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Monday, Jul. 19, 2010 at 11:59 am

The Fast Way to Optimize Your Site for Scent

By Brendan Regan
July 19th, 2010

The “scent of information” is an important concept for anyone who wants to optimize their online conversion rate. It’s important enough that we’ve been writing about scent on this blog since at least 2006! We recognize, however, that optimizing for scent isn’t easy to do. It involves web analytics data, psychology, copywriting, and web design at a bare minimum. But, the payoff can be huge in terms of more sales, more leads, or more subscriptions from those who come to your site via search.

Today’s post will show you a quick, step-by-step method to use Google Analytics data to prioritize which pages need ‘scent optimization’ the most, and what data you can use to get started.

Step 1 – Segment by most popular traffic source

1trafficSourcesYou may already know this piece of data from your day-to-day marketing work, but if you don’t know, this is a quick way to get to the important business data you need. We need to prioritize 3 pages on your site that need scent optimization. So, go to your “Traffic Sources Overview” report. Find your top source of search traffic; the one that brings you the most prospective customers. Note in the example [click to enlarge] that 78.68% of traffic comes from “search.” That’s great, but we need to know what kind of search, so scan further down to learn that 54.06% of traffic comes from Google organic. It’s not a huge majority, but it’s far more than paid search traffic in this example.

1segmentByNext, pop open the “Advanced Segments” box, select “Non-Paid Search Traffic,” and click the “Apply” button. Now all your reports are going to show data JUST for those who entered via organic search.

Step 2 – Top landing pages

1topLandingPgsNow that you’ve segmented by the most important traffic source, open the “Top Landing Pages” report under the Content section. It is now showing you the top landing pages for those who entered via organic search. Pick the top one and click down to the “Content Detail” by clicking on the URI.

1entranceKeywordsNext, click the “Entrance Keywords” link for this top landing page, and you’ll end up in the Entrance Keywords report for a particular page with a particular segment applied. This is where analytics gets fun! Capture the top 3 entrance keywords for that page for later analysis. Note in the screenshot that there are 344 Entrance Keywords for this top landing page. Now, you understand why prioritizing the top 3 keywords by traffic is important! Can you imagine a landing page that was scent optimized for over 300 keywords? It would NOT be a user-friendly or persuasive experience.

Repeat this process until you’ve documented your top landing landing pages for your top search traffic source, and the top 3 entrance keywords for each one. Your list might look something like this:


k1: “red roses”

k2: “red flower gifts”

k3: “red carnations”


k1: “decorative gift baskets”

k2: “candy gift baskets”

k3: “birthday gift baskets”


k1: “rare orchids for sale”

k2: “orchids”

k3: “give a gift orchid”

Step 3 – Analyze site pages

Take your document with your top 3 landing pages and top 9 entrance keywords, and head to your website for some advanced analysis for scent. Open the first page, screenshot it, print it out, whatever. Look for the top 3 entrance keywords on the page, and ask these questions: Are they on the page? How many times? Where? Are all 3 on the page? Are the keywords bolded or highlighted? Are they in the “F-pattern” eyepath that prospects’ eyes follow when they land on this page? Are they reinforced with graphics, audio, or video? Does the copywriting make the entrance keywords the “stars” of the page?

Depending on the answers to these types of questions, you might decide you can optimize your conversion rate for these keywords by mentioning them in headlines, bolding them in the body copy, adding them to calls to action, etc. Or, you may decide that you need to create a new, more focused landing page to search engine optimize for just 1 or 2 of the keywords. Above all, put yourself in the prospect’s shoes, pretend you’re searching for what their entrance keyword indicates, imagine clicking on a search engine to land on your page, and try to see what they see as they sniff for scent on your pages.

Repeat the same process for the other top landing pages. Get copywriters, SEO specialists, and designers involved, too. You’ll end up optimizing for the “majority” without wasting time/resources/money on the “minority” of site traffic.

And, you can always go back and do additional rounds of this exercise (e.g. top landing pages numbers 4-6) later when you have more time to invest.


You can also apply this method to your PPC ad copy, destination URLs, page titles, meta descriptions, and more. Once you have the data that’s important, you can leverage it knowing you’ll get a good return on the time and effort invested.

And, if you are really excited about this type of conversion rate optimization process, but simply don’t have the time or resources to execute it for your site, don’t be shy. Give us a call at (877) 643-7244 and please mention that you read this post.

