Search Marketing Measurement

Today, I want to tackle search marketing measurement, specifically for paid search (PPC) campaigns.

I often talk about the importance of having a strong analytics framework in place before launching a PPC campaign, but I very rarely talk about how to do that.

A solid analytics infrastructure will ensure you have the data you need, when you need it, to make informed campaign optimization decisions. Being able to make timely optimization decisions will result in significantly better performance than managing your campaign “blind.” That is, without access to valuable performance data.

For the purposes of today, I’m going to focus on relatively basic SEM analytics tools, but will plan on tackling advanced tools in a future post.

The Baseline: Engine Interface Analytics

The major engine’s paid search marketing products come with a password-protected user interface for campaign management. As part of this interface, campaign data is automatically tracked and presented in dashboard formats, with reporting tools available for deeper dive analysis and additional tracking functionality that can be activated.

Simply by launching a campaign with Google or another major engine, you will gain access to campaign metrics such as:

  • Ad impressions served
  • Clicks delivered
  • Click-through rate/CTR (clicks/impressions)
  • Cost per click/CPC
  • Cost (clicks X CPC)

That said, unless the goal of your campaign is purely brand awareness or traffic, this data can be a bit superficial. It doesn’t really give you enough information to make informed optimization decisions. The only thing you can really optimize on the campaign is the CTR or CPC…but optimizing based on those metrics doesn’t give you any information about the quality of your visitor. Are you driving the right audience into your site? Are they staying to consume your content? Are they taking action beyond the click?

Ideally, you want to use a metric that is more indicative of success – such as the user taking a desirable action on your website. This desirable action is referred to as a conversion. A conversion is any on-site action that you deem to be successful – for an e-commerce site, it would be a sale transaction, but for a more information-oriented website or a product/service with a more involved sales process, it may be a softer action that signals interest or intent. It could be using a specific tool, downloading a product manual, signing up for an e-newsletter, requesting a quote, or anything else that is valuable for your business.

Determining your key campaign conversion goals is an essential element of your SEM measurement framework and ideally is considered before you even develop the campaign.

To ensure that you’ll have conversion data at your disposal, be sure to enable the conversion tracking functionality. Typically the enablement of conversion tracking requires the placement of a piece of tracking code (often referred to as a pixel) on your conversion completion page. For example, if your conversion is someone registering for an e-newsletter, then the code would be placed on the thank you page that a user lands on immediately post-registration.

This tracking functionality will give you access to additional data such as:

  • Conversions
  • Conversion rate (conversions/clicks)
  • Cost per conversion

Conversion goals provide a much better metric to optimize your campaign against. For example, you might find that keywords A, B, and C are generating more conversions at a cheaper cost than keywords X, Y, and Z. Based on that data point, you might make the decision to increase your bids on keywords A, B, and C and decrease your presence on X, Y, and Z. Same goes for ad copies, landing pages, or any other campaign element.

The Step-Up: Google Analytics or Other Free Analytics Packages

Google Analytics or other free website analytics packages will provide you with all of the same data that you’ll get from your engine interface, but delivers additional campaign insight above and beyond these standard metrics.

Optimizing your campaign based on conversion data is good, but taking into account a more holistic view of your campaign performance is better. And website analytics provide access to additional data points that can help you enhance the success of your campaign – and your website.

Additional Data/Insights From Web Analytics

  • Visitor data
    • Determine what proportion of the clicks on your ads actually made it to the website.
    • For example, you might find that only 50 percent of those who click on your ad are actually making it to your site, which could signal a load-time issue or page error.
  • Visitor demographics
    • Understand where your users are coming from (geo-location) and details about their browsing experience (platform, browser, screen resolution).
    • For example, you might find that the majority of your traffic or conversions are coming from a specific region, state, or city, prompting you to heavy up in that area or undertake a focused geo-targeted campaign.
  • Visitor engagement data
    • Understanding how much time SEM visitors are spending on your site, how many pages they’re viewing, bounce rate, etc.
    • For example, you might find that some of your keywords have a poor conversion rate, but visitors on those keywords are spending a lot of time on the site and viewing lots of content. Without this information, you may have abandoned these keywords, but instead you might consider keeping them in the campaign.
  • Traffic source data
    • Compare other traffic sources to your SEM campaign performance, compare campaigns from different engines, or compare organic vs. paid search performance.
    • For example, you might find that users coming from Yahoo are much more qualified than users coming in from Google, leading you to consider increasing spend in the Yahoo engine.
  • Conversion pathway data
    • Track users progress through the conversion funnel, abandonment points, etc.
    • For example, you might find that users are dropping off on page two of your registration process, which might signal a need to re-evaluate the user experience of the form.

While this is not an exhaustive list of the additional features you’ll gain by employing Web analytics, it does give you a sense of the incremental optimization opportunities that become available when you take that next step.

Whether basic or advanced, having a framework in place to track and evaluate your SEM campaign is a must.

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