The Agency Opportunity in PPC Search

Remember the ’90s, when Web firms, interactive agencies, and design and development companies sprouted like weeds, only to wither during the collapse of the dot-com era? Of course, not all these companies disappeared; the strong survived, merged, or, in a few cases, grew profitably.

I predict a renaissance in the Web design and interactive agency industries, particularly in the sector of site redesign for maximum usability and optimal conversion. A driving force will be the pay-per-click (PPC) search marketplace. To spend and grow campaigns in the PPC marketplaces at anywhere near a reasonable profit and volume, marketers need optimally performing sites for searchers, who now cost that marketer anywhere from $0.50 to as much as $20.

Is your site meeting searchers’ needs? Have you segmented your search campaigns based on the predictable needs or profiles of searchers and their buying-cycle stages? Your site needn’t be poorly designed or have shoddy usability to benefit tremendously from a bit of help. Any site that’s less than optimal for any major segment of a search campaign results in a mediocre campaign; nonoptimal conversion can prohibit it from reaching marketing objectives.

Conversion improvement and usability enhancement have nothing to do with having an award-winning site. Even a snazzy, flashy site, designed by the hottest agency, may have far to go for optimal conversion enhancement. A site can be great in many ways and still not reach optimal levels of conversion and efficiency.

One thing I’m very disappointed in is many “top” Web development firms don’t understand or embrace usability and conversion marketing. Macromedia’s Flash, for example, is a powerful tool in the Web developer arsenal, but it isn’t the answer to all design challenges. Design and development agency staff are trained in Flash but not in organic SEO (define) best practices (but that’s a topic for one of my fellow columnists). Nor do they understand how to read a creative brief that includes usability parameters and user objectives to meet marketing objectives.

Of course, the account teams at these agencies may not generate full creative briefs that include strategy and objectives as well as design preferences (color, tone, resolution, fonts, copy, etc.). Perhaps the media teams at these agencies don’t realize their jobs don’t stop at buying and trafficking media.

A media team can be a catalyst for change at an agency while increasing billings and making clients happier. Can you guess what happens to media spend when site efficiency and conversion goes up? Spending rises accordingly, particularly in paid placement search, where conversion rates may have throttled the spending on power keywords. Improved conversion can mean keywords too pricey for a top-four position suddenly become affordable.

Agencies, take heed. There’s a huge market opportunity out there. The need for conversion marketing services is fueled by the relentless pressure of the PPC auction marketplace and the need to maximize return from affiliate marketing channels. Of course, all media benefit from improved site usability and conversion marketing best practices.

Marketers likewise must pay attention when their agencies recommend usability enhancement projects and conversion marketing initiatives. No marketer likes to hear the site he just spent tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to build is crippling paid and organic search engine marketing (SEM) initiatives. Don’t feel singled out if conversion marketing wasn’t high on the list of priorities when your site was built. It’s more than likely some elements of your Web site hold you back from the success you could achieve in paid search.

In the offline world of retail and catalog marketing, conversion marketing is practiced regularly and frequently. Perhaps interactive agencies and Web design shops aren’t the right organizations to help marketers overcome the challenges of a less-than-optimal site with less-than-optimal landing pages and user experience. Consultants and in-house designers may have an advantage in addressing this major problem.

Some major Web design and interactive agencies are starting to recognize they can help clients by applying structured conversion enhancement programs. Any good program is better than nothing, and many different programs are out there. For example, my ClickZ colleague, Bryan Eisenberg, and his brother, Jeff, license their conversion marketing methodology to agencies and consultants, as well as work directly with clients to improve conversion while improving user experience.

Conversion marketing offers marketers a quadruple-win scenario. The investment pays for itself. So the marketer, agency, and publisher are happy, and so is the customer.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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