There’s no arguing that setting up a paid search campaign on Google, Yahoo, MSN or any number of second tier search engines (e.g., Ask.com, Business.com, etc.) is a great way to test the waters with online advertising.
Paid search campaigns can be up and running in less than a week (assuming you have your keyword list and ad copy ready to go), they cost very little to deploy if you’re managing them internally and you can start with a very small budget (unlike other media channels that have minimum spends for a fixed ad buy – magazine insertions, for example.)
Considering this, is it any wonder that paid search spending has grown 26% from 2005 to 2006 and eMarketer predicts search spending will reach 10 billion by 2009?
But if you’re new to search marketing, or if your company has just begun to truly invest in this very response-driven form of media, then you may be in for a surprise when the results of your campaign are not what you expected.
The disillusionment of search
I’ve seen it happen again again. Advertisers have some initial success with their search campaign so they increase their budget, expand their venues beyond Google or Yahoo and triple their keyword list only to find that they are now paying more for the same or, quite often, less traffic, leads and sales. Why does this happen? Who is at fault? Well, probably you.
Search campaigns are like snowflakes – each one uniquely different due to a dizzying array of variables that range from the precise keyword list to the number of ad groups right down to the landing page or pages.
However, when search campaigns fail it’s generally easy to pin point the same handful of problems regardless of how the campaign is set up or what keywords you’re bidding on.
Unrealistic expectations. Search marketing is a wonderful thing and when it works it REALLY works. But search is not magic. Say it with me, folks – “search is not magic!” If someone clicks on your search ad and gets to your web site, don’t pat yourself on the back yet. It’s way too early to celebrate. If this certain someone clicks on your ad and leaves your web site without converting in some way, then you have failed. (ok, group hug and let’s move on). If you expect your tiny 95 character Google ad to do ALL the work for you, then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. You need to have an actual marketing strategy in place that considers lots of things from landing page layout to ongoing customer relationship management.
Increasing competition. You’ve probably just discovered that search marketing is an excellent event-driven marketing tool that you can ramp up quickly to coincide with many things such as a Mother’s Day Sale or a trade show where you’re exhibiting. You may have also realized that search is an excellent sustainable source of traffic, leads and/or sales. And guess what? So has everyone else. This means that the cost per click for your keywords is rising, particularly for highly competitive categories. A higher cost per click means a higher cost per acquisition. Do the math before raising the bid.
Poor campaign measurement. This one would seem to be a no brainer, but it plagues the search industry like the ever-present common cold. If you are putting most or all of your marketing dollars into search – and that could mean thousands per day or week for some companies, then you absolutely need to measure the results properly or YOU WILL FAIL. This can be a problem if you don’t close a sale directly from your web site, but rely on a sales team to actually seal the deal. ComScore reports that 60 to 90 percent of search-generated leads convert offline. There are companies such as eStara and Liveperson.com that provide tools for tracking click-to-call conversions from search and other online marketing initiatives. Understanding what terms actually convert is the best way to optimize your search campaign because it means you can ditch terms that cost you money without converting. It’s really that simple.
Poor landing pages. If you’re not creating landing pages with specific goals in mind, then you’re doing search wrong. All landing pages are NOT created equal. If you want people to register so you can send them e-mails and marketing messages, then your landing page should look different than someone who wants people to buy a product. Likewise, if you’re selling a service or nontangible goods like hosting or a music subscription (e.g., Vonage, GoDaddy, Rhapsody.com), then your landing page should be created with that goal in mind.
Search Marketing in a Vacuum. In very few instances, a search campaign can contribute sustainable leads or sales on a consistent basis without the cost going up. But for most advertisers, search will grow increasingly expensive and sales, leads or traffic will fluctuate from month to month. That’s why it’s important to develop a complete marketing strategy that goes above and beyond search. To make your search dollars work harder for you, make sure you have an arsenal of marketing tactics to support the campaign. E-mail marketing, blogs, press releases and articles are just a few examples of how you can mix it up a little without breaking the bank.
Search marketing is not as straightforward as it seems. When setting expectations for how your campaign should perform, keep the above in mind and try to not to get too stressed out. After all, it’s only media!