Is Your Search Marketing Budget Working Hard Enough?

Whether you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on search marketing or just a few thousand per month, you probably have expenses over and above your media costs — fees paid to the agency that manages your campaign. Alternatively, if you manage search in-house, you look at the payroll costs of your marketing team, which spends time working on search campaign management and optimization.

Though these search marketing costs may seem high, truth is you may not be investing enough in your staff or agency to fully leverage search’s power. Not investing enough can be disastrous; poor search marketing implementations can cost millions in missed revenue and profit opportunities. Unlike in traditional media, where poor creative or media selection may go unnoticed, in Internet marketing — especially search marketing — your campaign results can be easily measured.

At the DMA/AIM conference last week, Phil Terry, CEO of Creative Good, reminded attendees of the importance of creative and landing page optimization. He demonstrated site improvement initiatives alone have delivered 40 to 150 percent improvements in conversion.

With these ideas fresh in my mind, I thought this would be a good time to revisit the topics of site optimization and listings optimization. Imagine a $50,000 monthly budget working as hard as if you spent over $100,000, with no additional spending!

To make sure your search marketing budget goes the extra mile, your in-house search marketing department or outside agency should be:

  • Testing the creative executions in each search venue. Each venue has its own nuances and specific ways of optimizing. The optimal listing copy will accurately communicate to searchers the benefits of clicking on the link and even of doing business with you. Within Overture, for example, you can write copy that does a bit more prequalification, trading CTR for quality (post-click conversion percentages go up). In Google, it is critically important to test creative because the AdWords system is taking over 100 percent of Google paid inventory over the next few months.

    Allocate time and resources (a.k.a. budget) to testing creative. In most other media, the creative is tested; for print, radio, and TV advertising, budgets are allocated for both qualitative and quantitative testing.

  • Expanding current campaigns to look for more inventory based on current successful inventory. If your keyword brainstorming session took an hour or you only took the keywords recommended by your sales rep, chances are your competitors found the same keywords. Use the tools at your disposal — externally and internally — to continually look for new listings and keyword opportunities. This process never ends, so make sure your search marketing plan includes time and budget for inventory expansion activities. Look for new inventory based on the inventory segments that are working well already.
  • Evaluating portal deals based on data gathered using paid placement and paid inclusion. You know where your Overture and Google traffic comes from, so if you’re a major marketer, perhaps going directly to the most profitable portals makes sense. Most portals have keyword-based listings inventory and even keyword-based banners. Make sure someone is evaluating these opportunities.
  • Editing your XML feed listings to assure the best balance between relevance, volume, and return on investment (ROI). Raw XML documents rarely represent landing pages in an accurate, balanced, and optimal manner. Make sure a team of professionals is monitoring your XML feed’s performance (volume, keyword mix, and conversion) to ensure the feed is performing within your ROI and budget guidelines.
  • Running continuous landing page testing. In the past, I’ve covered the magical effect of an improved conversion rate based on better landing pages. Make sure over time you test all facets of your landing pages, including:
    • Layout and navigation. Is your page too crowded with options that distract visitors from the actions you want them to take? Are elements of the page where visitors expect to find them?
    • Product mix. If you are an e-tailer and are sending traffic from a generic term (sweaters, T-shirts, gift baskets, etc.) to a landing page for that category, what is the best product mix for that page? Should you simply offer navigation to subcategories or brands, or include your top-selling items profiled on the landing page with images, copy, and pricing?
    • Merchandising. What is the best image size for your product? Do product shots work better on a white background? With humans involved in the shot? Zoom features?
    • Copy length. How much copy is the “right length”? For each industry, product segment, or product, the answer may be different depending on the level of involvement required by the buyer.
    • Call to action and incentive copy. Does your copy have the right call-to-action messages?
    • Pricing/pricing display. When offering prices below list, do you show list price? If you show list price, do you strike it out or simply place it for reference?
    • Online chat or toll-free phone options. For your business, do visitors need a helping hand via chat or toll-free representative, or will the page copy suffice?

  • Making recommendations regarding development of completely new content t0 serve as landing pages for expanded search marketing campaigns. Are some keywords and landing pages kicking butt? What if you had more pages, such as those for keywords you are not buying yet or for high-volume keywords you could afford and convert with the right landing page?

Of course, to do all the above, your marketing department or agency will need a technology and campaign management platform that gives it the power to measure, and execute on, the data. Many site changes made as a result of search analysis pay dividends for affiliate and other marketing (particularly landing-page optimization). If you are going to spend the money on paid search (or other media), you owe it to your organization to see that the budget is well spent. Sometimes that requires a bit more investment of time, money, or resources.

Your investments in optimization activities will pay dividends in the form of higher profits and revenues with lower (or the same) budgets. The more you spend every month on paid search marketing, the more benefits you gain from improvements. Spending on paid search but forgetting to optimize is like purchasing a gym membership and working out for 10 minutes. You might see some returns, but you’d miss out on the major payoffs. Give your search campaign a full workout — manage it professionally and show off the results.

Related reading