Add Your Comments

Comments (63)

  1. This is the first I’ve heard of Scent. It is very interesting, can’t believe I havn’t stumbled upon it before.

  2. [...] you use Google Analytics, read this post for optimizing your site for scent and you’ll get a better idea of what it’s all about. You’ll also get a practical, [...]

  3. Thanks for this great tutorial. Advanced segmentation has stared at me a long time and yet I never really used it. Yours is a great tutorial with a real world practical application.

  4. Hi Brendan. Great tutorial. Very simple to follow and using this method, I can optimize my landing pages much better now. It’s such a simple concept, but I’ve never actually done it using advanced segments, so thanks.

  5. Have been using tips such as this post from your blog over the last two years and our income only continues to increase. Thanks for the wonderful insights.

  6. It could also be useful to compare the entrance keywords for those landing pages to the keywords they were originally optimized for (presuming they were optimized). In theory, if the original SEO work was done well, they should be close. If they’re not, perhaps the page should be better optimized for the originally targeted keywords, then new landing pages set up, optimized for these new entrance keywords.

  7. A really useful and detailed tutorial regarding scent. It needs much work and analization but the end result is worth it. I agree in putting yourself in customer’s shoes, this is the best way to know what your customers want and need.

  8. It’s interesting you should write about this as you never really see bloggers share this kind of information.

    I have been using the “scent method” or “breadcrumbs method” for a while, feeding a little information to the user, just enough to interest them.

  9. Is this information useful for those who are using text link ads instead of PPC systems, or simply are trying to get more attention/traffic?

  10. Good tips, I have being working on our site, I was going to optimize all the pages but I see that I already for 3 or 4 of them getting ranks so I might concentrate on them.

  11. A very useful lesson for sure. The part that stood out most for me was your quote “Above all, put yourself in the prospect’s shoes”. If we all remembered that it would save a lot time and frustration. Thanks You.

  12. So that procedure is called “Scent”? Then I learned something new. Now I agree that this procedure is something that everyone should do but I do feel that it is important to also remember what you have planned to make the page rank for. It would be a shame to adjust the page to keywords that don’t carry the full potential of what you originally aimed for.

  13. Nice name for it and good example. Do agree with the comment from Mikael though that you have to cross check with the orginal phrase(s) the page was optimised for. Both in terms of organic search or if it’s a PPC landing page. Don’t want to reduce the quality score.

  14. Great article, as a web designer site optimisation is a very important part of the whole website package, being able to concentrate on the pages that need extra work will be very useful.

  15. [...] Optimize Your Site for “Scent”- make sure visitors actually find what they were looking for once they get to your website [...]

  16. Xerox Parc first described “scent” when describing the parallels between animals’ food gathering techniques in the wild and humans’ information gathering techniques on the web – like seeking information through the “scent” given off by the trigger keywords.

  17. This is a really good article.

    I had never heard of the whole “scent” process…it sounds like it may be useful.

    But really–do you think that optimizing sites using theory like the “F-pattern” eyepath is truly useful?

    I mean–it seems like a lot of work for what may not pay off at all..

    I guess no pain no gain.

  18. [...] a great article. Read it here: addthis_url = [...]

  19. Thanks for this great tutorial. Advanced segmentation has stared at me a long time and yet I never really used it.
    At the end it reflect the profits on a website.

  20. I’ve learned this concept originally from you guys and really loved it.

    However I think there are some cautions here…this is, after all, a PRINCIPLE and not a rule.

    I wrongly assumed once that people from Google might click my adsense ads more because of the ‘scent’, ‘ads by Google’. But I was wrong…people from Yahoo clicked WAY more for some reason.

    Overall, great post. Saw your company speak to several events, you always have the greatest info.

  21. whoa..this post is “Avinash” quality. I love to see insights of how others are using analytics to make data driven decisions. Thinking outside the box for sure.

  22. Wow that’s a wonderful article I have ever read about GA and how to use it for website optimizing. I know the very basics of GA but now I got an idea of how to use these data.


  23. Before I read your article, I had never even heard of “scent optimization” or “scent of information”. You have really opened my eyes to a whole new concept. The closes thing I have ever understood or considered for tracking my website stats, was Google Analytics. Is this something like that? Well, you have me convinced to follow up on the subject.

