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OK, We Admit It: Paid Search Works Best for High Intent Prospects
Since 2002, we who advocate the paid search niche of marketing have been pretty vocal about how much more this stuff can do than people realize. It’s not pure direct marketing, we’ve pleaded. It can do other stuff too! It can sing, dance, weld, flutter, soar, and giggle. It deodorizes, disinfects, scours, and scrubs – without scratching (unless that’s what you want).
Now that paid search is a multi-gazillion-dollar business that drives 99% of the revenues of one of the world’s least cyclical, recession-proof technology companies (the GOOG), we’re so confident in our power that a little humility won’t hurt.
Where does paid search really shine?
It is so hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.
Damn close to perfect at our specific job, we may be. But omnipotent? Not quite.
Paid search can’t do it alone. Serious budgets tend to be involved when you’re looking to create the widespread brand awareness and buzz that is so integral to creating the high intent that leads to conversions from searches and similar online navigation.
In theory, the awesome targeting of paid search could spike your brand awareness to the moon – if there were enough of it. Generally speaking, though, there isn’t enough search inventory to generate the kind of repetition, engagement, sometimes interruption, and inevitable collateral annoyance you’ll need to get people talking and recalling your brand. Think GoDaddy with search ads only, and no Super Bowl ads. (By the way, that’s similar to the flaw that permission marketing – in the form of email – had, too. All too many marketers tried to overcome the inherent inventory shortages, or more aptly, attention shortages, of consumers by flooding inboxes with too much email. Bad idea, mainly because of how people typically relate to that specific personal communications medium.)
So let’s be clear. Google AdWords and its compadres do a great job at a really important thing. Not fumbling the sale when someone rampages onto a search engine loaded to the gills with high purchase intent.
Google AdWords (if joined by tailored landing pages, web credibility, and a streamlined sales process) is like the classic Closer hero in sales mythology. The prospectors and the telemarketers get out there and identify roughly qualified leads. Then the leads get parceled out to salespeople based on varying levels of skill. The very best salesperson is your best Closer. They won’t screw up the surest, most lucrative deals. You’d better devote resources to your Closer. That’s why underspending on paid search is such a crime. That would be like paying too much for your worst salespeople, the ones who are good at making noise but not closing deals.
But don’t those bad salespeople do anything?
Sadly, yes, apparently low-paid, commission-driven, and bad salespeople do something. For very limited pay, they get your name out there and soften up prospects. Those prospects might later on come back and buy something from your company. And in the salesperson example (as in telemarketing for example), the economics work out because you don’t pay them a commission for creating all that cheap awareness.
So to carry on with the analogy, low-CPM online display advertising is like your bad salesperson. Worth the money, if deployed correctly at the right price.
You’re darn right all of that low-paid, unsuccessful awareness raising pays off. It’s just a bit harder to measure.
Let’s talk strategy.
Multichannel strategy and role playing
A strong multichannel marketing strategy, of course, is supposed to lead to increased sales. The presence or absence of a good strategy (and budget) has a huge impact on whether or not we as search marketers can effectively do our job.
A good strategist should know the strengths and weaknesses of different online marketing tactics, and understand how they create awareness and sales — is it a direct or indirect process? You can’t reduce each of online marketing’s subdisciplines to a single measuring stick — for example, directly measurable revenues, impressions, or some other monolithic measure. It’s always worth revisiting what different kinds of online promotion are best at accomplishing. Spray and pray is unnecessary when you consider that it’s quite possible to leverage unique strengths in areas like online PR and blogger relations; display and multimedia ads; word of mouth and social networks; etc. Leverage their unique strengths, expect certain specific kinds of results, and worry less about doing “everything.”
A brand backdrop, creating further trust, can be built in with some limited use of offline ads such as outdoor display and radio.
Lead by example
Paid search marketers shouldn’t feel apologetic about finding it more difficult to create sales if there isn’t any awareness spend supporting the effort to create high intent searches. That being said, if we’re to expect support for our efforts, we need to make sure our own house is in order.
Things your online marketing ‘Closer’ mustn’t screw up
Your Closer had better not mess up any of these things, or she isn’t earning her keep.
- Keyword coverage. Every keyword related to your brand, products, and best selling items should of course be in your account. Keyword expansion should also focus on obvious secondary terms, often called the keyword torso. This is not about the “long tail sexiness” of leaving zero stones unturned — that’s impossible. Just cover the most you feasibly can.
- Finding the best ad copy for maximum ROI or CTR depending on objectives.
- Figuring out the right landing pages.
- Testing pages enough so that the site at least sees a growing trend of learning about user response and improving conversion rates.
- Figuring out issues of channel conflict; coaching resellers so that they have the fullest coverage they can muster.
- Not letting competitors unduly or illegally encroach on your trademark in ad copy.
- Investigating whether a lead or small ticket sale is the best primary objective for moving closer to sale of particularly high ticket items, to reduce the mystery inherent in “long sales cycle” theories.
- For innovative new products, can a search campaign be built to tap into some niche related need that is close enough to create reasonably high intent? Can content targeting be used at the same time to drive multichannel awareness on related forums and niche content sites?
This is not an exhaustive list of how to do paid search. Rather, it’s meant to illustrate what a huge waste of money your other awareness-raising campaigns are likely to be unless your paid search campaigns can mop up the preponderance of sales available out there based on high intent web excursions.
If we do everything close to optimally, we’ll be closing a high proportion of the sales that are there for the closing. But of course we can’t do it all on our own. The more scope and budget the advertiser creates for multichannel efforts, the better our chances of achieving reasonable volumes and higher conversion rates based on high intent and brand recognition.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.