The Internet Marketing Driver: Glenn Gabe's goal is to help marketers build powerful and measurable web marketing strategies.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Paid Search and Meeting Visitor Expectations, How The Right Ad, Right Offer, and Right Landing Page Can Lead to Increased Conversion in SEM


East Coast Photo meeting customer expectations in Paid Search (SEM).Leading up to the holidays, it’s only natural that paid search campaigns heat up. Companies start pumping more dollars into their campaigns knowing that people are more apt to buy. Being neck deep in paid search, I always keep and eye out for great examples of SEM. And by "great", I don’t mean ultra-elaborate (and I’ll explain more about that soon). In SEM, I think a lot of people end up paying an exorbitant amount of time on keywords and ads and not enough attention on landing pages and meeting visitor expectations. This always seems odd to me, since the goal of SEM is to not only drive targeted visitors to your site, but to convert them. Also, when companies actually do focus on landing pages, I think the tendency is to focus on the design and slickness of the page versus the functionality. Although I think that’s a natural tendency to have, it’s amazing what a well though out landing page can accomplish… And I’m not referring to slick design, beautiful imagery, or an award-winning UI. I’m simply talking about meeting visitor expectations based on what they searched for. I know, that’s a novel idea, right? :)

The Search Marketer Becomes The Consumer
This brings me to my latest SEM experience (as a consumer and not an online marketer). Since I’m the person that’s typically launching paid search campaigns, it’s always a bit strange when I become the prospective customer (AKA the searcher). This past Saturday, I found myself in buying mode. I needed a new rechargeable battery for one of my digital cameras and started searching the web for the right product, at the right price, and with the right offer. I launched Firefox and started entering searches in Google. It only took a minute or two to find a great example of how paid search should work. So I did what every Search Marketer does in this situation, I launched Photoshop and started taking screenshots! :)

Right Ad, Right Offer, Right Landing Page, and Right Price
Armed with the manufacturer and camera model, I began searching for a new battery. I saw an ad from East Coast Photo ranking third in paid search. The ad title was a perfect match for what I was searching for and the description included their offer for free shipping. That offer for free shipping was extremely important to me, since the price of the battery probably wouldn’t be more than $20. It always bothers me when shipping is almost as much as the product you are buying!

Paid Search Advertisement for the Battery I Was Looking For:
Paid Search Ad Text Using Descriptive Title and Special Offer

So I clicked through and was taken to a landing page that took me from visitor to customer in less than 30 seconds. It wasn’t beautifully designed, I wasn’t in awe of the functionality on the page, and it probably won’t win any awards (unless there’s a category for conversion at the next Webby Awards). The landing page simply made it easy for me to convert. When other sites drove me to pages that made me dig to find the right battery, East Coast Photo made it simple. I think everyone with an electronic gadget has been in a frustrating situation when trying to buy parts. There are so many models and you don’t want to choose the wrong one. If you’re off by even one character in the model name, you could end up with a battery that won’t work, and more importantly, you’ve wasted valuable time.

The East Cost Photo Landing Page
What made the landing page so good? East Coast Photo sent me to a pre-populated version of their battery finder (with the correct manufacturer and model already selected). Underneath the battery finder, there was a photo of my camera and a product listing for the battery I was looking for. It was so simple, yet so powerful. Since I was able to see the selection of my camera in the battery finder, I knew this was the right part for my needs. And even if it wasn’t, I could easily use the battery finder to locate the right part. Brilliant. The price was right and they were offering free shipping (like I was looking for). So, I immediately added two batteries to my cart and started the checkout process.

Was it sexy? No. Was it efficient? You bet. Did I find what I needed in less than 30 seconds? Yes. And are other people going through the same process right now as you read this blog post? Absolutely.

