Category Archives: Search Engine Marketing

Ways to fulfill the 1-to-1 Future’s ideal, where customers “advertise” their interest for products and services precisely when they’re ready to consider a purchase

Why the debate about in-house SEM vs outsourced work clouds an important issue

This morning, MediaPost featured “The Great (And Completely Ridiculous) ‘In-house vs. Outsourced SEM’ Debate,” by Dave Pasternack (registration to MediaPost is required). The piece begins with Pasternack asserting that in his 10 years in the business, “I’ve never, not once, seen a search campaign created by an in-house team outperform one crafted by a competent SEM [search engine marketing] agency.”

I trust that what he says is his experience, although at least one other in the comments reports differing results. Also in the comments, David Berkowitz found some of Dave’s arguments to be as “spurious” as the premise itself (Hark! Do I hear you composing your own post on the subject, David?).

I’m letting that discussion continue without adding to the din.

But my opinion is that the debate itself — in-house versus outsourced SEM — clouds the true secret to optimum ROI: Working together, in-house and agency pros are more likely to get a campaign that really hits one out of the park.

No one understands the subject domain as well as those who live and breathe it. And successful SEM requires content that uses this knowledge. Customer-focused internal SEM pros can add a level of richness to an SEM campaign that no outside agency can match.

SEM Is More Similar Than Different Across Industries

So what’s the problem with most “pure-play” internal SEM work? It’s a question of experience. When someone is handling multiple campaigns for many different types of clients, the similarities and synergies become apparent. Knowledge has a way of “cross-pollinating” between campaigns and clients. That’s a huge advantage. Also, this level of activity forces a heightened level of process that is just too difficult to match in an internal campaign.

As with most black-and-white debates, this one distracts from the benefits of a middle ground.

In every industry, and in every business category, there are those brands that lead the way in SEM. For the majority of these market leaders, I would be shocked if there wasn’t a smart blend of internal and outsourced efforts and expertise at work.

Both sides of the desk have something superior to bring to an SEM campaign. I suggest we SEM agencies work harder to remember this, and to promote this important truth.

Add your own Twitter tactics and resources to this valuable list

Marketing Sherpa ran an interesting piece on Friday on all things Twitter (thanks for the head’s up, Kevin). Its headline, Get Famous Using Twitter to Market Your Company & Yourself, is a tad grandiose, but the content is some of the densest I’ve read in terms of valuable ideas per word. Especially for marketers new to the medium, it’s an excellent overview and how-to.

What the post left unsaid is the bad news: It’s still difficult-to-impossible to measure real ROI for a Twitter effort. That said, from an SEO and customer service perspective, Twitter is a great tool.

Primarily, Twitter is a terrific way to measure the pulse of consumer sentiment — both cheaply and in real time.

One tool mentioned that was news to me was this one: Twitter Volume, a way to “compare how often different brands/companies/words/phrases are mentioned on Twitter.”

Conversely, a tool I love that wasn’t mentioned is this high-quality search of Tweets: The volume of Tweets returned is among the highest I’ve seen and the recency of the Tweets is also excellent.

Any favorite Twitter-related tactics or tools that weren’t mentioned here, or in the Sherpa piece? Let me know.

Real world lessons in social media marketing (SMM)

There are many conferences in a year I wish I could attend, but few lately seem as valuable as the latest Search Media Expo (SMX). (Don’t you agree, Erin?).

