For anyone involved in marketing their B2B companies via paid search, it’s painfully obvious that the cost of clicks can be prohibitively high. In the last MarketingSherpa Search Marketing Benchmark Guide (2009), data indicated that the average CPC for B2B lead generation efforts was $3.33, vs. $0.78 for B2C retailers and $1.93 for B2C lead generators.
I personally have seen B2B CPC rates vary wildly based on industry and the competitiveness and length of the keyword. While I have had situations where I can bid $0.50 for reasonably attractive keyword terms, I am much more used to paying between $2 and $6, with highs around $14. It is no fun to have a small monthly budget of $4,000 to $5,000, and only be able to afford 450 to 500 clicks!
We do everything we can to minimize CPC levels (attack Quality Scores) and maximize conversion rates (Landing Pages & Offers), but in the end we are usually still faced with high costs per click that hamstring our efforts to generate significant numbers of leads.
For this article, let’s make the following assumptions:
- We are looking at lead generation efforts, not B2B e-commerce
- Budgets are never as flexible as we would like, even when success becomes evident
- Sales cycles are long
- Tracking quality leads & sales by keyword is often easier said than done (but it needs to be done!)
- Conversion actions are not all created equal (e.g. white paper download vs. request for quote)
Here are some specific strategies to minimize the impact of high CPC’s
1. Attack Quality Scores
I did mention this briefly above, but it is worth making this a primary focal point. The concept is simple, do everything you can to achieve the highest Quality Score that you can (no matter which of the major engines you are advertising with – Google AdWords Quality Score, Bing mentions Quality Score.)
Use your higher Quality Scores to slowly lower bids to see where your own “leveling off” point is – how low can you go before ad positions are negatively impacted? The quick and dirty of attacking Quality Scores is as follows:
- Match up keywords with ad copy (at least 1 full repeat of main phrase and 1 partial repeat)
- Match up keywords with landing page copy (HTML text, HTML Page Title, links, etc.)
- Screen out negative keywords (continuously screen them out!)
- Test ad copy frequently to achieve the best combination of Conversion Rate (not part of Quality) and Click Through Rate (part of Quality!). The higher your CTR, the better your quality score will be – but don’t sacrifice ROI/Conversion Rate!
2. Test high-volume keywords vs. the tail
If you are one of the many, many unfortunate B2B advertisers out there with a limited budget allocated to PPC, try some tests where you limit the scope of your program. Test out a set of keywords that reflects the core of your business. Break up the keywords into two sets – high-volume phrase and long-tail phrases. Keep the keyword theme consistent across the two sets. You might choose the broad, phrase, and exact match versions of one 2-word phrase and on 3-word phrase.
Keyword Set 1:
lead generation, “lead generation”, [lead generation], lead generation services, “lead generation services”, [lead generation services]
Keyword Set 2:
outsourced lead generation, “outsourced lead generation”, [outsourced lead generation], outsourced lead generation services, “outsourced lead generation services”, [outsourced lead generation services], , custom lead generation, “custom lead generation”, [custom lead generation], custom lead generation services, “custom lead generation services”, [custom lead generation services], custom sales lead generation, “custom sales lead generation”, [custom sales lead generation], custom sales lead generation services, “custom sales lead generation services”, [custom sales lead generation services] – etc.
3. Move down in the draft
The title here suggests the sports management tactic of trading your right to a high draft pick to get more value lower down in the talent pool (more value through either an undiscovered gem or multiple picks that can add to the team’s value). In this case, I mean don’t attempt to occupy the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd ad positions on a search results page. Instead, get more value from your budget by bidding lower and testing spots 4 through 7 (lower than that may not get you much). When budgets are limited, it’s about ROI and not branding or (gasp) ego.
4. Balloon your budget
The title for this section steals an analogy from the world of finance. There are lending arrangements, most typically with bonds, where the bulk of the principal repayment comes at the end of the loan’s term. I am suggesting that you consider saving much of your PPC budget for the end of the month.
You probably do want a continuous presence through the month, but you might consider using 25% to 30% of your monthly budget in the first 3 weeks/20 days. Then, use the remaining 70% to 75% of your budget as the balloon payment for that month.
The rationale behind this tactic is that many advertisers will spend more up front in the month and will begin to tighten budgets, and even possibly “go dark” at the tail end of a month. Your budget would then be maximized during a period of time with less competition. There are no guarantees that your industry will have this same behavior, so make sure to observe what happens in a typical month, and do you balloon experiment with an analytical mindset.
5. Make your IT people & your CRM system work for you
In B2B lead generation via PPC, there is no more important information than “which keywords are generating the best return?” Not all leads are created equal. The quality of leads can be affected by the kind of offer (white papers may lead to more tire kickers), the buying readiness (a request for quote form), the PPC ad copy used (screen out the wrong types of buyers), and the PPC keyword selection.
If your process does not include associating a keyword with each lead put into your system, then you are essentially flying blind.
Force the powers-that-be (IT team, Management, procurement, etc.) to enable you to use technology that will take the referral data of each visit and populate any new lead records with at least the following two fields: “Source” and “Keyword”. An example of the data you would hope to find in a lead record for these two fields would be: Google AdWords, lead generation services.
It is not a difficult task to write code that will take the referral data from a visit and pass that along with the form fields in the contact form to your sales database.
Make sure that when your sales people convert a “Lead” into an “Opportunity” that the referral data for that record is not lost!
Once this is in place, you can maximize your PPC spend by focusing on keywords that bring in the best leads (a much better approach than saying “I think Google is working for us.”)
6. Outsource and pay for performance
If you are managing your PPC program in-house, or using an agency, explore the options you have for engaging an agency in a Pay For Performance arrangement. Hear ideas from a number of companies about their approach to managing keywords, testing ad copy, testing landing pages, and what tools they use.
Discuss how you might structure a program that compensates the agency primarily through quality leads acquired.
With a fair and well-structured arrangement, with plenty of upside, the agency will employ maximum effort, talent, and creativity to make sure that you are receiving qualified leads.
There are so many factors involved with this type of arrangement, and this article is not the place to delve into detail. Just think about these basic guidelines, or “The 4 T’s of Pay For Performance”:
By exploring each of the tactics discussed in this article, you are sure to find ways to squeeze more value out of a B2B paid search advertising budget that is faced with high CPC’s.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.