SurePayroll boosts conversions with revised keyword, landing page effort

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Objective: Increase conversions and grow sales.
Strategy: Improve testing of keyword groups and landing pages through automated analysis and custom landing-page launches.
Results: Conversions now are running two to three times the industry average. SurePayroll Inc. is an online payroll processing service primarily addressing the small-business market (100 employees or less). Based in Glenview, Ill., north of Chicago, the company competes against much larger companies such as Automatic Data Processing and Paychex Inc., while appealing to smaller businesses that want the no-fuss approach typified by Web-based (software as a service) products.

The company had enjoyed early success—it appeared on Inc. magazine's list of fastest-growing companies in2005 and 2006—and three years ago Scott Brandt came aboard as VP-marketing to take sales to the next level.

With strong sales channels already in place via referrals from accountants, and banks that “private-labeled” SurePayroll services, Brandt set about overhauling the company's search marketing efforts.

“The keyword choices are the gateway for us,” in order to appeal to businesses seeking payroll solutions, Brandt said. “After the keywords, you have to choose the right ads, and then the right content and then the right landing page. And then you have to test all the landing pages and follow the prospects into your CRM system to see which ones become customers.”

Brandt quickly realized this daunting task wasn't helped by SurePayroll's existing process of developing keyword-oriented landing pages by hand.

“It's a never-ending game, and you can go from three landing pages to 300 very quickly,” Brandt said. “It can get unruly.”

For help, Brandt turned to ion interactive, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based company whose on-demand LiveBall product aids the creation, testing and analyzing of Web pages for their ability to inspire conversions.

“Our task was to help conversion rates through the strategic testing of landing experiences,” said Anna Talerico, exec VP at ion.

“One thing about landing pages is, you can get great segmentation based on the visitor's behavior within the pages themselves, not just about filling out forms but via their actual actions online,” Talerico said.

As with many companies, SurePayroll customers focus on many different needs, everything from seeking economical solutions to saving time. Through testing various paid-search topics with custom landing pages, Brandt found that his preconceived ideas of what customers are truly interested in needed to be adjusted.

“In picking keywords, you don't know your customer yet,” Brandt said. “You test the different headlines of what appeals to you, but you also want to pay attention to different customer benefits, such as ‘cost,' ‘convenience' and ‘easy.' ”

Brandt also tested negative attributes, such as stressing the risks of incurring government fines if appropriate payroll tax payments are not filed properly.

He found that each of these customer messages played well to different segments of the small business market. But overall, he said, “Our greatest appeal plays to ‘convenience,' taking payroll services and putting it online.”

Brandt also experimented with offering discounts. To lure new customers, for example, he's given away iPhones, and sometimes offered three months free. But he found the results variable.

“Some people were willing to pay a higher premium so they could get the offer,” Brandt said, “while others didn't care what special offer you gave them; they just wanted the bottom-line price. So I test everything and make sure our salespeople have the flexibility to go either way with prospects.”

Brandt said he's also careful to analyze where prospects are in the sales funnel, by noting how detailed their “long-tail” keyword strings are. For those typing in the most keywords, indicating a sales-ready lead, Brandt said, low price (accompanied by its concomitant landing page) trumps other benefits as the best persuader.

Augmenting search for SurePayroll have been ads in niche publications aimed at various verticals and associations. The company also has tried radio (“Not a lot of success there,” Brandt said), as well as e-mail and direct mail.

The company also stresses its customer service and innovation. In November it introduced an iPhone app that enables its payroll services to run on that mobile device.

Brandt said he is pleased with his progress in optimizing keyword and landing page choices.

“One measure we feel really good about is that we're now running two to three times better than the average industry conversion rate of 1% to 3%,” he said. “We're killing the industry average.”

For the future, Brandt said, he wants to see SurePayroll return to Inc.'s list of fasting growing companies.

“We need to get back on that list,” he said. “We want to be the best online payroll alternative, and we think we can grow again at the same pace as in earlier days.”

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