Then sometimes you get lucky, and stumble across a fellow student’s “really good notes” from the “lecture” you missed. Take for example a post on social media marketing (SMM) by Scott Clark. Here are a few favorites:

  • SMM cannot be sold as a one-off service or “by the campaign.” Too many external variables mean you have to execute many campaigns over time to hedge your bets. To sell as a one-off service is to invite failure and client ill-will.
  • Explaining SMM to clients is going to be very, very difficult. But those who have an inherent curiosity and willingness to participate will earn a strong competitive advantage.
  • To succeed in social network marketing, plugged-in individuals who know the “tribe’s habits” will win. 20-year PR veterans need not apply if they are still in the mindset of the press release or are unwilling to spend time participating before promoting. Plenty of people have got in trouble.
  • There are a lot of really smart people in SMM. Compared to other forms of marketing, the growth and opportunity aligns with trends towards authenticity, word-of-mouth, and making up for short consumer attention spans.
  • SEO/SMM are joined at the hip for many things and a link building effort can stack up dozens if not hundreds of authority links — but direct-click traffic itself, independent of the SEO/link advantages, can be significant.

For all the reasons above, this one is my favorite. He states that for the most part, “Advertising agencies don’t get it.” Got it.

Thanks, Scott, for summarizing so well.

Making things up as you go, and why I love my job

When I speak to groups of college students, I can’t help sounding a little frenetic. Concepts and cases spill out of my mouth, and I never fail to leave the classroom elated. Just as surely, a few audience members appear — as they file out — to be feeling the same way. (It could simply be because I stopped yammering!)

I try to wrap up each presentation, whether it’s on database marketing, or web marketing, or new media, with a story from my childhood. A topic that fascinated me was the advent of television. I would read the memoirs of TV pioneers. (My favorite was Dick Cavett’s. He continues to spin great yarns in his blog. A notable recent blog was on his encounters with William F Buckley, Jr., on the screen and off.)

Back when Cavett was a struggling comedy writer, he suddenly found himself replacing Jack Parr on the fledgling Tonight Show, which topped the ratings in its time slot as the first nationally-broadcast talk show. The rest is history. It is also history steeped in the possibilities of a humming, glowing box that was new to households everywhere.

I tell the students how fortunate they are to be born in a time when other revolutionary technologies are emerging (which, together, become a sort of digital connectedness). They, and I, are part of a exciting adventure. This came to mind as I read this, by MediaPost’s Search Insider columnist Gord Hotchkiss (registration required):

We’re building a new world up as we go. More correctly, a new world is emerging organically from the efforts and thoughts of millions of people. It’s a world defined in an ethereal middle space, a world of mind-spawned musings and accomplishments, shared and propelled one packet at a time. We’re not discovering anything, we’re building something entirely new. At any given moment, hundreds of millions of us are making it up as we go along. It’s a Darwinian experiment on a grand, grand scale.

Can you describe to me a better job than being a part of that?

Follow-through is crucial to higher search conversion rates

Yesterday I sent a results report to a client for a pay-per-click (PPC) search  lead generation campaign that my team managed. It showed a performance that was five times higher, in terms of cost-per-lead, than a traditional direct mail campaign. That’s pretty cool. But as I sent the report, I was reminded of this recent report from eMarketer:

eMarketer summary of favored direct response media

It shows how a majority of marketers favor direct mail for lead generation versus search marketing. Scott Brinker was rightly puzzled by this, in a recent post. I agree with Scott that a chief reason for this strong preference for direct mail over search engine marketing (34% versus 8%), when it comes to customer acquisition, is the difficulty many marketers face in getting search prospects to convert.

Indeed, if the lead acquisition campaign my team was leading was instead a customer acquisition campaign, the results would likely have been closer to a dead heat with direct mail in terms of ROI.

But what does that mean? Just that we’re not trying hard enough. As marketers, I feel we cannot allow so many opportunities for conversion to click away from landing pages. There are many tested techniques for improving conversions (new offers, testimonials, guarantees, Web 2.0 landing page design). There are also spectacular new tools to do multivariate testing of these techniques.

Let’s take direct mail for what it should be. It is (usually) the customer acquisition benchmark. Now let’s shift more resources online, but apply them where it really counts: To create campaigns that actually surpass the mail in delivering a strong ROI.

