With all the emphasis lately on how to market in a down economy, I’ve decided to go against the grain and dole out some advice for those organizations wanting to make less money (this is the “Just Behave” column, after all, and it sure seems like we could benefit from some decidedly contrarian thinking). Seriously, everyone is so focused on helping the weak “profit-seeking” companies weather this financial storm that the needs of all the strong companies needing to waste money have been overlooked. Well, not on my watch. So for those companies looking for ways to keep those pesky customers at bay, here are my top recommendations for how to utilize SEM to achieve your unique objectives.
1. Don’t integrate search
Search was, is, and will always be its own standalone medium. All those statistics about how offline advertising drives search behavior, how search drives offline purchasing patterns, and how the web is becoming the de facto hub for all communications? Lies. Search is a silo within the online silo (it doesn’t even have its own silo!). You already have a marketing strategy that’s working fine. Don’t confuse things by trying to integrate search into the mix.
When users see one of your wicked cool $300K TV ads while paying partial attention to their TV and you’re fortunate enough to make that valuable impression (cha-ching!), you don’t want to have a similar themed ad appear in the search results when they go to check it out online later. That would only encourage them. Fortunately this isn’t as much of a problem now that people are increasingly skipping ads with their DVRs. It’s really cool that you got to meet Beyonce, though.
2. Under-spend on search
Ask not how much you should spend on search to achieve your goals and realize a competitive advantage. Instead, figure out the bare minimum you need to spend to get your boss off your back. Just because all the research and anecdotal evidence indicates search is one of the best-performing forms of media and spending on search marketing has doubled in the last 4-5 years doesn’t mean you should just blindly follow the herd. Merely because search appears to be the only major form of advertising holding its own during this era of ROI and accountability-driven marketing doesn’t mean the crowd is right. Markets make mistakes all the time, especially over the long term. My advice: Go rogue. Axe the search budget and double down on banner advertising. It’s getting cheaper by the day, after all. You’ll look like a genius when search is ultimately exposed as the Enron of marketing.
The ideal scenario is to start with a very broad keyword set and then starve the campaign of budget to achieve an impression share as low as possible, particularly for your most strategic keywords. That way your ads will show up very infrequently. When someone conducts a search and sees one of your ads, and then clicks on another listing before coming back to check out your offering… chances are your ad won’t be there when they get back. They’ll be confused and disoriented for a bit, but they’ll eventually move on and go somewhere else. Not to your site, of course. You’ve made sure of that. And what about the person who initially finds your site via clicking on one of your ads and then performs the same search later hoping to follow the same path? Boy, are they in for a surprise! It makes you wish you could videotape it.
But what if your executives have already caught the search fever and you can’t talk them down? A balanced approach is out of the question, so you have no choice but to go to the other extreme and…
3. Over-spend on search
Search is just like old media. If you can’t spend smarter, you can always make up for it by spending more. So what if your impression share is 17% across the board? The answer is always more budget! If a $3M buy is good, a $6M buy is better. Maxing out your budget? Then broad match everything. Still maxing out? Enable content. That’s why it’s there. Like multiple layers of protective padding, these budget sponges can help you absorb almost any amount of funding. It isn’t as easy as buying a Super Bowl spot, but with the right agency you’ll think it is.
Instead of spreading your ads thin in the above example, you want to lay them on thick when you’re over-spending. You want your ads everywhere, so that users always see them no matter what they search on. If a user searches for elephants, you’ll be there. If a user searches for flat screen TVs, you’ll be there. Of course users won’t know what to think, since your company sells neither. There might even be a backlash against your carpet-bombing tactics at some point, which would be great. After all, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Just ask Lehman Brothers. At least people will be talking about you. The important thing is that you’ve alienated your potential customers while still spending to budget. Nicely done.
4. Ignore creative
Designers, engineers, marketers and executives all agree—text is BORING. Reviewing text ads (in a spreadsheet, no less!) is beneath you and a waste of your talent. So act like the big dog you are and just rubber stamp whatever the agency sends over. It doesn’t really matter anyhow, because Dynamic Keyword Insertion can do all the work for you. And some generic copy is fine for the rest. It’s just a matter of finding the right formula and standardizing on it. If all else fails, just copy what the competition is doing. After all, it must be working for them, right?
Of course, users may wonder why some of your ads say things like “Buy Elephants Cheap” and “Used Thongs.” Some may also be underwhelmed by the sameness of the ads and have a hard time differentiating between them. But that’s their problem for being so persnickety about reading ads to glean meaning and the scent of information. If they don’t instantly recognize your brand name and want to click on your ad solely because of your wonderfulness, then they probably weren’t the type of customer you want anyhow. Pay no mind to those sub-1% click-through rates and low Quality Scores. Quality Scores are for people trying to make money. Not you. You’re playing a whole different game.
5. Automate campaign management
Finally we get to the sexy part of SEM. That crazy dynamic bid auction pricing beast is crying out for a theoretical solution to tame it, and you can bet every agency you want to work with has one. They may use different language to describe it, like (do the air fingers with me) “rule-based” or “portfolio-based” or “proprietary algorithm,” but it all means the same thing to you: push-button marketing.
Erratic campaign performance got you down? The wrong ad being served at the wrong time leading to the wrong landing page? Just push the “optimize” button and all those inconveniences melt away under the calming effects of our buzzword tranquilizer. There now, that’s better. What was that you were saying about increasing your spend?
6. Do everything the search engines recommend
If you’ve ever logged into your Google or Yahoo account, you’ve probably seen a bunch of those friendly notifications telling you about how they’ve enabled Auto Matching or given themselves permission to spend your money in a manner that suits them better. You may have even heard about some Nervous Nellies in the search community (Yes, there is such a thing as a search community… well, yes, it is like a dork fraternity, but let’s stay on topic) trying to rock the boat about how it’s inappropriate for the engines to opt advertisers in to these programs instead of requiring their conscious consent. Hogwash. The search engines have only your best interests at heart. They’re just trying to make it easy on you to optimize your campaign by pushing a button. Now why does that sound familiar…?
7. Define success broadly
Like beauty and branding, SEM success is in the eye of the beholder. So identify your internal stakeholders and what their hot buttons are—and start pushing. Are they data-obsessed but don’t know much about SEM? Overwhelm them with charts showing traffic and CTR by campaign. Do they like branding and big numbers? Let’s look at impressions and equivalent CPM’s. Bonus tip: be sure to over-weight the content network next month. There are metrics and data for almost every stakeholder personality type. You just need to know a little something about your internal target audience and you’ll be fine.
If you follow any one of these tips, you can lose a lot of money very quickly. If you follow all of them, you’ll be a legend in no time. And when people ask where you got such sage advice (and they will), please be sure to give them my name: it’s Andrew Goodman.
Disclaimer: This is satire; please don’t flame Andrew in comments, but rather me, the true author, Lance Loveday. Those interested in making money with SEM are advised to check out the just-released second edition of Andrew’s book “Winning Results with Google AdWords.” It’s the real AdWords bible, as opposed to this heretical nonsense.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.