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‘Long tail’ search strategy works for search conference

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Incisive Media, producer of Search Engine Strategies (SES) Conference & Expo, historically promoted its event through a mix of direct mail, telesales and e-mail. Ironically, despite the fact that the 10-year-old show’s content centers on search, the event had something in common with the shoemaker’s children: Paid search was never part of the marketing equation.

“We only launched our paid search campaign at the end of last year for our Chicago event,” said Matt McGowan, global VP-marketing at SES. “I made the decision that we should start playing by our rules and practice what we preach.”

Incisive pulled back on direct mail and print ads, and accelerated its online spending in four areas: paid search, SEO, social networks and banner ads.

In addition, Incisive was challenged by a relatively small budget, which now needed to include paid search, and was bidding on the same terms that many search engine marketing (SEM) agencies want, meaning those terms were often expensive.

“Our biggest problem going into any of these campaigns is we don’t have the budgets that large [SEM] agencies and technology companies selling bid management tools have for lead generation,” McGowan said. “We’re competing on terms they are bidding on and driving the price up.”

All that meant it was it was difficult for SES to buy such general terms as “search engine marketing” or “SEO” because the minimum bid was beyond its reach.

McGowan decided to look for the so-called “long tail,” or search terms that are three and four words long and very specific. He began to buy phrases like “search engine marketing training” and “search engine marketing expo.” Not only were these less expensive, they typically unearthed more relevant prospects.

“When someone is typing ‘SEM,’ they could be looking for information, an agency, tools, education [or] training,” McGowan said. “You’re not really sure what they are looking for. With keywords like ‘search engine marketing training,’ I’m more likely to find someone who is interested in going to an event. It’s also less competitive, so I can get high placement with less money.” Because the intent of these searchers is clearer, McGowan said he gets much higher click-throughs and quality scores from Google.

“Our main solution is going after those queries that are as specific as possible and [as] relevant as possible,” he said.

In preparation for its March show in New York (March 17 to 20), McGowan kicked off the search effort in mid-December with help from SES’ agency, Underscore Marketing, New York. The campaign involved buying both branded and nonbranded search terms. Among the branded terms were “SES New York” and “SES NY”; nonbranded terms included “search training” and “pay-per-click conference.”

The long tail strategy worked like magic.

“We saw a 6.19% return on our paid search campaign for SES New York,” McGowan said. “For every dollar I spent, I returned $6.19 in revenue.”

McGowan thinks that is good, but that there is also plenty of room for growth. “When I spend a dollar, I’m looking for 10% or 15% return. [Six percent] is the lower end of the range that I allow.” Does that mean he was disappointed in the New York campaign results? “I’m not disappointed because it was our second [search] campaign, but I’m looking to grow it,” he said. “You can’t grow this overnight.”

McGowan said the campaign was also valuable for the education it provided.

For example, one of the words it is not bidding on anymore is “SES” because now SES delivers top rankings for, among other terms, “Southern Evangelical Seminary and Bible College” and “Senior Executive Service.”

“ ‘SES’ was the most-searched term on my list of terms, and I was getting a high click-through rate and not driving any revenue,” McGowan said. “We paused [buying that] term halfway through our campaign.”

Another thing McGowan learned was that the main source of traffic for the New York show was local. SES’ paid search strategy in December focused on California, Canada, England and Hawaii. Two months before the event, McGowan shifted the geo-targeting strategy from global to national. Three weeks before the event, he focused on areas west of the Mississippi River; and the week before, he concentrated on the New York metropolitan area.

“All the people who clicked on my ad globally didn’t convert,” he said. “There was a low conversion rate outside the New York area. In a sense, I shouldn’t have spent all that money, but we do events in those areas, so the hope is they ultimately clicked through to a local event. Looking at the results, we probably didn’t need to market anywhere outside New York.”

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