Solution: This is a very common problem, especially for b-to-b advertisers, because purchases rarely transpire quickly when the buyer is purchasing on behalf of a business. Effectively optimizing a paid search campaign requires conversion data that can be tied to a particular keyword. The more data, the better your optimization will be. There isn't any way to get around that basic truth.
Therefore, one good solution to this problem is to find, or even create, an intermediate step. This is common in the business-to-consumer world of consumer finance, in which many sites collect lead forms for mortgages or other big-ticket items that have long conversion lag times. It isn't realistic for someone to conduct a search, click an ad and refinance a $250,000 home all in the same session or even in the same month.
When there is a long stretch of time between the initial click and the final transaction, it is difficult-though not impossible-to link the two events together reliably. Moreover, it may not even make sense to do so. There are so many steps and so many other variables at play (such as the relative abilities of the salespeople responding to the forms) that the driving forces behind which leads convert and which don't may ultimately have little to do with when a user clicked or what keyword was queried. It does, however, make sense to optimize to the leads created by the site, because they are much more common-with more data-and they are related to sales in a predictable way.
Once you figure out the conversion rate from a submitted lead form to an eventual purchase, you can assume this rate across your campaign and back into a value for a lead. For example, if one out of every 10 leads converts to a purchase and you're willing to spend $1,000 to get a purchase, then you can afford to pay $100 on average for each lead.
If your site has an action the user can take immediately online that is predictably related to sales, use that as your "conversion metric" for your campaign. If your site lacks such a feature, find a way to create such a form. In addition to being a great way to measure the effectiveness of paid search, it's also a great way to build an e-mail database of qualified prospects for your product.
Ben Perry is director of paid search programs at search engine marketing provider iProspect (www.iprospect.com).
Problem: Using your Web site to target different constituencies of your audience-in other words "narrowcasting" within a "broadcast" medium.
Solution: The Internet created a level playing field for businesses of differing shapes and sizes, but it also leveled communications. Direct customers, VARs and investors often get served up the same Web site; someone with a long-standing relationship lands on the same pages as does some stranger who Googled his way to you. But people aren't looking to be homogenized; their interests and needs are specific, and, if they have a relationship with you, they'd like it to be acknowledged. And you're looking to advance relationships-to move people along the continuum that goes from awareness to comprehension to participation to commitment and finally to loyalty.
What to do? Here are a few suggestions:
Understand who your different constituents are and what they seek.
When planning the navigation of your site, think in terms of "tours"--a customer might want to go to this page, then this one; an investor would have a different tour.
Consider a subnavigation that lets visitors self-identify: "I am an investor, VAR, etc.," or identify their relationship: "I'm a first-time visitor" or "I'm a long-standing customer." You can then set up "bridge pages" on your site that pull together what might be of most interest to these different visitors.
Write for visitors who have differing levels of familiarity with your company. Someone who has awareness of your enterprise but little comprehension needs an overview. A visitor who's knowledgeable and loyal is looking for much more specific information--and to feel that his or her past decisions have been the right ones.
Employ best print-based typographic practices: Set up information with clear hierarchies of heads and subheads so that pages can be scanned quickly.
If you find that you really can't reconcile the needs of different constituents and acknowledge and support different relationships, maybe you need separate sites, or password-protected areas for partners, VARs and maybe even a "frequent flier lounge" for valued customers.
Roger Sametz is president, Sametz Blackstone Associates (www.sametz.com), a strategic communications practice.
Problem: Segmenting prospects within your e-mail marketing campaigns, but still not getting the desired response rates.
Solution: Many marketers struggling to increase e-mail response rates compound problems by continuing to market to the wrong segments with the wrong message. One cause of this is a sole focus on static contact data, such as a title, geographic location or company, as the basis for list segmentation, instead of more relevant information like a contact's prior response or activity. Considering the difficulty often associated with obtaining activity data from previous campaigns, this narrow focus is not surprising. Today, however, things are getting easier with the integration of e-mail marketing and Web site analytics, forms engines and other marketing software tools.
In order to test response-based e-mail marketing, segment your database according to the level of response obtained from prior campaigns. Those prospects who have submitted a Web form can make up the basis of an "active" prospect list. Those who have clicked through prior e-mails can be considered "interested." Those who have never responded to a prior campaign can be grouped as "cold." Then align your e-mail content to more aggressively court active versus cold prospects. For example, offer customers that have visited product pages a personalized product demonstration. Interested prospects can be offered customer case studies and testimonials, while cold prospects can receive thought leadership offers such as white papers that help educate and build interest. Using response-based marketing, marketers can generate better returns on their campaigns by matching prospect interest with custom offers.
Mark Organ is CEO of Eloqua Corp. (www.eloqua.com), a provider of automated demand generation software for b-to-b marketers.