Paid Search Landing Page With Pre-Populated Battery Finder:
Tailored and Effective Paid Search Landing Page by East Coast Photo

What About the Competition?
Upon clicking other paid search advertisements, I was sent to product pages without knowing if the products being displayed were the right ones for my camera. I was also dropped on holiday sales pages without any battery listings, and I was dropped on generic “camera battery” pages. Dropping me on product pages would be ok if I knew those pages contained the exact product I was looking for. Unfortunately, there was no sign that it was the right product… Dropping me on a holiday sales page is a waste of money for advertisers, given my specific search. And, the generic “camera battery” page was a complete waste of money for the advertiser and even looked a little suspicious… Remember, I entered a specific manufacturer and model along with the keyword battery. If someone enters that query, then they aren’t looking for a holiday sales page or a generic camera battery page… They want that product and fast.

Key SEM Learnings From This Example:

1. Keep it Simple and Meet Visitor Expectations
If someone is looking for a specific part or product, make sure you take them to a page holding that product or part (with confirmation that’s it the right product for their needs). I know that sounds overly simple, but it doesn’t happen often enough in paid search. Think about the difference in conversion by sending someone to a page that holds the product they are looking for (and with additional signals that it’s the right product). East Coast Photo provided a photo of my camera and a pre-populated version of their battery finder, based on my query. It took me less than 30 seconds to see that this was the right battery for me. I also ended up adding two batteries, which is something I probably wouldn’t have done unless I knew I was getting exactly what I needed.

2. Be Specific in Your Ad Text and Include Special Offers
You don’t need to be an award-winning copywriter to craft an advertisement that converts well. But you should be as specific as possible. If you take the time to set up paid search for specific products, then make sure you add the product names in your ad text. I searched for a particular manufacturer and camera model and the ad I clicked on had that manufacturer and model in the ad’s title. In addition, I was specifically looking for free shipping, and the ad provided that in the description. If you are providing special offers, then make sure it’s in the ad text. I’m not sure I would have clicked through so fast if East Coast Photo didn’t have their offer listed in the advertisement.

3. Take Prospective Customers As Far As You Can Into the Process of Finding What They Need
In my opinion, there are too many companies dropping paid search visitors off on their homepages, category pages, and deal pages when they are searching for specific products. If someone searches for a specific product, take them to that product, and make sure they know it’s the right one (as mentioned above). The web provides a unique opportunity for e-commerce merchants. They can leverage intelligence and functionality to provide a user experience that’s unrivaled in the offline world. Use that power to take prospective customers as far into the process of finding what they need as possible. For example, East Coast Photo leveraged their battery finder to pre-populate the tool with the manufacturer and model that I searched for on Google. I can tell you that their extra effort led to me converting quickly on their site. Think about the functionality you already have on your site and how it can be used in conjunction with your marketing campaigns. And don't just think about search engine marketing…think about email, display advertising, social media marketing, etc.

“Wrapping Up” this post – hey, it is the holiday season! :)
If you are running paid search for your business, then think about the entire process that prospective customers go through when clicking your ads and visiting your site. Are your search advertisements strong enough? Do they clearly explain the products and offers you have? And does your landing page meet their expectations? Creating tailored and effective landing pages doesn’t require award-winning designers and developers. You just simply need to think about what people are looking for and provide that information in an easy to use format. If you do that, then you have a much greater chance at converting browsers into buyers. You never know, it could be as easy as providing a battery finder.

GG

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Invalid Clicks and Click Fraud in Local Search Marketing (SEM) - Giving a Whole New Meaning to the Term HyperLocal


The Impact of Click Fraud on Local AdvertisersI’m currently helping several businesses focused on local advertising with both SEO and SEM (Paid Search, PPC). Depending on the industry and market, Local PPC can be both extremely competitive and pricey. Of course, the upside is capturing those highly targeted clicks and turning them into paying customers, which could yield hundreds or thousands of dollars per conversion. When the difference between page one and page two could be significant amounts of revenue, the companies vying to gain those clicks can become hyper-competitive (and that’s an understatement). I’ve heard stories about some companies incorporating clicking through competitor ads as part of their morning routine… That’s not cool, but very real for the industry and market they are located in.

