How To Solve Communication And Differentiation Problems

Last week, Page Zero Media held a seminar in Toronto called Winning the Paid Search Game. In the intensive half day seminar, we focused on tactical PPC issues like ad copy generation, landing page optimization, and the differences between the search engines. But strategy is possibly even more important than tactics – envisioning the “endgame” well beyond the click helps you do a lot better in the opening game (bidding on keywords).

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The live feedback from a cross-section of attendees helped me pinpoint several hurdles facing the average advertiser. A common thread is companies want to solve “micro” tactical problems but don’t want to face difficult communication and differentiation problems. In this column, I’ll run though several issues and discuss ways to deal with each.

A company in a competitive market that doesn’t differentiate

More than ever, your prospects are comparison shopping. In such an environment, good enough isn’t good enough! Someone else who is more than good enough is just a click away. And “best” is just a word. What you need to strive for is something different or memorable – something the prospect’s mind can latch onto. In the art world and the financial world alike, we can speak of “texture.” It must be because the human mind craves meaning and will readily ascribe significant meaning to where you make even the most modest efforts to paint a scenario. Is there any “texture” to your marketing communications?

Your customers think about relationships and deep substance – their minds are only wired for a “cart” type environment when they’re already geared up to make a purchase. Yet all too many sites are locked into what their cart technology suggests they do. They lay out an array of products or options on the page and say to themselves, “Good enough.” It’s actually not good enough.

To get beyond this, think about what specifically makes you different from competing companies (your company’s unique selling propositions). Or, in other words, why should people buy from you as opposed to visiting a competitor? In our seminar, there were several companies (including a couple of large well-known retailers) who had not thought long enough about this. Generally speaking, such questions are hard to answer but if your answers are relevant and truly address customer needs, it can provide a marketing edge and help tremendously with your conversions.

Obviously, the list of potential differentiators is long. We don’t have to get crazy here. Here are a couple of examples at different ends of the spectrum of company sizes. On one hand we looked at the home page of a national retail brand that also does niche seasonal gifts, like flowers. Here, the differentiators they forgot to highlight were key advantages they have over smaller competitors: (1) very fast shipping; (2) 24-7 phone service; and (3) the fact that their brand name will mean people actually believe (1) and (2). As supporting evidence, the company should have been using human face imagery to highlight either the friendly staff or a typical satisfied customer. Instead, they stuck to a product grid that looked the same as everybody else’s. So in this example we can see that a “differentiator” is not radical; it merely reinforces your existing brand position. Large companies can afford custom layouts and artwork, and can amortize that cost across high volume. So why let your site get confused with some tiny mom & pop?

On the other hand, a smaller company needs to really work to be heard. We looked at a nutritional supplement website that was drowning in competition. Instead of highlighting happy customers, focusing on specific niche benefits and medical study information, they offered up the same tired copy that thousands of other companies would use to sell similar products. They were a real company with “texture,” but the landing page didn’t take advantage of that. Worse, the path towards purchase was not custom designed. In fact, several versions of the product were listed at the bottom of the landing page with an “Add to Cart” button. There were no offers, no sense of community or content (such as user forums), and no opportunities for soft conversions. We suggested the company test textural elements of this nature, to gradually improve their differentiation from the sea of me-too supplement companies.

(While all of these elements are being addressed in the context of paid search campaigns, do companies with “texture” also get better traction in organic rankings, more inbound links, and more word of mouth mentions? Of course they do!)

If the answers are not obvious, your potential customers won’t “get it” and this leaves the door open for prospects to go to elsewhere (where questions are adequately answered). This often means they go to a competitor who has done their homework. Particularly on the net, where people don’t read but tend to scan pages, companies need to clearly spell out why to buy and make the connection for customers.

To reiterate, emphasize the following:

    1. The differences between you and your competitors. This is important as it’s generally differences between products/services that actually sell products/services (and this is obviously the whole point of USPs).