Survey of marketing tech types finds ROI strongest for search and internal email tactics

A recent survey has shed light on what one breed of marketing professionals are perceiving as good bets in terms of measurable return on investment (ROI). The tactic leading the pack is email, sent to an internal — or “house” — list. This is hardly surprising, since it is a relatively low-cost way to announce new products and deals to customers and prospects. What is more interested is seeing how both organic search marketing (i.e., search engine optimization) and pay-per-click (PPC) search marketing are viewed by these same executives compared to other tactics. Here is the full run-down:

Perceived ROI by tactic, from 3,000+ search marketing pros

Considering the search-centric executives surveyed (these were 3,186 “in-house search marketers or agency executives,” as reported in‘s ROI for Select Marketing Tactics according to US Search Marketers), it’s not surprising both are regarded highly. Both are deemed as “Good” investments in respect to the return they typically provide by one out of every three respondents, and another third (34% total) considered one of these two tactics “Strongest” in terms of ROI.

This would be a glowing assessment of search when compared with other tactics, if only PPC weren’t also deemed as “highly variable” by 28% of respondents. Considering how much control one has on the risks and rewards of PPC, this makes me wonder if that measurement isn’t the voice of a minority who either hasn’t conducted a PPC campaign or hasn’t done it properly.

The booby prize goes to online advertising (“banners, etc.”), deemed “Low Value” by 43% of the group. With opinions of online ads being this negative, is it any wonder ad networks are scrambling to sweeten the kitty with more behaviorally-focused targeting?

What is your response to these numbers?

Research confirms it: Folks are less likely to consider a brand they don’t find in search results pages

The revelation that you risk losing business if prospects don’t find you in search results is just one of the conclusions from a newly-released research study from Enquiro (registration required). This report is packed with valuable insights. Here’s another: When a major brand (Honda) appeared as one of the top paid listings, as well as the top organic search engine result, the lift in brand recall was huge — 220%. As the graphic shows, this was compared to no organic result and a less prominent side ad. In addition, the lift in recall of this dual placement, when compared to a top organic listing alone, was still impressive — roughly 70%.

When brand is in the top ad AND the top organic listing, the lift more than doubles

Clearly, if you can sponsor a pricier ad that runs across the top of the search engine results page, go for it. This ad unit is far more effective than a side unit. Its brand recognition power in this study was equal to the top organic listing alone. That’s huge.

Brand recall is important, but what about intent to consider a purchase?

An ad / organic combination can also boost intent. For the Honda brand, when a non-branded phrase (“fuel efficient cars”) was searched upon, and the pairing of top ad and top organic results was encountered, an average 8% lift in intent was observed. Specifically, what was measured was an intention to include the brand in this person’s consideration set. This is no idle assurance, because all 2,744 participants in the study said they were considering buying a new car within the year.

A corresponding eye tracking study showed that this increased intent was mirrored by a significant bump in the time spent looking at both the sponsored and organic links for the brand.

Advertise On Brand Keywords — Even When You Show Up Organically

Now consider the graphic below. Even those who did a branded search (i.e., included a brand in their search query) were 7% more likely to consider purchasing that brand when an ad for it appeared above the brand’s top organic listing. At least, that’s the case when the brand in question is Honda.

Validation that you should advertise on your brand’s keywords

This is valuable validation. Other research, most notably from Nielsen Reelresearch, has shown a similar improvement in actually clicks to a site when an organic result and an ad are paired. But it’s hard to spend money on clicks from a paid ad when you have the top organic result for that keyword phrase.

Say What Counts In Your Text Ad’s Headline and Web Address

The eye generally overlooks the body copy, focusing on the text ad’s headline and web addressA final noteworthy finding is based on eye tracking “heat maps” of how consumers read these paid search ads. As the graphic to the right shows, the descriptive copy that follows the headline and precedes the URL barely gets a glance — at least for the typical results page viewer. (Click on the graphic for a zoomed-in view of the heat map.)

Further research would be helpful. For instance, how do heat maps differ for those who have clicked on the ad versus those who merely looked it over?