  24. Is this information useful for those who are using text link ads instead of PPC systems, or simply are trying to get more attention/traffic?

  25. I’ve been using analytics for about half a year now but been kind of neglecting it because I didn’t really know how to utilize all the data and got overwhelmed.

    Reading about your “scent theory” gave me the kick to login again and dust the cobwebs off my analytics and have a thorough look at my site as well.

    Somehow I got a feeling I got loads of work to do …

  26. This was a most intriguing and informative post. I rarely use GA today because it is too cumbersome when compared to Statcounter. I get all this information from there and occasionally compare it with GA info just to make doubly sure of some stuff.
    Everything in business has to be quantifiable and by using several sources, I can feel more confident about what I’m doing.

  27. I have been using tips such as this post from your blog over the last two years and our income only continues to increase. Thanks for the wonderful insights.

  28. Awesome analysis! I know this post talks about conversion, but what if the page was optimized for a phrase that is not bringing the most traffic, i.e. the target phrase is not the one that is bringing the most traffic?

  29. I just want to mention that not always the most visited pages are good for conversion. I have a site that almost all of its visits come from a page that is no at all important and is something that is not directly connected with the site. It was put there as an additional stuff :) .
    What I mean is that if you want to convert about something, the landing page must be for this thing, not for something else ;)
    Nice article by the way ;)

  30. @sam: If you find that a landing page is bringing more traffic for non-target keywords than for target keywords, I’d advise you switch things up. Assuming the non-target keyword still has business value, leave that landing page alone, or optimize it for the non-target keyword. Build and rank a NEW landing page for the original target keyword.

  31. @garrick: I would say “no” because this analysis technique assumes that you’re looking to optimize landing pages for higher conversion, AND that those landing pages have ‘entrance keywords’ that are available via analytics. Text link ads don’t really have ‘entrance keywords,’ do they?

  32. Excellent tutorial, it contains very easy to follow step by step instruction. I printed out the page so that I can use it as a reference since all the knowledge for optimization is there simply laid out.

  33. Scent of information eh? Sounds like the emperor’s new clothes. In order to keep things understandable an easy way of saying this is give people what they want or they’ll bounce. Anyway, thanks for the tute.

  34. Interesting article. Conversion optimisation is often overlooked: there’s no point optimising a site if no one is going to actually purchase, or complete goals, on it.
    However, I think you’ve missed out Google Analytics’ ‘Click Overlay’ and ‘Funnel Analysis’ functionalities, which are both very important towards improving user experience and raising conversion rates.

  35. Hi, whats the reason for you to open this Blog site? Just to spread information about SEO or it helps you to promote your other website or earning from add? Like what I have to do to promote my Perfume online shop?

  36. @Sam Kumar: GrokDotCom is published by the knowledge-thirsty folks at FutureNow and focuses on grokking human reactions to marketing, sales, PR & evolving media.

  37. I think the keywords that you selected (those top 9 keywords) should also be searched on search engine. And one can compare first three pages results with yours to significantly improve the overall results.

  38. Thanks a lot Brendan Regan for this nice tutorial. Do this tutorial based on the data provided by Google Analytics or do you added some tips of your own? Thats the fact to be considered.

  39. I make money in my sites selling Google Ads (Google AdSense). I’ve no control of the types of ads Google put in the pages. This is one big variable I cannot get a handle on. Do you have any Conversion optimisation advice for sites like mine?

  40. @Shipu: Haha, no this is something I dreamed up on my own.

  41. Many thanks to you Regan for sharing the information. Will you please guide us to the source of the data research ?
    Thanks in advance.

  42. @Joe Brown: Not sure what you’re asking for. We developed this method while working with FutureNow clients, so the source of the data was multiple clients’ web analytics accounts. Hope that helps!

  43. I am surprised I never heard of Scent! However, I also think you’ve missed out Google Analytics’ ‘Click Overlay’ and ‘Funnel Analysis’ functionalities. They can also increase better user experience.

  44. Very good tutorial. Somehow I already was using this technique of “scent of information” without knowing exactly its name and details. Now I can look further about this term to improve my technique.

  45. Are they in the “F-pattern” eyepath that prospects’ eyes follow when they land on this page?

    Whats “F-pattern”???

  46. @David – I think they are referring to the traditional reading flow of website visitors.

