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Covad revamps to attract non-techies

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Covad Communications is a national provider of integrated voice and data communications, primarily selling such high-speed Internet access solutions as business DSL, T1 and wireless broadband services to small and midsize businesses.

These SMB customers overwhelmingly use search to research and evaluate their technology purchases; and the company had had good success in attracting technologically savvy buyers, said Simon McIver, marketing director at Covad.

But after analyzing the company’s needs in 2007, Mclver decided he wanted to add in a stronger outreach, using a revamped paid search program, targeting less technically informed business buyers.

“We wanted to attract the novice buyer, maybe the office manager, receptionist or even a relative of the business owner with no technical background and no knowledge of jargon,” McIver said. “More and more, small companies are having one person doing the procuring, buying everything from paper to IT.”

He said the goal was to create more leads by attracting this new type of customer. “We knew there are more of these novice buyers out there. The challenge was to think like them.”

The company decided to take its one-size-fits-all search campaign and segment it with highly specific keywords, different landing pages and messages, with a large segment oriented toward the less-technically-savvy buyer.

To provide advanced campaign optimization to attract those novice buyers, Covad turned to its digital marketing agency, Geary Interactive.

“We had worked with Covad on localized targeting with 25 regionalized campaigns, and it was working well,” said Daniel Romotsky, media planner with Geary, which is headquartered in San Diego. “But we saw that most sales were coming in on more-technical search terms: DSL and T1 terms, for example,” he said. “We had to figure out how to provide more sales from general terms.”

Covad and Geary worked to develop more terms for people who weren’t looking for a T1 line per se but instead were seeking solutions and education about business connectivity.

Keyword strategies and targeting of metro areas and states were segmented into three time zones and five product categories. The campaign included more than 4,000 keywords across 30 geographic regions, all segmented by the new techie-versus-novice approach.

Geary created for Covad 234 search engine marketing campaigns with unique product/location combinations on Google and Yahoo, using each engines’ IP-targeting capabilities.

“We created 14 distinct landing pages, focusing on closing the sale to savvy visitors quickly while inviting novices to learn more about high-speed Internet,” Romotsky said. “The keyword changes weren’t that much; it was really how we segmented them through the ad copy.”

In support, Covad bought some display ads but also segmented these by level of technical knowledge. Ad copy on technology sites were quite different than ads appearing on more generalized sites. The company also used a product from Mediaplex (called Path to Conversion) to help analyze the performance of the display ads when a customer engaged in multiple subsequent activities prior to actually buying.

About 90% of the company’s leads came from Google, and 10% from Yahoo.

The campaign was complex, driven not only by its segmentation but also by the imperative for localization. In addition to SMB decision-makers often buying from local vendors, the technical nature of some broadband products often requires that they be within a few miles of one of Covad’s 2,000 centers.

As a result, Covad’s initial effort involved more than 400 distinct campaigns broken out by region, message and day-part. Depending on where a search visitor came from, landing pages were customized with local city skylines and landmarks, as well as localized copy.

All leads were fed into the company’s call center; visitors to a Covad landing page were often called within an hour of the visit.

“We work with sales, recognizing that speed is of the essence,” Romotsky said. “These people are active buyers.”

Results were strong. The program was able to decrease unqualified leads by 61%, and lower cost per acquisition by more than 30%. Meanwhile, with a 40% smaller budget than in previous years, Covad’s average revenue per sale increased by $33.

“Let’s be honest: It’s an uphill market today to get anyone to put their hand in their pocket for anything,” said McIver. “But the program paid for itself very quickly and substantially. We sold more in a tight market and spent less doing it.”

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