Based on what I just explained above about, the dark side of paid search ends up rearing its ugly head for some local businesses. In highly competitive industries, and in highly competitive markets, click fraud can run rampant. The thought process is simple (and unethical). Eat up your competitor’s budget so you have more of an opportunity to catch highly targeted clicks. As mentioned above, those highly targeted clicks could yield thousands of dollars per day from new customers (depending on the industry).

I think a lot of people have heard about click fraud, but few have actually explored the problem and how it’s affecting their campaigns. For many local businesses attempting to land the ultra-targeted, “ready to buy” customer, click fraud can be a real click, I mean thorn, in their side. That's not good for anyone involved (including Google and the other search engines).

How Big of a Problem is Click Fraud?
So how much of a problem is click fraud for local businesses? It depends on the industry and market, but I’ve seen click fraud rates as high as 35%. Click Forensics publishes the Click Fraud Index and found that the industry average for Q3 2009 was 14.1%. That’s definitely high, but the abnormally high click fraud rates for local search give a whole new meaning to the term hyperlocal. :) Click fraud rates that high can make a serious dent in your budget, put a strain on ROI for your paid search campaigns, and can end up intensifying the overall click fraud problem (increasing the amount of click fraud as some business owners retaliate). So yes, click fraud is a big problem (and can be especially fierce in local advertising).

Defining Click Fraud:
For those of you not that familiar with click fraud, I’ll provide a quick rundown. There are actually several types of click fraud (and reasons for committing it), but I’ll focus on the act of attempting to deplete a competitor’s paid search budget by clicking on their paid search advertisements. And of course there is no intention of taking action on the competitor’s website once clicking through. In a nutshell, it’s Business A clicking on Business B’s ads in order to deplete Business B’s daily budget. Also note that it doesn’t have to be in the form of repetitive clicks from one location. Business A might hire other people or companies to help click on competitor ads (which can be accomplished via click farms, bots, etc.) You can read more about click fraud in Google’s Ad Traffic Quality Resource Center.

Google and Invalid Clicks
Many local businesses running paid search have no idea that Google actually provides statistics on the “invalid clicks” they catch. And by the way, “invalid” is a nice way of saying “click fraud.” :) Google provides some great reporting functionality as part of AdWords and I think too many companies (especially small businesses that are moving at light speed) never tap into the reporting to track campaign performance.

To access the reporting interface in AdWords, you can click the Reporting Tab, and then Reports. Then you can Create a New Report and choose to run a Campaign Performance Report. As part of setting up this report, you can click Add or Remove Columns to customize the report. Then you can click the checkboxes for Invalid Clicks and Invalid Click Rate to view the statistics at an account or campaign level. Depending on your line of business and where you are located, you might be surprised at how many invalid clicks were recorded for your campaigns…

Accessing AdWords Reporting Functionality:
Creating a new report in Google AdWords

Running An Invalid Clicks Report:
Running an invalid clicks report in Google AdWords


What is an Invalid Click?
Google’s system is continually analyzing clicks and looking for patterns that may be fraudulent. For example, clicks from the same IP address, duplicate clicks, clicks from “known sources of invalid activity”, etc. You can read more about how Google calculates invalid clicks in AdWords help. The system is essentially looking for any type of suspicious activity.

Local Showing a Higher Rate of Click Fraud:
Based on running invalid click reports for a wide range of clients, I typically see a much higher percentage of invalid clicks for companies focused on local search. How much higher? Well, comparing invalid click rates across industries, I’ve seen local-centric clients receive 4X to 5X the percentage of invalid clicks. That’s a lot of clicks, and more importantly, a lot of potential money at risk. Now you might be asking, “Glenn, if Google catches the invalid clicks, then the companies shouldn’t get charged, right?” True, but that’s only for what Google catches… Their system isn’t flawless (especially because well-crafted click fraud is nearly impossible to identify). That’s just an unfortunate reality. So, if you see a 20% invalid click rate, it just might be 30-35%.