    Heatmap overlays often are based on this. You can put yours into and get an overlay – and I believe Google has a tool as well.

  47. I’d never heard of scent and when I first read your headline, it was more out of curiosity than anything else that I followed through.
    I’m imagining that this tactic affects the bounce rate, as it helps the people who have already clicked through to “stick”.
    Definitely agree about working on the most significant traffic sector, go for that one first and not worry so much about the scraps.

  48. A really great article. I think the longer we run our sites the more distant we become from “what the customer wants”, we’re so involved that we are no longer in a position to put ourselves in their shoes. This is a really good method for objectively looking at the content on our sites with fresh eyes. Thanks.

  49. Thanks Brendan – this’ll help a lot. One question: I’m trying to optimize my landing page, but am limited in this way: I’ve constructed my homepage (#1 landing page) with one “h1″ header, several product images w/links, all above the fold, with product offering copy below the fold. Does google pay much attention to copy so far down on a page?

  50. @Christopher: I don’t claim to be an SEO expert, but my understanding is that, yes, Google does pay attention to text below the fold. Remember that you can architect your page code so that product offering copy is read earlier by the bots (regardless of how it appears to visitors in their browsers). What are the top 3 entrance keywords for your homepage? Are you featuring them high on the page in things like page title, meta description, h1, images, and links? Remember that “Scent” isn’t just words, it can be imagery, too. If I enter your site via the keyword “umbrellas” and you have a picture of an umbrella above the fold, that’s good Scent!

  51. On page copy value is mostly dictated by proximity, prominence, and placement. After 1000 words it has less impact. Keep it relevant, with plural and synonyms. It’s worth mentioning that on-page optimization resides in the shadows of off-page seo. Especially if your site contains less than 000′s of pages.

  52. I’m getting dizzy from all these settings and reports. How much do you feel can be gained from these things? Am I as a low-lever GA user missing out?

  53. @Daniel: by using Analytics at all, you’re off to a great start. It’s fine to start basic or “low-level,” and work your way to deeper analysis. GA seems to have been designed with this concept in mind. Regarding the technique this post is about, I would say it is “intermediate to advanced.” If you have landing pages with high bounce rates, it is a technique worth exploring because it shouldn’t eat up a huge amount of time.

  54. Is there any justification behind selecting 3 pages rather than 2 or 4 to focus on? Or is the key message quality is better than quantity, and as long as the quanlity is right this is more important than the quantity?

  55. According to me , without optimization , any website has no importance .
    I would say “no” because this analysis technique assumes that you’re looking to optimize landing pages for higher conversion, AND that those landing pages have ‘entrance keywords’ that are available via analytics.

  56. This is a really good article.

    This is the first time I heard the “scent” process…it is really useful.

    It makes me think of the analogy that landing pages are like cheese on a mousetrap. The visitors themselve are the mice.

  57. First time i’ve heard of scent either. I have my own way to optimize my sites, but after reading this, might as well give it a shot. BTW Jerry, i like your analogy :)

  58. really useful stuff – scent process is new to me. will certainly be deploying it. have done some studies into the f-factor – checking eye movement as they flit across a page and that’s certainly added value to our email newsletters

  59. Hi,

    I just stumbled across this again. In all honesty, I can not see the value of this if you don’t have such nicely non-branded keywords. Let’s face it, 90% of organic traffic probably comes from Brand/branded terms (Diet Coke or Coca Cola or 1-800 flowers) rather than the generic ones (high sugar fizzy drink) used in the example used here. If you get a lot of Brand Terms as your main source in then don’t waste your time on this.

    I do however believe that this type of analysis is useful when you either exclude branded terms (you will most likely end up with a minute amount of traffic) or you check some lower contributing traffic sources that simply display a high bounce rate.


  60. [...] post: The Fast Way to Optimize Your Site for Scent | Conversion Rate … Enjoy this post ? Tweet HERE or View original article here StumbleUpon twitter delicious [...]

  61. [...] Improving the information scent on your site will help your visitors find what they want and encourage them to take the steps necessary to get there. [...]

  62. Two years later, I wonder if this “scent” concept has held up. If it has, it probably means that Google’s servers have attained a level of artificial intelligence that makes me a little queasy! ;)

  63. [...] you use Google Analytics, read this post for optimizing your site for scent and you’ll get a better idea of what it’s all about. You’ll also get a practical, [...]

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