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Why You're Probably Mismanaging Your SEO and Online Ad Placements

May 8, 2008
There's a silent, but growing, epidemic spreading across the Internet marketing community and corporate sales and marketing departments. It doesn't affect everyone, but it tends to strike those very companies that cannot afford to be wasteful or make a lot mistakes when it comes to their Internet marketing.

A Horror Story

The story is all too familiar and goes something like this:

American Services Company is spending a good deal of money on Google AdWords and search engine optimization (SEO). They're getting a decent and steady flow of inquiries for both contact forms and whitepapers. They also have a "request demo" that gets a good amount of action.

Jenna, the inside sales person, diligently goes through the form responses that, like most companies, get sent to her inbox. She grades the inquiries when possible, routing them appropriately to sales, putting them in drip marketing, etc.

Again, like most companies, Jenna, and in particular the sales team, are finding good prospects and opportunities here and there.

There's also an awful lot of junk.

Students, competitors, tire-kickers and, let's face it, a good number of wackos, fill out these forms, causing the click budget to increase and frustrate the inside sales folks.

Jenna hands over a beautiful spreadsheet to the marketing department, reporting back on all the "leads" that came in -- which ones are good, (a few of them,) and which ones are not, (a lot of them).

But wait... something is missing.

Look closely and chances are you won't find it. What is it? The answer is deceptively simple, yet often overlooked.

Why Things Are They Way They Are

The missing piece of data is simply this: which search engine and search phrase did the visitor use prior to submitting the form?

To give you an example, your form result should look something like this when it comes in:

First Name: John
Last Name: Smith
Company: ACME, Inc.
Referring Search Engine: Google
Referring Search Phrase: widget manufacturer accountants

The data in the last two lines in the example above are what the overwhelming majority of companies don't capture -- and the lack of this information causes ridiculous amounts of wasted search marketing spending!

Without these data points, the people managing your search marketing dollars are flying blind as it pertains to capturing quality traffic and leads. They continue to spend good money for buckets of dirt to find the hidden nuggets of gold. And your inside sales team has to sift through all that dirt to find the nuggets.

I suspect in a lot of B2B markets, companies probably get 80% of their "quality" inquiries from 20% of their budget dollars. Without this data point, how would you go about identifying the 80% of budget waste?

The scary thing is that, in lieu of this missing data, a lot of marketers and agencies rely on some potentially dangerous and misleading metrics. Just because people click on your ad doesn't mean it's good. In fact, it could be a total waste of dollars. Moving downstream just because a particular search phrase generates more completed forms than any other doesn't mean that it's generating more quality leads than any other.

Why don't companies capture this data? In 10+ years of working with both clients and agencies, I've seen two major reasons, both of which are, quite honestly, a little disheartening: apathy and ignorance.

In speaking with several webmasters and IT folks, capturing the data points illustrated above is not overly complicated, though it can be somewhat time consuming, depending on how the website was built and is being hosted.

A lot of CRM systems are starting to offer the necessary technology to capture and feed this data right into the database. (Granted, a lot of these systems are out of the reach of a lot of small- to medium-sized businesses.)

What You Can Do

The business requirements to fix this problem are elegantly simple. Email or call your webmaster or IT department with the following request:

We would like to:
1. Track the search engine and search phrases that the visitor used to arrive at our website.
2. Carry those values throughout the visitor's stay at the site.
3. When that visitor completes a form on our website, pass the stored values along with the standard form information.

Easy as 1, 2, 3 right? The problem is seeing this request through to completion.

But I call on all people who are responsible for the profitability of a company -- don't lose this battle, don't let it slip through the cracks. This is one of those defining moments that are not as glamorous as a home page redesign, or as visible as an online press release, or as "impressive" as a lead generation report. It is, however, one thing you can do to virtually ensure that dollars spent for the next several years are spent more wisely and with less waste than in the past.

If you're a webmaster, agency, marketing coordinator, consultant, or anyone in the trenches, walk this article to the President, CFO, VP of Sales, or CMO. You'll be glad you did, and so will they.

If there's one thing I've learned, it's that executives, particularly "old school" executives, appreciate and rely on these sorts of things being brought to their attention. This is new territory for a lot of executives and we tend to lose sight of that.

Quick recap and homework:

1. Don't get lost in the overwhelming amount of data points, such as click-through rate, cost-per-click, cost-per-inquiry, hits, visits, rankings, etc. Stay razor-focused and seek out the simple yes/no answer to the following question: Can we track the search engine and search phrase in our web forms?

2. If the answer to #1 is no, bring it to the stakeholders' attention and seek a solution. Your options are:
a. build the functionality in house, or
b. seek a CRM solution that possesses this feature.

3. Once you're capturing this data, make sure you're providing it to your search marketing people in real time or on a regular basis. Hold them accountable for bringing your cost per "qualified" inquiry down by using this intelligence.

4. Ask for a raise, take the day off, and pat yourself on the back. You're in the rarified air of those people who bucked the system, who challenged the status quo, for the betterment of the customer.
About the Author
Todd Miechiels is a B2B Internet marketing consultant who helps executives of mid-sized companies generate sales opportunities. Visit http://MyAdwordsGuy.com for his free guide, "How to Burn Money Using Pay-Per-Click Advertising". Contact Todd at 770-939-6578 or via his website at www.miechiels.com.
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