    2. Know your customers. Segment your selling. Then focus on factors customers “need” or would find useful. It obviously makes no sense to promise factors that have no bearing on the customer. If you’re segmenting your customers, you might know about their challenges as heavy travelers, for example, and can suggest or show case studies of how heavy travelers used a supplement to stay on top of their game. If you’re not segmenting, the laundry list of benefits may contain a couple of hits and many misses. As Avinash Kaushik, the analytics expert, recently told a keynote audience, “Monoliths don’t buy from you.” If you find yourself saying that your market is “virtually anybody…,” consider changing your profession.

Landing page with not enough content

One of the most common issues it that there is not enough information on the page. Especially if you’re not a well-known brand, it’s important to tell people a little about who you are and why people should buy from you (refer to point #1). Also, if there’s not enough verbiage, a call to action on the page (e.g., “buy now,” or worse, “add to cart,”) can sound abrupt and can actually dissuade people from making a purchase.

Here’s a starting point for a page outline I like to use to begin revamping inefficient pages. Include the following variables on your page:

    1. A granular page headline that is tailored to the customer segment in question

    2. Company/product description (no more than 2 or 3 sentences)

    3. Product/service features & benefits (in list form).

    4. A picture on the page – part of an overall design concept by a professional who understands how viewers relate to “balance” on a page.

    5. A call to action.

Of course, one size does not fit all. Some selling situations lend themselves to longer copy. The example above is a starting point, and once this page is up testing the page becomes key. It may be that a list of three features and benefits works better than a list of features and benefits. Or, it may be that the picture is more effective on the right side of the page than the left. Don’t be afraid to change pages around and test different variables to see where you get the best bang for your buck. At the very least, you should think in terms of an A/B/C test of three reasonably different layouts. More advanced advertisers can plan multivariate layout and copy tests.

Generic landing page with no strategy

Don’t be afraid to create individual landing pages for your PPC campaigns. And understanding your clients can really help here. For instance, with a software client, we learned that 45% of people who download a trial product eventually became customers. So, on the landing page, we pushed the trial product instead of the product itself. By making the trial seem like a no-brainer next to the purchase option, trials, and conversions to revenues, actually went up.

The easiest way to find out what your customers want is to ask them (by phone or email survey). Customers are generally willing to share information if the questioning isn’t too burdensome. The key is to limit questions. To make things easier, provide answers from which customers can choose from but always leave a box for people to include additional comments. Here’s a sample question: What is the biggest consideration when you buy our product/service? A) Price? B) Shipping rates? C) Shipping speed? D) Product quality?

In my experience, three to four questions is a good number to go with.

Respected company using a landing page prescribed for hype gurus

At our seminar, we came across a high quality B2B site geared towards selling a unique software product used by professionals. One hitch: a consultant who was hired to raise conversion rates to sales from PPC had grafted on one of those mile-long “hype template” sales pages, with the same graphics, look, feel, and irritating tone as many of the “get rich quick” sites we all run across. The page was out of sync with the rest of the site, and would have put a buttoned-down buyer back on their heels. Exacerbating this problem is that “quacks like a hype duck” landing pages can actually harm Google AdWords landing page and website quality scores.

Content aside, then, the look and feel of landing pages is important. Ask yourself the following questions:

    1. What image is your company trying portray?

    2. What image do your landing pages portray?

Find out the answers to these questions by asking yourself the first question (#1) and your visitors the second question (#2). You’ll want to make changes to your pages if there’s a disconnect.

There is nothing like getting a cross-section of companies in a room and discussing their online campaign ROI challenges to spur (sometimes painful) progress to new levels. I’d like to thank Bryan Eisenberg and the team at Future Now for encouraging us to press on with our first paid search seminar in Toronto. And Jane Motz Hayes of WebFeat for being our first customer.

Mona Elesseily is director of marketing strategy at Page Zero Media, focusing on paid search campaigns and conversion improvement. She’s also the author of Page Zero’s Mastering Panama: A special report on Yahoo!’s new search marketing platform (August 2007). The Paid Search column appears Mondays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column


About The Author: was recently voted the 2013 Most influential SEM. She is the Vice President of Online Marketing Strategy at Page Zero Media where she focuses on search engine marketing strategy, landing page optimization (LPO) and conversion rate optimization (CRO).

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