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Lawson on paid search metrics

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Matt Lawson is director of marketing for search management company Marin Software (www.marinsoftware.com). “Hands On: Search” recently asked Lawson about best practices in paid search metrics.

HOS: How can marketers tell if their paid search programs are working?

Matt Lawson: Savvy b-to-b marketers know the highly measurable world of paid search can be a great way to increase the number of qualified leads arriving at their Web sites. One reason: 93% of business-to-business customers research companies and products online before making a purchase, according to MarketingSherpa. But measurement can be tricky, because most conversions happen offline.

Because of that, marketers need to find ways to measure and manage to offline conversions as well. While measuring offline conversion is rarely an exact science, it can be extremely useful for informing budgeting and spending allocations for paid search.

HOS: Where can a marketer begin?

Lawson: One of the easiest ways to begin assessing the impact of paid search on offline leads and conversions is through unique landing pages. Pages that provide in-bound telephone information, contact forms and even white paper downloads all represent valuable touch points in the buyer life cycle.

Try to quantify this value. For example, with lead forms, measure what percentage of these online leads result in offline conversions and determine the average value of these conversions. The advantages of this approach is that it allows you to assign an estimated conversion value down to the keyword level and to use this measurement to inform bidding decisions.

Since this calculation is dynamic, consider using a bidding approach that can account for both the immediate conversion on the Web site as well as the actual revenue that may be realized days, weeks or even months later when a sale is made.

HOS: What specific offline channels work well here?

Lawson: One is the use of dynamic 800-telephone numbers. This can address the problem marketers have with losing visibility into online initiatives that result in a phone call to sales.

By assigning an 800-phone number to the Web page, or even to the campaign that prompted an individual to reach the page, marketers can tie call center sales back to the appropriate acquisition channel. While this may be difficult to do at a keyword level, just measuring the impact of call center sales can have a dramatic impact on search budgeting. Identifying, for example, that call center sales from paid search are two to three times the size of online sales can quickly change how you view the importance of paid search on your overall marketing success.

HOS: Customers themselves can provide insight into metrics as well, right?

Lawson: Yes. Here, surveys can be an effective mechanism for estimating the value of online marketing. Check with your customers when they buy and ask them how they heard about you. While surveys can suffer from sample bias and data errors, they can provide valuable insight into online marketing effectiveness when used correctly. Avoid over-complicating surveys by focusing on which online channels drove an offline sale to estimate the value of your search marketing.

And don't forget that just because a customer says he “found you on Google,” that doesn't mean he did so via paid search. Organic traffic accounts for the largest percentage of online referrals from search. Check to see what the breakdown of paid-versus-organic referrals is for your site, and use this information to evaluate what percentage of your survey respondents are actually clicking through from a paid-search advertisement.

HOS: These suggestions seem to illustrate the value of small but crucial adjustments.

Lawson: Given the importance of the offline channel to b-to-b marketers, any insight you can get can give you an advantage over the competition. In a world of ever-increasing keyword prices and competition, having an edge can be the difference between an average paid search program and one that's a strategic driver of sales for the enterprise.

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