The Impact on Budget
Let’s add a monetary value to the click fraud problem I mentioned above. In some industries, local businesses are paying $20-$30 per click (yes, you read that correctly). For argument’s sake, let’s say you receive 100 clicks per day at $20 per click. If Google picks up a 20% invalid click rate, and we estimate that it’s really 30% (just for this example), then there is 10% still getting past Google’s filters. So, the 100 clicks coming through are “actual clicks” according to Google (since it won’t charge you for the invalid clicks, or the 20% it caught). Out of the 100 actual clicks that you are being charged for, the 10% of invalid clicks that slip through equate to 10 clicks at $20 per click (or $200 per day). Over a month, that’s over $6000 per month potentially wasted. For many small businesses, that may be too much to overcome. And that’s exactly what the people committing click fraud want to happen. They want to push competitors to the point of quitting AdWords (and paid search in general), which leaves the fraudsters in control of the paid listings. Needless to say, this isn’t good for the paid search industry, the local businesses getting hit by fraud, and of course Google (since Google makes a majority of its money from paid search).

What Can Local Businesses Do About It?
Although click fraud is a big problem, and one that’s hard to overcome, there are some things you can do to stay on top of the problem. I’ve provided a list of recommendations below to help you stay informed, track your clicks, and potentially fight click fraud. The more you understand what’s going on, the more you can develop a strategy for documenting and combating the problem.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Run invalid click reports on a regular basis. This will help you understand how many invalid clicks are occurring, if they spike during certain times, and which campaigns they are impacting. You can also speak with your Google rep (or any rep at AdWords) about the problem, based on the data you collect.

2. Break up your campaigns logically. You can run invalid click reports on an account or campaign level (but not ad group). If you lump all of your ad groups into one campaign, you won’t get as clear of a picture of the click fraud problem impacting your business.

3. Analyze your log files to determine problematic IP’s. Unfortunately, Google isn’t going to provide details about the invalid clicks they find. They will just show you a total number and not reveal who is committing the click fraud. I think that’s unfortunate, but it’s just the way it is right now. But, you can get in touch with your hosting provider (or your IT department) to analyze your server logs. If you competitor is clicking from a specific IP (like their office down the block from you), you might be able to pick it up. Then work with Google and your lawyer on next steps.

4. There are third party solutions that can help you track and identify click fraud. If you believe that your business is the victim of severe click fraud, you might want to go down this path. For example, Click Forensics (which also publishes The Click Fraud Index mentioned earlier) provides services for ad networks, publishers, agencies, and advertisers. There are also several other solutions for tracking fraudulent clicks that are relatively easy to set up. Do some research and demo the various solutions. They could end up saving you a lot of money.

5. Get familiar with Google’s Ad Traffic Quality Resource Center. There’s some good information about click fraud in the center, including an overview of the problem, key definitions, a help center, ways to contact Google’s quality team, etc.

6. Don’t participate in click fraud. Although it should be obvious, contributing to the overall click fraud problem isn’t going to help anything. You should focus your time and attention on running ethical and ROI-driven paid search campaigns and then deal with click fraud legally. Work with Google, your IT staff, your hosting provider, third party solutions for tracking click fraud, and your lawyer in determining the best path to take.

Not All Clicks Are Created Equal
Is click fraud a problem for local businesses? You bet. But you don’t have to sit there in the dark as your competitors click your ads. You should educate yourself about click fraud, stay vigilant, remain white hat (ethical), and analyze the situation to the best of your ability.

As mentioned earlier, Click Forensics says the industry click fraud rate was 14.1% in Q3 of 2009. As a business owner focused on local advertising, you need to decide if you’re ok with that number... Is click fraud just part of doing business in Local PPC or should you fight to save your budget (and the potential customers that would come from that budget?) Like I said earlier, local click fraud gives a whole new meaning to the term Hyperlocal.

GG

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Monday, November 09, 2009

FaceYahoogle – The Impact of Facebook, Yahoo, and Google on Website Traffic


The Power of Google, Yahoo, and Facebook on Site Traffic
It’s hard to get through a conversation about online marketing right now without bringing up Google, Facebook, and Yahoo (among other popular companies). However, if you’re not heavily involved in online marketing, and you’re not close to the actual referring traffic numbers from Google, Yahoo, and Facebook, then their influence can easily become nebulous. It’s easy to say, “Google is a powerhouse” or “Facebook has 325 million members”, and “You need to be there”, but how powerful are they really?

