Controlling SEM Gremlins

All search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns are affected by external and internal factors that can degrade performance. Some of these “SEM gremlins” can affect much more than just your SEM campaign. Gremlins can upset your site in serious ways, even disrupt your business.

We all have the occasional gremlin. The fewer gremlins you’ve got, the more successful a well-executed SEM campaign.

Some of the most common gremlins to watch for:

  • Missing negative keywords. When using broad or phrase match, neglecting to use negative keywords scores a double whammy on Google. Your CTR drops for less-relevant keyword searches because a keyword makes the search poorly targeted. That poorly targeted keyword should have been “negatived out.”

    Lower CTR means a listing is displayed further down in results, given the same bid. A CTR below a certain threshold can even get a listing reduced to “Google only” syndication. Eventually, it’s disabled or turned off altogether in Google. Plus, in Google, Overture, and the other auction engines, without negative keywords to keep clickstream quality up, you’ll get some clicks that include that potential negative keyword. You pay for a click you don’t want, and the searcher has a poor experience.

  • Content traffic gremlins. For some marketers, contextual traffic has a positive return on investment (ROI) in Google, Overture, Kanoodle, and others. Other marketers don’t see the ROI or a benefit to the additional impressions and clicks. Failure to accurately identify the appropriate settings within a contextual traffic segment of the campaign causes either wasted budget or missed opportunity.

    Don’t let either situation gum up your campaign machinery. Use Web and campaign analytics to kill content traffic gremlins.

  • Conversion barriers. Sometimes, we put up roadblocks for customers without thinking about it. Shopping cart abandonment is the most commonly discussed metric that indicates conversion barriers. But not all marketers are in the e-commerce business, and not all conversion barriers relate to the final purchase stage. A lead form with too many questions is a big barrier. Confusing directions or a lack of directions altogether are also conversion barriers.
  • Missing landing pages. When you first roll out a campaign, you check and double-check the landing pages. Then, the engines’ editorial staff may check the pages as well. Six months later, you make changes to your site. Many servers won’t give the user a 404 error page (page not found); instead they’ll display a “sorry” page, a search page, perhaps even a redirect to the home page. None of these replacements is likely to convert as well as the original page you developed for the keyword. When you make changes to your site, check your campaigns to ensure URLs are still appropriate.
  • Slow-loading pages. Not everyone in your target audience connects at the same speed. Once in a while, try a dial-up connection (especially on a noisy line that connects you at well below 56K). It will change your perspective on surfing. There’s a reason many really popular Web sites are mostly text. Google is obsessed with fast load times, for both its pages and its results. Each results page lists how many hundredths of a second it took to get the result.
  • Web-server issues. If your server goes down, not only do you lose the leads and orders that would have arrived during the outage, you pay for clicks that don’t make it to your site. The traffic you lose is more than just traffic. Each click is an existing or potential customer who now associates your domain with a poor user experience.

    Plenty of site-monitoring services can measure and monitor your site’s connectivity and availability to the outside world. These services alert you via email, pager, or cell phone if your site goes down.

  • Connectivity issues and DNS. What do you do if your site is down? A weak point in the Internet’s structure is the DNS, which tells every browser how to get to every domain name. Our tracking servers are so mission-critical that we use a DNS-based auto failover system from TZO.

    All third-party campaign management services, Web analytics, and tracking services use multiple methods to assure their own uptime, including multisite servers and failover planning. Depending on your budget, your IT staff or hosting provider can help assure connectivity and redundancy.

Keep the SEM gremlins at bay with a policy of preparedness and double checks. Most gremlins can be prevented.

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