Think Small: Solve Your Mobile SEM Problem With “Micro Leads”

The time has come for brands to have a mobile paid search strategy in place. Columnist Susan Waldes suggests that businesses begin with tiny steps.

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Last year, Marin Software forecasted that mobile would “account for 50% of Google paid search clicks” by December 2015. Yet, very few advertisers have thriving mobile paid search programs.

Why is this? Advertisers are thinking incorrectly about this problem — they are looking at mobile phones as little pesky computers where clicks are less valuable because their carefully developed (desktop) conversion funnels, perfected for years, aren’t working.

Yet, there are many actions people can (and will) take on mobile devices that are easy, fast, intuitive and that have commercial value.  The solution to your mobile paid search program is to start thinking smaller.

Let me introduce you to the concept of the “micro lead” — a little conversion on a little device. It’s “micro” not because the value is always small, but because you are only asking a user to execute a “small” action.

These are leads because they are valuable, warm prospects, interested in your business that can be assigned a specific dollar value and will turn into revenue-predictable rates when properly nurtured.

Micro leads are the key that allows you to generate totally trackable, accountable, and ROI-positive mobile paid search campaigns.

First Address The User Experience Basics

The first thing to do is dispense the idea of a “responsive site” (meaning a single site that displays the same content for mobile and desktop users that dynamically adjusts for screen size) for your paid traffic.

Just like the best practice on desktop paid search is to design a landing experience specifically suited for the channel, you’ll be developing a mobile paid search landing page.

If you can’t possibly imagine your business model working without displaying something like your desktop site and you are comfy with the fact that 69% of responsive site load times are deemed “unacceptable” by users, then micro conversions can still be used as supplementary content, models and interstitials to assist in increasing the average value  of a mobile visit enough to make paid search profitable — at least from the users that don’t bounce.

This page technically actually should be a responsive page (not site) in order to look nice on any mobile device. This page should load fast. It also should have the key information and conversion capabilities above the fold.

What will this conversion be? Here’s where the micro comes in.

Think Small & Pick Your Micro Conversion

You want to ask your potential customer to do something that they already do on their phone all the time. This conversion should also be aligned with, and valuable to, your business.

This conversion should take (more or less) only one click.  It’s a single, simple, friction-less action. Your mobile paid search landing page should be designed with one purpose– to effortlessly begin a trackable, ROI accountable “conversation” with your business and a potential customer.

Here’s a short list of things most everybody does on a smartphone:

  • Phone calls
  • Email
  • Send texts
  • Consume media – watch videos, read, listen to music
  • Download apps – sometimes actually use them
  • Get directions
  • Shop on Amazon (if you are reading this, you probably aren’t Amazon)
  • Use social media – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest

Think about real people in your key demographic audience. If your user base is tech oriented, you can probably get a bit more creative. Err on the side of caution though. If you are unsure about the mobile savvy of your audience, choose a conversion point that is something your mom does on a mobile device.

So, which of the above actions align with your business and your customers? If you are in B2B, email and phone calls are surely familiar parts of your marketing. If you’re a local business, people getting directions has value. In home goods e-commerce? I bet your dollars-per-visitor metric on Pinterest traffic is pretty amazing.

Why A Lead?

Many industries use leads as their main paid search conversion point. In finance, edu and B2B  the lead provides a way to measure and value advertising dollars before actual revenue is collected.

Nobody will go right from a 95-character text ad to buying a life insurance policy, paying the tuition on an MBA program or buying a new CRM platform for their business. The lead provides a way to both begin a relationship with a qualified customer and to define profitable attainable CPA’s when a conversion requires a long or complex path.

Think about the core problem with mobile SEM. The search volume is there (and growing); the CPCs are affordable. The CTRs in mobile are usually higher than desktop – indicating that you’ve hit the correct intent and also reflecting the benefits of less competition in the paid SERPS.

The problem is that what happens on mobile doesn’t stay on mobile. Users switch devices to convert, refuse cookies on mobile and lose session tracking when they do convert. In essence, just like with traditional lead industries, there is too much complexity in the path to measure a click cost directly against a revenue target — you need an interim point of contact that happens quickly after the click.

How Does This All Work?

I had my first aha on the mobile micro lead in 2012. I ran a mobile test campaign for a private sale site – remember when that was all the rage? It was a gated site; you had to give your email address to see product. The landing page looked very much like this one that Zulily uses (exceptionally smart, micro-lead collecting).

zulily mobile lander - Copy

When we looked at the initial numbers based on the AdWords pixel, it looked like a failure at -71% ROAS


This client had a database that allowed us to track a “cohort” and all the revenue on the site that they produced over a lifetime based on the source of the initial email address collection.

