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Make ROI Your New Year's Resolution

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According to a recent Marketwatch story, a growing number of advertisers are cutting their spending on search campaigns. The reason? Keyword inflation and low conversion rates.

So let's get this straight -- instead of taking the abundant traffic from search engines and working on ways to better convert that traffic, many advertisers are abandoning search in whole or in part, looking for a cheaper way to drive traffic. What do they expect will happen with the new traffic once it gets to their non-converting sites?

Cheap Traffic Not the Answer

Traffic costs are puffing up like a marshmallow in a microwave, and advertisers are clamoring for ways to increase traffic and maintain low marketing costs. Google advertisers have gotten themselves hooked on low-price advertising. So now, instead of looking for ways to boost return on traffic investment, the average marketer is desperate for another cut-rate traffic fix. Marketers are still stuck on the broadcast marketing model, focused on reach and oblivious to relevance. They talk about pull marketing, but don't do anything to put those practices in place.

Over the last few years, several big-name potential clients looking for help with landing page optimization have approached my company. After digging a bit deeper we realized that they simply weren't willing to commit time, effort and resources to the hard work necessary to improve ROI. They all went back to their old familiar ways, riding the traffic cost inflation hamster wheel.

It could be that this is my fault. Maybe I have failed to persuade. I've been shouting "ROI!" and "conversion rate!" and "landing page optimization!" since 1998. Back before the dot com bust, when everyone was squawking about eyeballs, my brother and I were pleading accountability and marketing relevance. Somehow that message didn't resonate with the masses.

Make Accountability and Relevance Your Resolution

Fortunately it is rarely too late to turn over a new page. After all, it is a new year and with it comes change. Many of us resolve to lose weight, get out of debt, start exercising, revisit goals, etc. I would like to challenge you to commit to a new marketing lifestyle; not a marketing diet, but a permanent change. Commit to improving ROI through customer-centric marketing efforts and accountability through metrics and testing.

A good start would be to stop blaming. Everyone else seems to want to blame Google for their woes. I recently compared the relationship advertisers have with Google to drug pushers and addicts and came up with the idea of "crackvertisers."

Crackvertisers start innocently enough, harnessing free search result referrals as a moneymaking tool. The free first taste, much like the free first bag of drugs from a savvy dealer, leads to exhilaration and then a desire for more. Some search marketers find referrals to be a gateway to more dependence on search engines. They rapidly move on to impressions, paying search engines to deliver their ad to Web surfers. Soon they seek improved quality of traffic by entering bidding wars for favored position.

It's all about traffic. The crackvertiser needs progressively higher traffic volumes to sustain the sales levels. If that traffic level drops, or if conversion rates fluctuate or fall, crackvertisers work themselves into a panic trying to devise ways to bring traffic levels back up; always focused on this misleading "numbers" game.

At the same time, search engines develop more and more techniques designed to keep search marketers tied to them and focused on raising traffic levels. And although unsure about whether they really like their search engine partners, by now the crackvertiser is too scared and too focused on a single goal to think about anything else.

This situation is NOT Google's fault! Blaming Google for your traffic woes is like a brick and mortar store blaming the city for its traffic. Once the customers walk through the door of your store, it's your responsibility to convert them.

If people kept walking into your brick and mortar store, and over 80 percent left after their second step, you would probably do something to entice them to come further into your store. However, this happens every day on virtually every Web site out there, and marketers often do nothing about it.

The truth is that Google is more committed to their customers than many of their advertisers are. They have done everything to equip marketers with tools for marketing success, pushing them to provide more relevant touch points, first, by providing free analytics and second with the introduction of Google Website Optimizer for landing page optimization (yes it will be free as well). Now anyone can afford to optimize.

Here are a few things you can do to get started on your lifestyle change:

  • Accept that providing relevant content and optimizing it for maximum return is not for the faint of heart. It will take time, work, and resources to be successful. No quick fixes. Maximizing conversions is about sweat equity, throwing money at it just doesn't solve the problem.
  • Start with landing page optimization. Typically this is where most of your expensive traffic goes to die.
  • Realize that landing page optimization is both science and art, using well established methods will get you further faster.
  • Embrace the fact that those clicks are people. They arrive with needs, desires, and motivations. Commit yourself to addressing them in your product offerings, and copy. Commit to creating persuasive scenarios as soon as you can.

While there is a science to this, you also need to realize that the technology involved will have less impact than your understanding of the variables for landing page optimization. Spend time learning and acting on these. For a head start, you'll find I've already written well over 200 columns for ClickZ focusing on persuasion, landing page optimization, and other ways to maximize ROI. Changing your priorities, from traffic to conversion, is the first step in finding the lost ROI in your search marketing campaigns.

Best of luck in 2007.

Bryan Eisenberg cofounded marketing consulting firm Future Now with his brother Jeff in 1998. Future Now applies persuasion architecture to increase online and multichannel conversion rates so prospects purchase, subscribe, register, make referrals, or accomplish other goals that can be measured and optimized. He is chairman and a founder of the Web Analytics Association, and has co-authored several books with Jeff Eisenberg, including the bestselling "Call to Action"; and "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?"

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