SEM Guide: Test and Measure Your Way to Search Engine Marketing Success
Your meticulous planning based on your knowledge of internet marketing best practices will fail you when your Search Engine Marketing campaign sees the light of day.
This is a sad but true fact. But it's also liberating.
It means you're free to test new theories and implement new ideas, and see if they work or not.
Let's Tackle Vanity Metrics
Page views. Unique visitors. Number of pages per visit. Average visit duration. None of this matters. These are vanity metrics that make you feel good if they go up, and make you feel bad if they go down. You can get whiplash following the ups and downs of your daily vanity analytics numbers.
The problem with vanity metrics is they don't tell you how your Search Engine Marketing campaign is doing. They don't tell you if:
- The right people are coming to your site
- They are engaged by your content
- They sign up for your mailing list, online demo, or click the "contact us" link
- They purchase your products
To know any of these important pieces of information, you need to focus on the right metrics.
We previously spoke about setting goals for your Search Engine Marketing campaign. Now you've got to put your goals into a practical system where you can track, measure and test these goals in order to improve your Search Engine Marketing campaign's performance.
You first must determine what you'll measure and what you'll test. It's impossible to measure something when you don't know what to measure, so you've got to do what scientists have been doing for years: develop a hypothesis.
Your hypothesis is what you believe will happen as a result of your SEM efforts, and it's a little more complicated than customers clicking on your ad, falling in love with your product, and buying it.
Suppose you're running the SEM campaign for a B2B software company that sells software and services that run into the $100,000's, your path to purchase might be:
- Prospect sees an ad for your white paper on CIO.com
- They click on your ad, download the white paper, and click "yes" to receiving your newsletter
- A week later, your prospect receives an email from your company inviting him to a webinar expanding on the subject of the white paper
- Your prospect clicks on the link to register for the webinar
- Then he attends the webinar by logging on to the webinar software
- Finally, your prospect decides to contact your company, and clicks on the link provided at the end of the webinar, taking him to your "contact us" page
The scenario would be very different if you're running an Search Engine Marketing campaign for a new pair of Nike Mercurial Vapor IX iD soccer cleats. Your path to purchase might be:
- Prospect sees an ad for these sweet new shoes on TV and decides to look for it on the internet
- Prospect Google's it, sees your PPC ad and clicks on it
- The prospect lands on the product page, reads the reviews, sees a video, and adds the Vapor IX iD's to the shopping cart
- The prospect then looks around for better deals, but can't find a better deal than yours
- Prospect comes back to your page, goes back to his shopping cart, and executes the purchase
To come up with a hypothesis for your own product, take a little bit of time to think about and document the particular path to purchase for your product.
And your path may not even be to purchase anything - it may be to increase the number of subscribers to your newsletter, or to reach 100,000 likes on your Facebook page.
Putting Together Your Hypothesis
Now you have to be a little creative. Think about the scenarios I mentioned above, and then think about your particular product and how your path to sales would look like.
Answering these questions might be helpful:
- What is your target market? Who is your target persona?
- What are their typical online behaviors? What are their favorite websites and social networks? How much time to they spend online?
- Do they access the web from a desktop or laptop computer from work, or are they primarily a mobile user accessing the web while she's in class at university?
- Do they subscribe to newsletters?
- Are they impulse buyers, or do they have to make a decision with a committee?
- Is your product sold online, at a retail location, or through a complex B2B sales process?
- What other questions can you add to this list?
To help you build your hypothesis it would be valuable to consider Brian Massey's Core Conversion Marketing Scenarios
The three scenarios that make the most sense from the point of view of your Search Engine Marketing campaign are the E-Commerce pattern, the Considered Purchase pattern, and the Site as a Service Pattern.
The E-Commerce Pattern
The E-Commerce pattern applies if you accept payment on your website, the buyer consumes the product you sell offline (think the Nike example above), and you sell more than one item.
The E-Commerce pattern is fairly straightforward. You want your shoppers to come to your website or to your product landing page and purchase your product(s).
The Considered Purchase Pattern
The considered purchase pattern is typical of B2B product or service companies, and involves offerings that require multiple week or month decision time-frames, more than one decision-makers, and a five or six figure price tags.
In this scenario, sell the content, not the product. Focus on building your mailing list to keep in active contact with your prospects. Finally, you should provide different content types for different members of the decision team: product centric for the user, ROI-oriented for the C-level executives and finance folks, and lots of case studies everybody.
The Site as a Service Pattern
The Site as a Service Pattern is exemplified by software-as-a-service offerings (Lander is a perfect example) where you have a product that is consumed online, your prospects can make the decision to buy relatively quickly, and you charge a fee to use your application.
Your path to purchase typically involves driving people to your home page (your home page should be designed as a landing page, and is the prime conversion real estate on your site), a free trial, and then a concerted education and communication campaign, via in-application tutorials and automated email communications, to upgrade users to a purchased version of your application.
So what conversion marketing scenario will you base your hypothesis on?
Measuring your Sales Funnel
Your conversion hypothesis is the design you will use to build your online sales funnel. Your sales funnel will consist of:
- Your online ads
- Your landing pages, blog posts, home page, and product pages
- Your nurturing vehicles, such as your email newsletter
- Your call-to-actions, and
- Your conversion actions
Each of these are steps in your sales or conversion funnel. Each of these steps provides a point at which you can record relevant data, the data that lets you know how you're doing.
Using Google Analytics or any number of other online measurement tools (for a comprehensive list, read this article), measure how people move from one stage to the next.
- The Click Through Rate (CTR) of your PPC ad
- The bounce rate for your landing page
- The conversion for your call-to-action
- The subscription rate for your newsletter
- The download rate on your white paper, case study or special report
- Clicks on your contact us page
- Shopping cart abandonment rate
- Hits to your "thank you page."
This last measurement is the most important for you if you sell something from your website. It's referred to as your tripwire (we discuss it in more detail in our blog post "5 Quick Tips to Improve your Adwords Landing Page").
Google Analytics lets you set up conversion goals and funnels so you can get away from vanity metrics and measure how effective your Search Engine Marketing campaign is in driving sales.
Testing For Success
Finally, you've got to test. Or to put it another way, conduct experiments. The reason is simple: if you've launched an online marketing campaign before, your initial results will be much worse than you expected. 1-2% conversion rates are typical.
You may be happy with that rate, but it's sub-optimal, and you can achieve so much more.
Testing will allow you to try alternative versions of your calls-to-action, headlines, body copy, PPC ads, colors, positioning of elements and landing page structure, to see if you can improve the conversion rate at each stage of the funnel.
We discussed A/B testing before, but it's important to emphasize a few points:
- ABT: Always Be Testing. You should make testing a habit. Always have ongoing tests for your headlines, your calls-to-action, your conversion forms, or any point in your conversion funnel where you might lose a prospect.
- Test one element at a time. To really know what affects your conversion rates at any point in your conversion funnel, test only one element at a time. Test your headline, then test your bullet points, then test the color of your call-to-action button. But don't test them all in the same test.
- Don't cut your test short. Many marketers make the mistake of cutting their tests short. Don't make that mistake yourself. You need statistically significant data. Let your tests run long enough to collect the data you need to make a decision about either replacing your current conversion element or keeping it.
Your next steps
You're pretty close to becoming an Search Engine Marketing expert. You know how to:
- Set your Search Engine Marketing goals
- Develop your target personas
- Perform keyword research
- Identify your perfect advertising channel
- Run a pay-per-click campaign
- Optimize your SEO
- Master Google Places and
- Test and measure your way to success.
We've got one last tutorial for you: how to optimize your conversions.
So stay tuned for the last hoorah!