Taking SEM to the Next Level

Aug 30, 2007 3:27 AM  By

Search engine marketing continues to become more and more sophisticated–maturing rapidly to keep up with industry growth. Marketers in various industries have jumped on the SEM bandwagon, recognizing that search is about as close to the holy grail of advertising as you can get, due to its trackability and return on investment (ROI).
Despite the progress, there’s still one step missing from many marketers’ efforts in this area, and that is the final step–closing the loop between inquiry and sale. Consider these two key questions many marketers are asking:
• I know what keywords are driving my leads, but which ones are driving my sales?
• I know which keywords produce the best ROAS, but which produce new customers and what are the lifetime values of those new customers?
To answer these questions, let’s look at what typically happens in companies of all types and sizes. Imagine you are using paid search for lead generation. Every day you count on the word “home mortgage” to convert from a click to a lead. to maximize volume on this top converting word, you keep it at or near the top of the search engine results page (SERP). You funnel that lead into your call center every day for follow up. But what if “home mortgage” has never resulted in a sale for your business?

This is the next level of search, truly knowing the value of your keywords. This is where tracking technology is important. Specialized tracking systems can help you close the loop on your search conversions.

For example, one SendTec client is online auction site uBid. We found stunning information on the lifetime value of first-time bidders and how it varied from general terms to specific product keywords. We could track bidders all day in search, but if they were not winning the auction item they bid on, then how do you determine the value of these bidders? SendTec and uBid worked together to create a database to determine the value of new bidders by tracking their bidding and winning over time. To take this a step further, we tie the gross margin of the auction won back to the keyword.

Another client, Intuit, is starting to see the positive results of free trials to paid subscriptions of its QuickBooks Online Edition product. Intuit knew the overall conversion of trials to subscriptions, but not down to the channel and media level. We developed a customized system to truly measure which keywords and search engines truly drive subscriptions, not just free trials. We use both the trials and the subscriptions to manage the search engine marketing campaign more effectively and profitably.

Many companies are in similar situations in which they have an overall goal metric that is derived from performance across all marketing channels. Conversely, a few companies are determining these goals on a channel by channel basis. A multichannel approach requires thorough knowledge and understanding of performance on a channel by channel basis to establish metrics that maximize overall new customer acquisition and retention.

In this day and age of accountability, it’s no longer good enough to get halfway to the end goal. You need to get all the way there. Closing the loop on sales will truly take your SEM campaign to the next level. Until then, you may just be chasing your tail by depending on the same keywords that, when you really think about it, get you nowhere.

Janel Landis is director of search marketing at SendTec, a St. Petersburg, FL-based search engine marketing services provider.