.  What do I do?  Where do I go?  How do I find size 13 socks?

Should I use their internal search engine to find size 13 socks?  Wait, I just used a search engine to get to this site so I am not going to waste my time searching again.   I think I should leave to see what Amazon has for socks.

They say it takes 8 seconds for someone to form an opinion of your site and find what they need.  It took me half of that time to go back to Google.

In the immortal words of Bryan Eisenberg there was no "scent trail" and as a result, Zappos lost me.  Other than seeing the word "Socks," there is no correlation between this landing page and my search query.   You lost me and wasted click fees on me.

I am guessing that Zappos has a very low conversion rate for their portfolio of keywords pertaining to "size 13 socks"

Amazon Knows My Needs!

Amazon Knows Socks

When I click through on Amazon, they clearly understood the intention of my query by dropping me off on a page of size 13 socks.   The page itself is actually a search results page from their internal search engine, which is a clever way of ensuring the relevancy to my query.   The only thing that they could have done better is to recognize the color "black" in my query... but that is something I can easily refine.

Nice work Amazon - the price you paid for this click is well spent and I will purchase from you.

The Key Takeaway: Relevance is EVERYTHING

It's easy to focus on technology platforms for e-commerce, landing page tests, conversion rate optimization, bid optimization, quality scores and all of the other fundamentals that go into increasing the paid search results delivered by your website;  I concentrate on them every day as well.

With that said, it's equally important to realize that none of that matters if you are not relevant to the needs of your visitors and potential customers.

This is why Amazon is constantly winning in online retail.  I'm guessing that this is also why they eventually bought Zappos earlier this year; to apply their methodology and deep understanding to better serve their set of customers.

How can you apply this to your paid search campaigns?  Easy; put yourself in the head of your potential customers.  Get to know what they are looking for, what makes them more likely to purchase from you.

Align your site, search and content to their needs, and your results will improve dramatically!

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