Beyond Price/Position: The SEM Strategy Loop

Chances are, you’ve implemented a search engine marketing (SEM) campaign strategy. That often means a position/price-based strategy on Overture and a price-based strategy on Google (perhaps a copy strategy, to keep CTR high). You concentrate on position and price to drive visibility and traffic. Though visibility and click volume are good, the strategy has flaws. Big flaws.

Price/position strategies ignore results and are static. Inefficiencies remain in campaigns. Opportunities slip away. An evolving strategy overcomes these inefficiencies and allows search engine marketers to seize opportunities. With a position strategy on Overture, you fight competitors (some acting insanely) to maintain position just to drive volume. On Google, you probably set a price because given the ad’s CTR, you need a price to get the ad in heavy rotation on top positions.

Results? Post-click behavior? Traffic sources, keywords, and positions all have unique qualities. They change over time. All clicks are not created equal. Imagine the possibilities if a strategy adapted to the true value of the traffic delivered. Ignore knock-down bidding wars for a moment, and listen to what your data tells you. Post-click conversion data can reveal plenty, including:

  • Keywords and key phrases worth significantly more than others

  • Engines’ traffic that converts better than others’
  • Positions that work better than others
  • Week days that are better than others
  • Dayparts that work better than others
  • Landing pages that work for some keywords, not for others

Let results drive strategy so strategy drives better results. Your initial approach produced a specific set of results, from great to not so great. Loop that valuable information back in. Revise and improve your strategy. The most critical places to apply knowledge gained from analyzing results are bidding and campaign allocation.

For pay-per-click (PPC) auction-style engines, find the areas of best and worst efficiency based on predefined success metrics: direct marketing metrics or branding metrics.

Adjust bidding/pricing strategies accordingly. The frequency with which you adjust pricing and bidding strategy varies depending on your business, keyword volatility, even buyers’ mindset. Of course, there are time and energy costs associated with analysis and strategy adjustment if you do it manually. The higher your spending and sales levels, the more valuable the adjustments will be. Some marketers are so convinced of the value of strategy feedback loops, they adjust strategy daily, even hourly.

With PPC inclusion (XML Trusted Feed and Directory Inclusion), appropriate strategy adjustments based on campaign data analysis are very different. Each listing sends traffic at a fixed CPC, based on a mix of keywords. If a listing doesn’t perform, you have the following choices:

  • Turn off the listing (permanently or temporarily).

  • Look at top phrases that drove traffic on the listing and determine if a keyword in queries may confuse or mislead. If keywords in observed searches don’t accurately represent the type of searcher you want, delete those words from the listing. Directory listings usually go though an editorial review. Your XML feed reseller may get the data for the feed via your database or a spider process. Either way, it should be possible to have the XML edited. This can rescue a poor listing and turn it into a revenue generator.
  • Adjust copy, layout, price, or offer on the landing page associated with the listing and watch for improvements (or deterioration) in post-click performance.

Post-click behaviors and results are critical beyond setting bid, price, and listing strategies. They open the door for improvement in a broader marketing strategies. For example, if a particular set of keywords converts well and has reasonable traffic volume and costs, you can capitalize on that data:

  • Brainstorm for phrases similar to those that work well.

  • Try these phrases with additional vendors if you’re using multiple vendors.
  • Test different landing pages for keywords that already work.
  • Add inventory to your Web site that’s similar to keywords that work.
  • Make changes or additions to your site based on SEM results.
  • Modify your nonsearch advertising based on knowledge gained.
  • Use data on paid placement to shape a paid directory inclusion strategy (LookSmart or Business.com listings).
  • Use data on paid placement to shape your paid inclusion strategy (XML paid inclusion or your page layout and copy if you use per-URL inclusion).
  • Develop organic search engine optimization (SEO) strategies based on keyword success data for paid SEM.

Seems silly to implement a strategy, then ignore results. It’s never too late to loop results data back into your strategy. It’s a fresh year for SEM and a perfect opportunity for you to think about your strategies in a new way — as a living, evolving framework. In nature, an organism that doesn’t evolve as the environment changes faces extinction.

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