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Send search, Web site or e-mail marketing problems to mmorison@crain.com

Problem: A recently created microsite has extensive product information and a clear call to action on every page but conversions are low.

Solution: Microsites can be wonderful and quite successful from a branding and user engagement perspective, but often they are not good for conversion-driven campaigns.

By virtue of a microsite being a "site," it has random, go-anywhere navigation. That's not too conducive to inducing conversion when the goal is to capture the interest of someone who clicked on a simple message from a banner or paid search ad. When we take someone who clicked on a little ad and dump them into a microsite, we're putting the burden of discovery and conversion on the user to find something of interest and convert on it.

Will users who land surf around a bit? Sure, some will. Will they interact with your engaging content? Sure, some will. If it's cool enough, they might even pass it along. But will they convert?

Conversion paths are an alternative to microsites and provide users with a scripted, campaign-specific online experience that leads them down a short path to the point of conversion. Conversion paths are focused and direct, without the distraction of random-access navigation or too many choices and options. They use simple pages and simple choices in a directed, linear path—much like a decision tree—that serve to pitch and persuade users along the path to conversion.

When the goal of your campaign is to drive conversions, a "conversion path" is a simple, focused landing experience that might be a better strategy.

Anna Talerico is exec VP at ion interactive (www.ioninteractive.com), a provider of marketing software and services.

Problem: Getting spam complaints from customers who have previously opted in to receiving my e-mail.

Solution: When customers hit the spam button, they're rescinding their permission for you to send them e-mail. Of course, that recession can take many forms. They can also unsubscribe or simply delete your e-mail. It's important that you monitor these indicators individually and collectively to assess the satisfaction of your customers with the content you're sending them.

Interestingly, in its recent study of customer e-mail behavior, the Email Sender and Provider Coalition found that only about 20% of recipients use the spam button in lieu of unsubscribing. Trust in the unsubscribe function is actually very high, and more than 80% use it to stop receiving e-mail they've previously requested from companies.

However, an equal number said they base their decision to hit the spam/junk button or delete the e-mail on the subject line and "From" address, and they make this decision quickly and en masse, without opening individual messages. This behavior suggests that e-mail marketers need to give special attention to both items, particularly the visibility of their brand if they have a pre-existing relationship.

If you're experiencing a high incidence of spam complaints, you should examine how engaged customers are with your brand. You'll likely find that your spam complaints as well as unsubscribe requests are coming from the customers who are least engaged—those who show no or low open and click activity. Your strategy should be to either engage these customers with content relevant to their needs or remove them from your list.

Analysis of spam complaint activity has consistently shown a direct correlation between the level of engagement and propensity to complain: the lower the engagement, the higher the risk. In e-mail marketing, the holy grail isn't the number of customers on your list; it's the number of engaged customers on your list.

Dave Lewis is an e-mail marketing consultant. He was most recently VP-market and product strategy at StrongMail Systems , a provider of e-mail delivery servers and software.

Problem: Determining if there are opportunities to increase organic search traffic before spending more on paid search and media.

Solution: While search engine optimization (SEO) has been around for years, there is still a tremendous opportunity to improve organic search traffic. Even sophisticated, optimized sites can often improve their results significantly.

Determining whether to invest additional resources in organic SEO rather than paid traffic alternatives requires you to do the following:

1) Define the role organic search should play in your overall site traffic strategy.

Identify the level of search demand for your business and what your target customers are searching for. Then assess the search volume you expect from focused optimization efforts. Map out your strategy to balance paid search in your SEO program. For maximum impact, paid and organic search programs should work in concert.

2) Understand the acquisition costs of your Web traffic sources. Review the financial metrics across your online traffic programs. This may require setting up a Web analytics tracking program (e.g., Google Analytics or HBX Analytics) or enhancing your current analytics tracking program. Then a financial "hurdle rate" can be established to inform decisions on the appropriate investment levels for additional SEO efforts.

3) Understand what is possible and proceed with caution. Interview companies for their recommendations, and educate yourself in the process. Be wary of "black hat" SEO tactics, such as link farms, doorway pages, improper use of redirects, content and link spamming, cloaking, inappropriate keyword stuffing and invisible text, which can result in being removed altogether from Google and Yahoo indices for years. Find a partner that understands your business, and invest in SEO with the same mind-set you do with other paid media.

By following these steps, you can make clear and confident decisions about how to modify your investment in SEO.

Bill Parkes is senior VP-interactive and technology services at marketing agency nFusion Group (www.nfusion.com).

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