Answer: Search is a very effective way to get people to come to your Web site, but you pay a per-click fee every time they link through a search engine. If someone doesn't buy on the first visit, you are likely to pay the same search engine a second, third or fourth fee when that visitor comes back later.
A better plan is to focus your search-based acquisition efforts on driving people to sign up for an e-mail newsletter. The payoff is clear. If you can get visitors to give you their e-mail address, then you can put them on a list and sell to them again and again at no additional cost.
Forrester Research tells us that only 4% of surfers buy on their first visit to a Web site. Deep down inside, you know it, too. Just look at the long list of sites you have bookmarked that you'll never see again.
E-mail is your tool to covert that single, paid exposure from a search engine into multiple exposures with e-mail. Divide what you pay for that first opt-in by the number of times you get to mail prospects--for free--before they buy or unsubscribe. You'll see a proportional drop in your acquisition costs.
On top of that, anyone who was planning on buying on that first visit is still going to complete the purchase, so your opt-in customers are a no-cost bonus.
So here's what you do. Make sure that an e-mail subscribe form is prominently featured on your landing pages. Test different offers and designs. Carefully track the percentage of visitors who sign up. That number is as important as closed sales when evaluating the search campaign.
Most important, do whatever it takes to make sure no one leaves your Web site without signing up for at least one e-mail list. If they don't subscribe, and they don't buy, you get nothing for your search investment.
Andy Sernovitz is CEO of GasPedal, an e-mail consultancy that helps marketers improve and implement e-mail marketing campaigns. He's also CEO of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, http://www.womma.com. Sign up for GasPedal's free white papers and newsletters at http://www.gaspedal.net .