From a traffic perspective, the three companies are so powerful that I’ve given them their own combined name, or FaceYahoogle. The power of FaceYahoogle ends up becoming very real for my clients after I complete a competitive analysis (which includes identifying major sources of traffic for their company, as well as their competitors). The numbers I present across websites typically show extremely high referral data from FaceYahoogle, and by viewing the actual traffic numbers, you start to get a feel for how much impact the three entities have traffic-wise and potentially revenue-wise.

Digging Deeper into FaceYahoogle
If you’ve read previous posts of mine, then you already know that I’m a big believer in using data versus opinion to make decisions. The power of analytics in online marketing enables you to see granular performance data across a number of key metrics. And the more websites I analyze, the more I see a significant trend across industry categories. I see FaceYahoogle sending large amounts of traffic to a wide range of sites. The abnormally high percentage of traffic coming from Google, Yahoo, and Facebook is not only amazing to see, it’s actually scary. With thousands and thousands of potential referring sites on the web, to see FaceYahoogle send that high of a percentage of traffic is alarming. I think you begin understand how Google built up a $22 billion war chest! :)

I think many people would suspect Google being high on the referring sites list, based on having ~70% market share in search and also having Gmail, Google Maps, Google Docs, etc. However, I’m not sure many know how much actual traffic is coming from Googleland. Also, we hear that Facebook has over 300 million members, which is powerful, but are those members visiting your site via the social network? I’ll answer that question below via screenshots. And then you have Yahoo, with turmoil somewhat cloaking the power of its sites. How much traffic actually comes from Yahoo Search, Yahoo Mail, Yahoo News, Finance, Answers, etc?

So that’s my quick introduction to FaceYahoogle. Now let’s take a look at some numbers! I have provided Compete data (September 09) for a number of popular websites across a range of categories so you can view their referring sources. Note, I know Compete isn’t perfect, but it does provide a wealth of information to analyze for each website (especially for sites that receive large amounts of traffic).

Referring Sites for NYTimes.com
31% from FaceYahoogle (and 17% from Google alone…)

Referring Sources for The New York Times

Referring Sites for LinkedIn
36% from FaceYahoogle, and over 8% from Facebook.

Referring Sources for LinkedIn

Referring Sites for Weather.com
24% from FaceYahoogle

Referring Sources for Weather.com

Referring Sites for JCrew
31% from FaceYahoogle

Referring Sources for JCrew

Referring Sites for The Huffington Post
33% from FaceYahoogle (and almost 8% from Facebook)

Referring Sources for The Huffington Post

Referring Sites for Yelp
A whopping 55% from FaceYahoogle (and 43% of that from Google!)

Referring Sources for Yelp

Referring Sites for ESPN
25% from FaceYahoogle (and nearly 10% from Facebook)

Referring Sources for ESPN

Referring Sites for Amazon.com
25% from FaceYahoogle (cha-ching…)

Referring Sources for Amazon.com

Referring Sites for Apple.com
28% from FaceYahoogle

Referring Sources for Apple.com

Let’s throw in a military site to see how the 3 headed monster works here:
Referring Sites for AirForce.com
Over 40% of referring traffic from FaceYahoogle

Referring Sources for The US Airforce

The screenshots above make it a little more tangible, right? FaceYahoogle is accounting for 40%+ of referring traffic for some websites. If you analyze website traffic often, then you know how insane those numbers are… But that’s not the whole story. The downstream data is important too. It ends up that a large percentage of traffic from these websites is going back to FaceYahoogle. Let’s take a look at just a few from above.

Downstream Data for Apple.com
26% of visitors leave Apple.com and go back to FaceYahoogle

Downstream Traffic from Apple.com

Downstream Data for AirForce.com
31% of visitors leave Apple.com and go back to FaceYahoogle

Downstream Traffic from AirForce.com

I saw the same trend across the other sites.

