How can I get the best results out of my Search Engine Marketing campaign?

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We get this question a lot — and the real answer is: “it depends.”

The best way that I can possibly explain search engine marketing, in general, has to do with your ability to properly “tweak” the dials to optimize for your desired result.

Understanding that more clicks = more cost, it’s best to describe the process is visually in this format:

Search Engine Marketing Dials

The "SEM Dials" can be turned to dictate the performance of your campaign. Here, I illustrate all of the moving parts and their impact on certain areas of the campaign's performance.

To view the full sized image that indicates the search engine marketing dials, please click here.

Allow me to explain in short:

  • Targeting Area
    • Geotargeting to an acute area of focus will limit the search volumes, keeping cost/clicks down.
    • Opening it up to more of a wide area of focus will allow for a higher number of impressions, clicks and cost.
  • Max Daily Budget
    • If your max daily budget is low, Google’s algorithm doesn’t give you “preferential treatment,” which means that your ads will show in off-peak times, or in highly competitive time zones with poor ad positioning.
    • If your max daily budget is high, you’re signaling to Google that you’re capable and willing to spend advertising dollars on your campaign, thereby providing you with a “preferential treatment” in terms of seeding.
  • Max CPC Bid
    • If your max CPC bid is low, you’ll receive poor ad position placements, which will translate to less clicks and less conversions.
    • By maximizing your CPC bid, you can (over time) back off once you’ve “earned clout” by proving that your ads are relevant to certain keywords, but a high CPC amount gives you a chance to compete with a new campaign (although the costs will be high at first).
  • Keyword Specificity
    • The more “general” your keywords, the higher number of visitors you will receive to your website, but your conversion rate will drop, and the visitor quality will be more “shopper” than buyer. That’s not to say that the net result won’t be a higher amount of revenue, just that you’re hoping that you can find buyers sprinkled into the mixture of shoppers that you’re reaching, and your cost per acquisition should rise dramatically.
    • The more specific your keywords are, the inverse relationship will be from the above statement. Ideally, you’ve got a mixture of these keyword types, in their own ad groups, with their own budget requirements.
  • Ad Creative Messaging
    • If you’re attracting more “shopper” audiences in an attempt to attract more visitors, your call to action will be more passive in nature (i.e. “Learn more now”). Your conversion rate should take a hit with the increase in traffic, but could overall net better results than if you optimized for lower traffic volumes.
    • If you want to attract more “buyers,” your ad creative will be written in such a way that pre-qualifies the traffic (i.e., “Become a member now with a $25 or higher donation”). Your conversion rate should improve dramatically, but you’ll be sending far less traffic to your landing page.

Does this make sense? I hope so.

— GC

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Effectiveness of your holiday fundraising appeals

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Good morning, all!

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted, and for that delay, I give you my apologies.

I’m working on developing a few different things here, but I wanted to take a moment to provide a blog for you all as we enter into December, where you will undoubtedly be putting together end of year appeals to your house files to close out 2010 in  a strong fashion.

A recent study written by Convio called the “2010 HOLIDAY GIVING Report” — included one chart that particularly piqued my interest. It was a survey sent to a wide array of existing and potential donors to nonprofit organizations across all sub verticals, and here is how they surveyed audience responded:

Effectiveness of Holiday Appeals

This tells us that the top two most effective appeal types are: (1) Appeals that focus on people, animals, or places in need of the donor’s financial help, or (2) Appeals that explain the need for funds now.

This goes back to the old argument of “emotion vs. logic” (which I just so happened to write about in a blog post earlier in the year — check it by clicking here).

This tells us that both with high-dollar and holiday giver audiences, that focusing on the emotional side of the coin (i.e. here’s what your funds will do to help these people/animals in need) AND creating a sense of urgency (by describing WHY the funds are needed at this time) help to drive the effectiveness of your end of year fund raising campaigns.

I also found it interesting that 40% of high-dollar donors said that they would be willing to provide a gift in the event that your appeal reminded them that they will receive a tax deduction for their end of year gift.

Perhaps segmenting your donor file into “high-dollar donors” and “average-donors” and writing two separate messages to include this sort of message in the appeal to your high-dollar donor segment might be effective. Feel free to test it & roll out the better performing message to the remainder of the email files.

Good luck this holiday season in closing out 2010 strongly!

All the best,

— GC

Further evidence that the preselected level on your conversion form increases your average sale

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Preselected Value Chart

Further evidence that the preselected value increases your average sale.

In an article that I wrote on this  blog back in July titled, “Preselected values — your donation form’s best friend,” I covered a test conducted by our friends at the Salem Web Network regarding how their average gift values were increased by sending visitors in a split test to a form with (A) no preselected values, and (B) a preselected value of $50.