Nonetheless, this research is terrific evidence of the power of paid search, and how best to harness it.

The power of nuance and why words really do matter on the web

When redesigning a site for a client, our team works hard to get sign-off on improving content quality — especially the language used. Getting this level of influence is often a challenge. Large sites usually have many content “owners.” In our experience, few of these domain experts are also experts in optimizing online content, either for readers or search engines. These folks can underestimate the importance of nuance to the success of their content.

Frankly, I don’t blame them.

Until the advent of the Content Interest Index, there really hasn’t been a way for content managers to gauge success. The best they had were more global, site-wide metrics.

NOTE: This Tools + Tips post on GrokDotCom provides an excellent run-down of some existing engagement metrics for overall site performance.

In other words, in the well-worn words of Tom Peters, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Without measurements showing the effect that content quality has on readers, many domain experts overlook the power they wield.

This is unfortunate. I’ve seen small content changes make impressive differences in response. Here is a quote from the web site of Thom Pharmakis that sums it up well:

I own a decades-old Italian car that is so highly strung, the valve clearances need to be checked every 3,100 miles … just .001 inch out-of-tolerance will cause a discernible lag in performance. Selling copy is that sensitive. Every word, every paragraph space, the placement of every comma or ellipsis or dash is meticulously considered. Little alterations have drastic effects. Which makes the difference between blistering performance … and sitting stranded by the side of the road.

Here, here.

Another Way by Thom Pharmakis

As a side note, it takes more than a phenomenally gifted writer to score a bulls-eye on the web. Thom’s statement is displayed on his site as nothing but a graphic (shown above, and found on his site). That means his wonderful metaphor is impossible for search engines to read and index.

Even when your audience is non-human — and is in this case a search engine robot — it’s not so much what you say but how you say it!

BarCamp Milwaukee reflects the wealth of talent and intellect in my city of choice

This afternoon I attended Milwaukee’s second annual BarCamp, which is about a lot of other things, but is primarily smart and creative technologists coming out to play. (The tag clouds below are from the BarCamp Milwaukee site, where attendees are asked to state their interests in the same way that presentations / activities are given relevant keywords.)

BarCamp TagsIt was stimulating to experience the free-form workshops, and exciting to imagine what this event will grow into with a few more years of publicity and support.

As I write this late on a Saturday night, the events are still taking place. BarCamp runs non-stop through tonight and into Sunday afternoon. When I return to give my presentation at 10 AM tomorrow, it will be interesting to see the level of wakefulness of my audience.

Under the influence of seminars on topics like improving streaming video and using Ruby On Rails to build better sites, I couldn’t let the night go by without doing at least one software change to improve Digital Solid. It’s nothing you can see, but I’ve removed the nofollow attributes that appear in links with the comments that people leave.

Thank you Douglas Karr of The Marketing Technology Blog for this important search-engine-related modification to WordPress blogs (like this one). Doug, I owe you a lot. You’ve given me the strength to face a roomful of mostly developers tomorrow morning, safe in the knowledge that I too can hack code — okay, when given simple and explicit directions!

Boost web conversions by greeting search engine visitors with unique content

How often do you come across an account of the same new, breakthrough idea from two different sources within 24 hours? That happened to me this weekend, and even if I had just seen it once I would have found the idea extraordinary. First, I read how Offermatica provides a content management solution that helps with multivariate testing of offers and copy. From what is learned, customized content can be delivered in real-time, based on behaviors. Offermatica CEO Matt Roche describes a novel application of this tool in a MediaPost blog interview:

[With the client site,] when someone comes to the home page [from a search engine] we know nothing about them, so they get the home page. What if we repeat the keyword that they searched on to get there, just show similar information? That increased the conversions. We repeat your keyword so you have a connection. Then we install affinity targeting that says when you go to the drums section and come back to the home page it will show you more drum offers. It increased the conversion rate in double digits on all the categories where we did category affinity.