So, FaceYahoogle is driving enormous amount of traffic, but it’s also the top recipient of traffic from many sites. In particular, Facebook provides some unique opportunities with regard to downstream traffic. Give your visitors something to take back and you can possibly end up with even more traffic (WOM-based or possibly viral-based). And with some Google and Yahoo traffic going to back to Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Answers, etc., you also have opportunities for spreading the word about your products, company, brand, etc. Let’s quickly take a closer look at each part of FaceYahoogle below.

Google
As you can see, Google is an absolute powerhouse, even showing 43% of Yelp's overall referring traffic. That’s outrageous! And it’s not just any traffic, right? Many of the visitors from Google just searched for specific products or services that each site provides (AKA, high quality visitors). Imagine the revenue impact of Google traffic for those sites. In case you are wondering, Google traffic numbers include Search, Maps, Mail, Docs, Video, etc.

Seeing the high percentages from Google across sites, you can start to understand why SEO and SEM have been incredibly hot in online marketing… Some companies survive based on Google traffic alone (via paid and organic search traffic). A slip in rankings can be catastrophic for some websites, with the potential of impacting millions of dollars of revenue. Think about it. If you have 40% of your traffic coming from Google and slip to page two, three, or beyond, you will lose many targeted visitors, and the money they would have spent on your site. So is Google powerful? You bet it is. The numbers combined with my experience tell me so. :)

Facebook
Facebook has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years and is estimated to have 325 million members now. Clearly people are signing up in droves, using the platform at a staggering pace (104 billion pageviews based on Compete September 09), and oh yeah, they are visiting websites from Facebook. As you can see in the screenshots above, Facebook ranks in the top five referring sites for many of the properties I checked. Actually, it was typically in the top three. And in case you’re wondering, Twitter is moving up the charts too. Depending on the focus on the site in question, I see Twitter sending large amounts of traffic (and that doesn't count desktop clients which many Twitter members use). On that note, to read an example of how Twitter can impact exposure, traffic, and subsequent SEO power, check out my post about the Twitter effect on SEO. It’s a great example of how Search works with Social.

So, if your company is ignoring social media, then go back through the screenshots above and take note of the percentage of referring traffic from Facebook again. In meetings, I find myself saying more and more that if you ignore social media (and especially Facebook and Twitter), do so at your own risk. Again, the numbers are pretty convincing.

Yahoo
Although Yahoo has taken a back seat recently, the numbers are still strong from a referring source perspective. Between Yahoo Search, Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Answers, Yahoo News, Finance, etc. there are still millions of people visiting each property per month. And yes, those sites end up as top referring sources (impacting traffic, sales, sign-ups, twitter followers, Facebook fans, etc.) Yahoo consistently showed up in the top five referring sites, and often number one or two. Don’t count out Yahoo just yet. If you do, you’d be dismissing a huge traffic source (when you take all of their properties into account).

The Future of FaceYahoogle
I’m sure you are wondering which sites will be the major sources of traffic in 2010 and beyond? Will Twitter beat out Facebook, will Bing surpass Google, will Yahoo be non-existent? The beauty of the web (and technology) is that we never know. But the data does tell us something… don’t ignore Search and Social, and how they can work together.

People are searching and people are talking. And the people that are talking can impact how people that are searching find your website. And people searching can lead to sharing on social networks, based on what they find. Look at the numbers again. Don’t discount Facebook because you think people are tagging photos or playing games all day. You also shouldn’t disregard Google’s dominance. It is too powerful to ignore. And Yahoo isn’t dead yet. There are millions of people visiting Yahoo Sites on a regular basis.

Last, to emphasize that we never really know what will take off, I have provided Twitter’s trending below (Compete data over the past 24 months). I bet many people don’t even know that it was around in 2006 and 2007… and that it crept along until 2008 when it gained serious traction. So, is the next Twitter out there right now slowly growing and about to gain traction? Good question. :)

Click the image to view a larger version:
Twitter Trending 24 Months

GG

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