In an effort to further implement this line of thinking into our processes for fund raising, we conducted a test with one of our clients in an attempt to increase our average gift (or average sale) amount.

As seen in the chart above, we had seven different donation levels, each level being given a specific dollar amount tied to each level. Our goal was to set the preselected value at “Supporting Member,” which was a $50 giving level.

We started our testing on 7/28 and ran it through 9/30.

Over the test period, we have seen an increase of “Supporting Member” or the $50 giving level amount increase by 24.2%.

One of the things that we wanted to do was ensure that there were no negative impact on other key measurement categories such as conversion rate, or a decline in upper tiered giving levels. It’s important to pay attention to these figures, as if we increase the number of $50 gifts in exchange for a large decrease in $75, or $100 gifts — we negatively impact the revenue we are generating.

Also, if we decrease the conversion rate, we’re losing donors as a result of our changes — which will have a negative impact on our lifetime donor values and subsequent year revenue figures.

I am proud to report that (at least through this test period) that we did not see a significant decrease in either of the two figures mentioned above.

In fact, you can see an increase in the next level up (“Level 3”) throughout this testing period and a decline in the amount of “Level 1” (the donor level below) throughout.

This tells us that those arriving at the site with the intent to give a gift/donate, are willing to give a gift at our preselected value level, or the next level up, as opposed to the “least expensive” option available on the form.

We’ll continue to run tests, and will be providing sporadic updates on the subject matter as time goes on.

Enjoy.

— GC

How can I increase my Google AdWords Quality Score?

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Google AdWords Quality ScoreFor those of you using Google AdWords, you’re likely wondering how you can optimize your campaigns and increase your overall results. One area that you should be focused on is your campaign keyword selections — and most specifically, your Google provided “quality score”.

The quality score is the basis for measuring the quality and relevance of your ads and determining your minimum cost-per-click (CPC) bid for Google and the search network. This score is determined by your keyword’s click through rate (CTR) on Google, and the calculated relevance of your ad text, keyword, and landing page(s).

There are several ways that you can improve your quality score, but here are ten good ways to do so:

Factors your can manage within AdWords:

1.) Split your keywords into smaller more targeted ad groups

By grouping your keywords into smaller more targeted ad groups, you can manage each subset of the overall campaign individually, and build small victories into overall campaign increases with a compounding effect. Consider using the built-in keyword grouper tool in Adwords editor to group keywords into 15 groups of 20 related keywords.

2.) Create relevant ad copy for each group

Once you’ve broken up your keywords into smaller more targeted groups, you must then focus on the ads for each group. If you have one ad group focusing on selling “Red Widgets” — then write copy specific to that product, or offer.

3.) Optimize Creatives

Create multiple versions of ads for each group that you’ve created. By doing this, you can test different ad variants and determine the best performing ads for each group to emphasize over time. Measuring the ad clickthrough rate (CTR) as the measurement for which ad creative is performing best.

You should consider turning “ad serving optimization” to the “OFF” setting so that you can accurately split test all 4 ads yourself.

4.) Experiment With Matching Options

If you are using broad matches for your keyword sets within the campaign, you may want to consider using “exact match” and “phrase match” keywords to each ad group. By doing this, you can measure which keywords generate the best quality score and lowest cost-per-click (CPC). According to studies that I’ve read, the exact match keyword groupings will achieve higher quality scores in most cases.

On-page factors you can manage:

5.) Link Building And SEO

As with any Google-related ranking, the number of inbound links and the quality in which your webpage or website is built will have implications upon your quality score. Essentially, if you don’t focus on organic ranking factors, the odds are that you will not achieve as high a quality score as you otherwise could.

Considering launching deep link building campaigns (paid links through third-party (relevant) websites, directory listings, and the like). Additionally, ensure that you have all of the factors in place that generate good organic rankings (title tags, alt tags on images and links, a well constructed and properly internally linked website, and so on). Ensure that your navigation structure works properly and include a site map to help accelerate the indexing of your website.

6.) Implement Keywords

For each page we implement most of the keywords into the copy used in your AdWords campaigns into the on-page copy.

7.) Split Test Landing Page

By doing multivariate or A/B split testing on landing pages used within your Google AdWords campaigns, you have a chance to measure which page is performing better. Ultimately, I always say that “a marketer’s intuition is trumped by cold, hard data” — there’s no way to arrive at that data unless you setup a control and a test version of your experiment.

8.) Meta Tags

Take your best performing keywords within your AdWords campaign and place them into meta tags within your landing page’s back-end file. Use the exact ad text from the best performing creative in the meta description. Also use the best performing and most descriptive keywords as the title of the page.

9.) Essential Site Pages

Ensure that your landing page (at least in the footer of the page) includes basic web page content, such as an “About us”, “Contact us”, or “Privacy policy” pages. This just helps build additional brand-specific keywords into your overall quality score ranking.

