Is Your SEM Strategy What You Want or What You Need?

6 comments

It’s was an interesting discussion. I was talking with one of my associates the other day who was explaining to me how he noticed that many clients want what they want more than want what they need.

It was a profound insight considering the growth of search engine marketing and the significant movements of companies shifting larger percentages of their marketing budgets away from traditional media and towards web advertising.

Even more interesting was the timing of the discussion. Earlier that day, I was having a discussion with a potential hire about their search engine marketing experience. The candidate had some decent paid search experience with a large traditional advertising agency where he had handled a few large and well-known brand name clients. He was explaining to me the incredible success he had with the clients’ paid search campaigns and how the clients were really excited with the results. Interested in results, I asked the candidate to explain the details and “incredible” outcomes.

He went on to talk exclusively about generating massive impressions, increasing click-through rates, and driving visitors to the clients’ website. Feeling like he had left something out of his explanation, I asked about the results gained from all of those visitors to the client’s website. “Results? Oh – They weren’t tracking that! It wasn’t the client’s objective – it was a branding campaign.”

Wow – by tying the two events together I finally found the light of day or maybe the dark of night. Many clients want what they want more than want what they need because what they want is based on their current knowledge and habit. Many large companies and ad agencies are used to creating brand advertising using television, radio, and other traditional forms of media so they take the same model and apply it to search engine marketing. But aren’t they missing something?

I think so. I agree with the power of branding. With over 10 years of marketing experience and a MBA, branding has been deeply embedded in my mind. But through over six years of search engine marketing experience and witnessing its significant advantages for real-time tracking. measuring, testing and converting, I think many are applying what they want and causing a huge disconnect with what they really need to grow and flourish using online advertising.

Measuring impressions and click-through rates is definitely important but they only uncover half of the SEM success formula. What about the other half called “engagement?” Certainly a click-through cannot be sincerely considered engagement especially in light of click fraud and happy sport-clickers with no intention of experiencing the brand.

In my opinion, a brand builds equity after it is experienced. For example, I would argue that Starbucks became a powerful brand after engaging each customer in a positive experience – not just once but time and time again. Sure – I agree frequency of exposure helps develop brand recognition and recall and may influence the buying process. But I would argue that an impression to a visitor driven search, where a whole lot of other competitors are listed, or even a search on the brand, does not add any real and measurable value.

Instead I contend that if a company wants to use search engine marketing for branding purposes, it should employ engagement measures beyond the click-through like “time on site” associated with a visitor reading and consuming the brand or a second and deeper click on a specific informational link from a landing page or even a sample/coupon download. I imagine that these measures are better indicators of not only brand exposure but more importantly potential stronger brand recall later in their buying process.

I found a March 2007 study by Chief Marketing Officer Council that stated, “marketing is undergoing substantial changes due to a mandate for CMOs to improve the relevance, accountability and performance of their organization.” A great mandate – so CMOs, how about starting by learning to want what you need from your search engine marketing and start demanding proper measures (around engagement) and results that really matter to the growth of your businesses.

About the Author

Kevin Gold is Director of Internet Marketing at iNET Interactive, a social media company operating prominent online communities for technology professionals and technology enthusiasts. Kevin is a frequent contributing author to multiple publications including Search Marketing Standard, Practical eCommerce, DIRECT, Entrepreneur.com, ConversionChronicles.com, About.com, and On Target (Yahoo! Search Marketing newsletter).

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6 Comments

  1. I must say that this potential hire probably did not understand the end objective of SEM. But in my experience most companies have better metrics in place. Rishi

  2. Its so easy to spend money on CPC and "get" results. The next question I would have asked was "what has been done about the organic search results" - I find so many times that these have not been properly looked after. I hear that - Organics take to much time, its such an inexact science... far easier to just spend the money on clicks and see the impressions and clicks. Yet in my experience, the long term returns from organics done alongside the quick fix of cpc is a far better mix. Included of course the tracking as you highlight.

  3. I agree Michael. This might be one reason why retailers find only 2-4% of visitors to their sites convert! organic search has much better return rates. Rishi

  4. I agree with the combination of organic and paid. Organic delivers far higher visitor volumes (I assume) due to its higher perceived level of searcher relevance. However, a WebSideStory study based on eight months of data from B2C e-commerce sites stated, "paid search terms on engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN had a median conversion rate of 3.40%, compared to 3.13% for keyword terms found by organic search" (source: Conversion rate off paid vs. organic search about equal, says WebSideStory; Internet Retailer, September 26, 2006.) From my own experience with B2C e-commerce sites, a well-managed paid search campaign typically converts far higher than organic although organic delivers far higher visitor volumes. Obviously the higher volumes range across higher and lower levels of relevancy and therefore impact the average conversion rate for the channel. Nevertheless, Michael makes an excellent point. Personally, I think businesses must effectively work and measure both sides: organic and paid search and hold each accountable for their results. Thanks for the comments!

  5. mislyd

    Hi, I agree that Paid search should have a higher conversion rate, because the ad copy written is more tactical than an organic search result. With regards to measuring performance, i experience frustration that the in-house development we are using is not giving me the data I need to analyse and mgt doesn't wish to use Google tracking. Anyone has experience to share regarding developing your own 3rd party tracking system?

  6. Yes agreed also that paid search should have greater converstion ratio than organic search if the ad copy is optimized enough... But considering the free nature of organic search results, the lower converstion saves lots of cost and in overall more revenue than paid search.