Getting ready for Search Marketing? Here’s a check list

Lately, I’ve been busy working on my start- up Curve Trends Marketing – A Search Marketing & Analytics consulting platform geared towards small & medium businesses. By small & medium businesses, I am referring to companies with average monthly website traffic of 20000 visits or less. Those of you just getting to know me – small business growth & development is a subject very close to my heart. My earlier post on benchmarking, touches some aspects of it .Small venture entrepreneurs need to travel that extra mile to extend their reach out to the target audience. Currently, the top deterrents for traditional advertising have been:

1. Lack of target audience
2. Rising cost of paper (for print campaign)
3. Lack of tracking & reporting tools to quantify the return on investment (ROI)

It comes as no surprise that NAA estimates that newspapers’ ad revenue will have plummeted almost 40% in two years by end of this December.

Online ads and search mechanism , on the other hand have revolutionized the overall business trends .Small businesses need to switch gears faster than their larger counterparts; not only stay afloat but also to remain profitable. Recently BusinessWeek reports from consulting firm Parks Associates, indicate that online U.S. advertising share will  hit 10% by 2010. ..Well, I must say that’s a conservative estimate. It assumes web advertising, now a $12 billion market, to be growing at 14% a year, which is about half the current pace. It can safely be assumed that small businesses will contribute to a substantial portion of that spend.

Launching search or online marketing however could be pretty intimidating for small businesses or any business for that matter. The biggest fear is that of the “unknown”. It’s after all, a relatively new world of search marketing with lots of noise & chatter.

Google Adwords is a very easy, free & effective tool that enables any business to assess, build, launch & optimize as well as accurately report their search marketing initiatives. With Adwords, an advertiser can serve ads to a targeted audience at the right place & the right time, armed with the right product.  In other words, unlike traditional marketing, a single online campaign can target buyers at every stage of their buying cycle. For small businesses, which cater to a local or specific geographic domain, this tool comes in very handy.

Think about a local Pizza delivery joint, which open from 6 PM to 1 AM at night, in a small town in Montana. Google Adwords customized local targeting option enables this company to serve ads to hungry consumers within a radius of 30 miles from early evening to midnight, at a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing campaign. Similarly, a restaurant owner in South Dakota, or a tools rental agency in Oregon or even a flower delivery company of Vermont, can choose to cater to their own defined perimeter for serving ads to the right audience precisely when they are looking for the product.

A recent study by Yellow Pages Association found that local search – the practice of using online search tools to find local businesses, products, or services – grew 58 % in 2008, reaching an annual total of 15.7 billion searches and outpaced the growth of overall web search. No small or medium businesses thriving primarily on local consumer network, can afford to neglect this powerful emerging channel.

This is even true for online businesses or ones that are targeting a specific demographic segment. They can select any combination of locations to target their campaign, including countries, territories, regions, cities and custom areas. For example, if someone wants to reach English-speaking users in select locations, they could target specific regions within the United States and a few large English-speaking cities in Europe, provided they have the capability to ship to those nations.

Now .. how do you do this ? The best option is to outsource it to a  search marketing agency who’s proficient in local targeting. The other choice would be to employ a Google Adwords Certified professional . But normally that works out more expensive than having an agency or a consulting firm manage the account. Being in this profession for quite some years, I ‘ve seen both best & the worst of the trade.

Here are my big top 10 to-dos before you embark on Search Marketing.

1. Remember - Google Adwords is just a tool to generate leads, sales or conversions and/or create brand awareness through online advertising. It’s your strategic goals & visions along with the consultant’s proficiency in executing it , is what makes it all work.

2. Always( please!) - have an analytics tool ( Google Analytics is a free tool and is very easy to install ) monitor your website’s basic key performance indicators ( KPI) – visits, time spend on site, bounce rates, top landing pages and goal conversions – at least 90 days prior to your online search marketing project. Keep in mind that your ultimate goal is to drive traffic to your website and Google Analytics can prep you for any action that needs to happen on the website in terms of design or goals. That way, when someone clicks on your ads and lands somewhere on your website, their landing page experience is optimized. Your landing page quality (Google has a number of parameters for measuring it) is extremely critical for a high page rank and lowering your spend ( It’s called Quality Score. More on that in my upcoming posts).

3. Set achievable & measurable goals. Look at past trends and ROI data from your traditional advertising campaigns and set your online marketing goals close enough to start off.

4. Research the estimated volume of search for similar products in your target location. You can do it yourself at  Google’s Insight for Search . This free tool from Google let’s you compare search volume patterns across specific regions, categories, time frames and properties. ..

Here’s an estimate of traffic in the last 90 days for the search term “ski pants” in the Denver Metro area in Colorado. The numbers on the graph reflect how many searches have been done for a particular term, relative to the total number of searches done on Google, over time. You can always use this as a guiding tool to set your expectations.

5. Determine your monthly budget. Be prepared to move around your initial budget allocation. Remember, it’s hard to fail with search marketing. So a calculated risk is worth it.

6. Communicate your budget & goals to the consultant when you ask for the proposal. Ask them to bring a list of top performing relevant keywords and the average cost per click and projected traffic volume for each of them. AdWords advertisers can control their costs by setting a maximum daily budget and specific amounts they’re willing to pay- per- click or per thousand impressions, which the AdWords will never exceed.

7. Prepare a list of your top competitors that you want to monitor , not because you want to replicate them but to establish your unique offering and set yourself apart.

8. Define your targets and break them down by a) location b) demography c) product spread

9. Understand how your site ranks on organic or natural search. A Google Adwords consultant should have the ability to pull the relevant data for you. Working hand in hand with natural search gives you additional leverage and visibility on the search network. For example, if you already rank high on the natural search, you have established a substantial amount of online credibility over a competitor who does not have any natural search ranking. That way, you spend a lot less for attaining high ranking in paid search.

10. Make sure you get a commitment of weekly reporting from your consultant. Use those meetings to re-look at what’s working & what’s not . Look at it as an opportunity to fine tune your campaigns.

Always keep in mind that AdWords ads can appear virtually anywhere online, worldwide, yet remain targeted and relevant. Unlike traditional marketing, you can view , monitor, measure, and edit AdWords campaigns at any time and enjoy unprecedented levels of control over your advertising spending and reach.

I plan on covering this in more details and a few other basic but critical Adwords features in my upcoming posts .. till then..

Send me your feedback.. What did you like? Did you learn something new? Was it of any help?

Let’s keep talking.

-Bibi Mukherjee

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Filed under Analytics, benchmark, brand marketing, brands, entrepreneurs, Google Adwords, google analytics, local targeting, marketing, measure, medium businesses, organic, organic search, Paid Search Marketing, PPC, print marketing, quality score, ROI, search marketing, search marketing budget, SEO, small business, target audience, Web Analytis, web traffic

2 responses to “Getting ready for Search Marketing? Here’s a check list

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