10.) Make Sure Google Thinks You’re Relevant

Use the Site-related keyword tool to make sure that Google thinks that your landing page is related to the keywords that you are targeting. Just simply type in your landing page address and double check that your selected keywords are included in the results found. If not, consider adding the results of your search into your campaign sets where appropriate.

I hope this helps all of you guys out there and you enjoyed the read.

— GC

Does sending more emails negatively affect my campaign results?

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We recently concluded the analysis of a campaign that focused upon generating funds on a single day. Of course, days leading up to “day zero” (or the campaign launch date), we leveraged our house email files to send “save the date” type email campaigns, and lead-ins that promoted the one-day fund raising event.

Throughout the campaign, there was a perception that by sending more email messages throughout the campaign to our house file, that we would negatively affect our campaign results.

We heard several arguments attempting to dissuade us from sending multiple messages, but we worked with the client to assure them that our tests indicated that we would be okay.

Revenue per hour

The campaign revenue per hour chart shows, with the red lines, each email message that we had sent throughout the campaign timeline, and revenue collected per hour of the campaign with the blue line.

The chart above is the “Revenue per hour” chart that outlines the revenue that we collected each hour that the campaign was live (represented by the blue line) and the email messages that we sent throughout the campaign timeline (indicated in the vertical red lines).

As you can see, each email that we sent immediately sparked a burst of revenue collected for several hours thereafter.

This is exceptionally interesting to me, considering my personal feeling was that we could possibly cause unwanted attrition to the email file size that we had worked so hard to build, while also “turning off” the audience in the email recipient list. It turns out I, and our clients, were wrong.

This is just another interesting example of the fact that a marketer’s intuition is always trumped by cold, hard data.

So, if you’re promoting a one-time event (a webinar, fund raising campaign, etc.) — definitely leverage more emails than less, as your audience will not be turned off by your consistent messaging.

All the best,

— GC

How you can use search engines to test upcoming campaign message effectiveness

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If you have a direct mail, print advertisement or any other type of offline marketing campaign that you are planning on launching soon, it’s imperative that you spend the time and additional resources to properly test a few different campaign themes/messages.

It’s important to do this specifically because of the costs associated with traditional/offline marketing campaigns. When you’re outlying that amount of capital, it’s important to ensure that you can go to market with the best chance of success.

By leveraging search engines to test messaging themes, marketers can quickly, cost-effectively, and successfully collect the type of data that can provide them with the information to properly determine the most effective campaign theme/message.

The following identifies both benefits and considerations associated with leveraging this technique:

Benefits:

  • Faster data collection
    Online campaign data can be collected within a matter of days or weeks, as testing a direct mail program to a segmented test list for your direct mail file can sometime take months to fully analyze. Online testing provides immediate and actionable data that provides the organization an opportunity to subsequently increase their direct mail campaign’s speed to market tremendously, as well.
  • Lower testing costs
    The costs associated with implementing an online test for your direct mail campaign is significantly lower than the costs associated with creative design, print production, processing and mailing of a direct mail test. As previously mentioned, the data collected online to determine the most effective message or theme for your direct mail campaign can be completed in weeks, as opposed to months.
  • Numerous testing options
    Search marketing provides the ability to quickly test multiple components associated with your direct mail message, including the headline/subject, tone, call to action and any other associated creative elements like images.

Additional Considerations:

It should be noted that the audience demographics associated with Search Engine traffic may vary slightly from those of your direct mail file. Leveraging “negative keywords” may help to mitigate faulty or varying data, as it will limit the traffic types to only the most “qualified” visitors.

Testing methodology

SEM Testing Methodology for Offline Marketing Campaigns

In this example diagram, we are looking to test four separate campaign messages.

The control elements of this type of test would be:

  1. Test duration
  2. Search engines used
  3. The method of ad serving (i.e. using either a CPC or CPM model)
  4. The budget assigned to each ad
  5. The same landing page design

The variable elements for each of these message types would then only be related to:

  1. Ad headlines
  2. Ad copy
  3. Landing page copy

By setting up the test in this regard, we can successfully test which message is most effective by measuring the following categories:

  • Traffic
    • Ad impressions
    • Ad click-throughs
    • Unique number of landing page views
  • Conversion rate
    • Ad clickthrough rate
    • Landing page conversion rate
  • Average gift received / number of names collected (depending upon what the goal of the campaign is)

The winning message(s) in these categories should be proclaimed the “winner” and used in future campaigns.

How can I get better results from my banner advertising campaign?

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Banner Advertising

When it comes to launching a successful banner advertising campaign, you need all the help you can get. Here are 8 items that will help you to mitigate your failure rate and increase your chance of success.