The emphasis was my own. Double digit conversions?!? What a great trick.

Then I read Todd Friesen’s piece describing the same technique, in the July, 2007, print edition of Online Media, Marketing and Advertising (OMMA — and yes, it’s also a MediaPost publication). Phrased a different way, it suggests the same brilliant strategy:

… Did you ever notice how most brand traffic lands on your home page? Even product terms that contain branded verbiage often get a home page ranking ahead of a product page. Most home pages are pretty generic and usually run creative speaking to a straight brand message or weekly deal. How do you refine that on the fly to positively impact conversion? With a good multivariate tool, it’s relatively simple.

Some tools have the ability to recognize a search engine referral and identify the search term to define the creative displayed in the marketing modules on the home page. SEO managers then populate the “hero image” with a product related to the search and then load the complimentary products into the secondary marketing modules.

It is standard practice to do something like this with pay-per-click ads. We create customized landing pages that repeat the keyword phrase used in the search. This idea extends that landing page mentality to organic search results.

There is conjecture that the radio was invented in several places around the world at the same time. I suspect there will be similar arguments as to whom originated this simple and elegant way to improve the user experience for people arriving from search engines. All I can say is, I’ll glad I learned about it at all, so I can begin testing it with some of my clients.

Any readers who are already using this technique?

Why the best landing page is no landing page at all

If the term “devil’s advocate” didn’t already exist, it would need to be invented to describe Ron, my esteemed — and admittedly cranky — colleague to the east. In my last post I wrote that a landing page is an extension of the ad(s) pointing to it. He called me on it, and in doing so reminded me that not everyone shares this perception. Here’s my clarification, Ron. Thanks for keeping me on my toes.

I’ll explain why it is true that a land page is an extension of its referring ad, but also, the landing page should ideally be planned well before any type of ad is ever constructed.

And finally, I’ll explain why, as the title of this states, the best landing page is no page whatsoever.

So what do I mean when I say the landing page should be built first? Frankly, the entire process should be built backwards. It should start with the objective — namely, the action you want your audience to take. Desired actions can include the following:

  • Subscribe to an e-newsletter
  • Register to download a whitepaper
  • Commit to a purchase

Thus, each landing page should have a call to action. What’s the ideal number of calls-to-action per landing page? Exactly one. Any more can diffuse the power of the page.

All efforts should focus on qualifying the prospect and leading that person to a speedy “close.” Although you won’t be able to close every interaction — or even most interactions — your goal is always to maximize the close rate.

My friend Ron used the analogy of a car dealership that serves customers who arrive thanks to an ad. As a way to test my assertion, he said this makes the dealership “an extension of the ad.”

Not quite, because, as he muses later in the comment, entering the dealership “marks the transition from advertising to selling.” The dealership is not an extension of the newspaper ad (let’s say) because the ad already elicited the desired commitment. It brought in the consumer. Mission accomplished.

But this got me thinking: What if the car dealership ad appeared on a web page instead of on newsprint, or in the pages of a magazine? Actually, little changes. If its objective is to simply get someone to come into a dealership (not usually the case in online automotive ads), I could imagine an interstitial or rich-media web ad that provides enough information to get a commitment without ever clicking through to a landing page.

Here’s what I mean by a rich media ad. It’s a fun ad for the Nissan Quest. This one, like most, sends folks to a microsite. But if all you want is to cause a visit to a dealership, I could see a rich media ad that asks for a zip code and returns the nearest dealership information — perhaps even offering a map and driving instructions. This would all be done within the ad, on the web page where the ad appears.

In this way, like its print counterpart, the online ad gets the commitment with the least amount of “friction” by never referring to a landing page at all.

In a perfect world, all banner ads would work this hard. But because most calls-to-action need more information delivered before a commitment can be generated, the friction of landing pages (and yes, also microsites) are necessary. They are essential extensions of online ads.