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Where's The ROI?

Carrie Hill
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Some acquaintances I hadn't talked to in awhile called me the other day. They own a brick and mortar storefront and an online shop that sells spices. They were trying to decide how to spend advertising dollars over the holidays and weren't sure how to allocate the money they had available. They know I work in online marketing and thought I might have some advice for them.

My first question was, "What are you doing now?" They said they were mostly relying on some local print advertising and their yellow pages ad.

I was absolutely astounded at the amount of money they spend on their print yellow pages advertising. Have you looked in that book recently? I use mine as a booster seat at the kitchen table.

I asked them what the ROI was on their yellow pages ad. The silence on the other end of the line was deafening. They had absolutely no clue if their advertising dollars were making them money.

Their store is in a medium-size city and they ship anywhere in the world so they're not necessarily constrained by their location. That being said, keeping the storefront open is dependent upon their street business -- or they'd work in their basement in their PJs all day. They have good word-of-mouth advertising and there are online queries being made for related keyword phrases, some are even geo-targeted to their area.

We talked about their Web site for a few minutes and I found out they had a pretty decent site, but did virtually nothing to market it. I was completely stoked to make my point. "Would you divert this money to marketing that can be measured? You can know how, where, and how much money you made from each ad buy."

They laughed and were actually dismissive of the idea. I said, "I'm serious. You can spend half of what you pay for print yellow page ads in online marketing and know exactly how much money you make back." They were astounded that the possibility was even there.

What's the easiest way to sell online marketing? Analytics. Even the most negative and non-Internet-savvy business owners can't argue with numbers that lead to bigger bank accounts. Using analytics to show where the money comes from, and why a stronger investment in that source of income is justified, can make the difference.

When I talk to small business owners who aren't taking advantage of the Web, their skepticism is palpable. In many cases they were screwed over by some jerk who "guaranteed" results and basically took their money and ran. They just don't understand SEO and PPC can work if done ethically and reasonably. Just like the car repair industry has good guys and bad guys, so does SEM.

I ask every single client, friend, or acquaintance I help what their ROI is with traditional advertising (e.g., yellow pages, brochures, TV, radio, or even restaurant menu advertising). I can count on one hand the number who actually used unique phone numbers to somewhat measure the effectiveness of that advertising -- but nobody could tell me how much of the money they made could be directly attributed to those advertising buys.

The economy sucks right now -- everyone knows it. The worst thing you can do is completely ignore marketing. The best thing you can do is spend marketing dollars where you can measure, analyze, and realize your ROI. I don't know any other way -- any cheaper way -- than to use your Web site and online advertising to bridge the gap the poor economy is creating.

To further drive this point home, JupiterResearch shared some astounding findings at the TravelThink 2008 meeting convened by Google last week in New York City. They reported that 94 percent of surveyed travel executives said online advertising would provide the strongest ROI compared to other media in the next 12 months. That's only the travel industry.

Think about it. Which of your competitors can you outpace, out sell and maybe even buy-out simply by spending your money only on the marketing options that will make money? A $400 online directory listing only costs $400 once, if it doesn't perform. If the return isn't there after a reasonable amount of time, don't renew that listing. Without analytics information, you'd continue to renew that ad with no idea whether the return justified the outlay.

Now is the time to divert some money away from your print and radio advertising. Get some help from a reputable SEM firm, test the waters, and learn how to use the analytics program best suited to your needs and business.

Optimizing your Web site to perform well in the organic search results is a long-term process, but will pay off over the years. If you have shorter-term goals, PPC could be the instant traffic generator you're looking for. You're going to be amazed at the information you'll have at your fingertips, and the possibilities for growing your business, even in tough economic times.

Join us for a Search Engine Marketing Training in Boston, November 6 at the Hilton Boston Back Bay. Not only will you walk away with the knowledge and skills to be a successful search engine marketer, you'll also jumpstart your career and enhance your professional know-how.


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