I always find it funny that most people I talk to about banner advertisements still think that they don’t work. Whether or not a banner advertisement “works” depends upon what your objective is related to that advertisement to begin with.

As covered in a previous post (“What is the difference between marketing and advertising”), most online marketing efforts are measured specifically by return on investment (ROI). When it comes to advertising, you have to measure its success based upon how it lifts your direct response marketing channels (email, search, radio, etc).

Take a look at my other post titled “The reason why you should continue using banner ads, even if the ROI isn’t there” to get a better understanding of how you should set your expectations regarding ROI on advertising channels, OK?

For those that “get” the value of banner advertisements, let’s take a look at an 8-point list of items that will help your banner advertising campaign be successful.

  1. Set campaign goals
    Any successful campaign will start with the goals and work backwards from there. Define the purpose of the banner ad campaign before starting on your creative, etc. If your message is built to increase sales, the odds are that it will vary greatly from one that is looking to increase brand awareness/recognition.
  2. Placement environment
    Although some research I’ve seen shows that animated banner ads can receive upwards of 2 or 3 times the number of clickthroughs, they are often limited by channel type. For instance, a static (non-moving) banner can be placed in an RSS feed, email newsletters/campaigns, etc, where the animated banner cannot be displayed in such an environment. By understanding the website’s native creative style and designing your advertisement to appear as content that BELONGS with that website as a piece of valuable content will always outperform some annoying banner advertisement with a flashing button.
  3. Call to action
    This might be the biggest mistake that most advertisers run into when they concept and implement a banner campaign. Don’t forget your call to action … if you don’t ask someone to take a step, why would they? Well, they might, but let’s drive them to click, OK?
  4. Visual appearance
    As previously discussed, camouflaging your advertisement as a piece of native content will work well, but if you can’t do that then lean on brighter color schemes. Stay within your brand guidelines, but know that it’s a natural instinct to overlook banner advertising as the web continues to age and become more commonplace with younger generations. You want to stand out from the content … get noticed with flashy colors.
  5. Messaging
    Keep the message simple, short and focused. Don’t provide multiple calls to action, or too much text. Just provide a simple message that when an audience member views, they can quickly determine to learn more and clickthrough to your landing page. Which brings us to …
  6. Landing page
    Don’t send visitors to your website with navigation to the rest of your website. When you have a fish on the line, it’s like setting down your poll and being content with the fact that you got a nibble. Real that sucker in! By mitigating the chance of failure (by setting up a single page, with clear selling value propositions and a conversion point, like a easy-to-fill out form), you substantially increase your chance at converting that person into a customer/donor. It’s important to note that minimizing friction/anxiety factors (like the length of your form, the design of your page, the copy being too long, etc.) – you can massively increase your conversion rate. If you’re trying to get people to opt-in to receive your email newsletter on your landing page – don’t ask them for their social security number, or mailing address. Some prospective customers would argue with me that this is critical information to have on their file, but you can have a strategy in place to collect that information later. Capture their interest now, engage later, move on.
  7. Content Freshness
    Refresh banner ads regularly. Some studies that I’ve reviewed have indicated that clickthrough rates of banner ads start to drop off after 2-3 weeks. Refresh your creative to provide a new fresh look and feel (even if your message is the same). This does two things: (1) appears new to the audience again, thereby giving them a psychological incentive to clickthrough to investigate (even if it is again), and (2) depending on the network, give your advertisements a higher level of priority in the server’s queue of ads to display (especially in a cost-per-click/CPC model). If you’re not getting clicks, ad networks will eventually stop serving your ads and will cut off your traffic.
  8. Testing and tracking
    Data/Analytics > Marketer’s Intuition. Whenever someone says, “I think that ___________”, my almost immediate rebuttal is “Let’s test it!” Look, nobody is a mind reader, especially not through a banner advertisement … so, build a couple of different types of content (which would be your experiment’s “treatment”) and serve it on the same network, at the same days/times, with the same budget setup (which will act as your “control”), and let it rip. Evaluate for at least 5-7 days, and then move forward with the better performing creative set and cut the under performing one. Do it again if you’d like against a third, forth, etc., etc. number of creative sets until you’ve got the absolute best performing ad creative/message. This is your business, make it work for you!

As Peter Drucker (and as repeated by Dr. Flint McGlaughlin from Marketing Experiments) once said:

“Adequacy is the enemy of excellence.”

Always strive for better things for you/your business and you will always be better than when you started.

I hope this helps in setting up your next banner advertising campaign – remember always to track your results (remember my credo, which is “If you can’t track it, don’t do it!”). Track it by medium (banner), or by individual sources (they websites in which your ads were served) to segment, optimize and re-prioritize moving forward.

All the best,

— GC

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