A couple months after shutting down the campaigns, we took another look at the data on the cohort. We were able to see that in addition to the small amount of revenue produced within 30 days of clicking the ad on their phone, this cohort, sourced as “micro leads” (just email addresses collected) executed an additional 325 conversions and $60k in revenue on desktop devices.


Factoring in that activity, the mobile campaigns were extremely effective, with 46% positive returns after 60 days. It’s worth noting that this advertiser had a very optimized email drip program. The mobile cohort was being nurtured via emails and tracked as they moved over to desktop to convert, some via email clicks and others coming direct or via brand search.

Using The Micro Lead Methodology

Gating content can be an extremely effective way for some brands to profit from mobile SEM micro leads, but it isn’t appropriate to all businesses. There are other ways and reasons to ask for an email address from your paid search visitors.

  • Offer special deals and coupons
  • Only ask for it on exit (try providers like Bounce Exchange to make this easier for the marketing team to  control)
  • If you are in B2B, offer a whitepaper or link to a gated video or demo product version
  • If you are lead gen, ask for 1-3 fields and email a link to complete the “big form” later
  • If you have an app with real value, ask users to download it, collecting an email address in the process
  • Use a “contact us” form with a field for email and another for short comments
  • If you are in e-commerce, give customers the option to email product details or completed shopping carts to themselves (or others)

Another micro lead you can use is phone calls — they are even an even more friction-less conversion on a mobile phone. The user only has to tap the phone twice to make a call. Additionally, there’s my very favorite statistic on mobile usage to consider:

100% of mobile users use their phones to make phone calls.

The very effective phone call based landing page that Allstate uses (below) likely drives leads with even more value than their web form-based leads. That is true for most any advertiser who typically deal in leads or phone calls and uses some best practices that I’ve written about previously.

allstate mobile landing page

This landing page from Allstate shows how simple a mobile landing page can be. It has one very easy thing you can do (call) above the fold. Also savvy of Allstate is the picture of Dennis Haysbert, the actor who appears in their TV ads.

However, even if phone calls aren’t a typical conversion point for your business, it may be worth considering integrating them into your mobile SEM strategy as a micro lead if you can create a funnel that works.

Social media can also be used in many different way as a mobile micro lead facilitator. You can ask mobile users to like or follow your business’s social pages, giving you a way to continue to interact with them via social media.

You can use social login buttons to leverage a users existent credentials, gather email addresses and create new user accounts that follow potential customers across mobile and desktop. You can ask users to share, pin, like or tweet your content and products to “socially bookmark” it for themselves and amplify your content in the process.

Some other mobile micro lead ideas:

  • Collect phone numbers and opt-ins to receive text message offers
  • Local businesses can drive mobile visitor to click and get Google Maps directions
  • Any “event” based advertiser can have a user click to schedule an event in their calendar
  • Two way scheduling tools can also be set up for scheduling a meeting or callback time

Bringing Home The Bacon

Once you are collecting micro leads — therefore connecting the cost of a mobile paid search click and an action — you need to follow up with the appropriate nurturing that pulls these users into the eventual “revenue event” and track them as they accrue lifetime value.

Phone calls, app downloads, email address collection or phone number collection for follow up over text message are the preferred kind of micro leads if you can make them work because you are internally collecting unique user data. With a bit of database work, you can quantifiably track the paid search spend to the future revenue on an individual user and cohort level to determine true ROAS.

Other micro leads require a bit more “connecting of the dots.”  A local business can determine the value of  a store visitor and some percentage of that can be applied to a mobile SEM visitor clicking their landing page to get directions or store hours.

An e-commerce site can determine the value of a Pinterest pin by looking at conversion rates and average order sizes on traffic referred from and then value these social bookmarking and sharing as mobile conversion points.

Even if you need to look at spend vs. revenue on a channel level, you should still be able to find the target CPA for a micro lead that is unquestionably profitable for your business.

As you collect more data, you will be able to refine exactly what each mobile micro lead is worth based on the next conversion rate, the percentage of micro leads that turn into paying customers. If you can afford to acquire paying customers at $100 each and 5% of your collected micro leads turn into paying customers within 60 days, you can afford your micro leads at $5.

So, start thinking smaller, embrace the micro lead and win the mobile paid search game in 2015.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for Search Engine Land and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the search community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Susan Waldes
Susan Waldes has worked in the search engine marketing industry since 1999; she joined Five Mill Marketing as SVP of Client Services in April 2014 after 3 years serving as Director of Client Services at 3Q Digital.

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