You hear a lot these days about how the Web has "matured." The Wild West era of unsavory pop-up ads inundating a Web user may be behind us – assuming you have a good spam blocker – but the industry as a whole may not be as mature as many claim.
We've previously discussed the need for SEO and SEM standardization, but we need to step back a little and understand that there's also a need for a sliding scale of valuation when it comes to measuring conversions. Capturing an e-mail address, delivering a free white paper, or other non-sale related measurements can create varying values of a close.
Jefferies & Co. analyst Youssef Squali told Reuters recently that "with the Web search market appearing to mature, investor focus is shifting more to how well Web search providers such as Google convert searches into actual advertising viewership."
Apparently, investors expect Google to be able to push more clicks on their paid links as opposed to the organic listings. Guess they haven't read anything about the purity of Google's organic search. Would these investors like to see an all-paid search result page from Google?
Obviously, there's a distinct line between users and monetizers, but are we now seeing lines being drawn between users and investors? Will there come a day soon when the investors at Google ask that they increase the PPC (define) placement in the Google search results?
A Close Is A Close...Or Is It?
It's tough. Search marketing professionals are always developing methods of measurement to indicate levels of success. However, it's important to note that each defined conversion, or 'close,' has varying value. Numbers can be manipulated to make you seem more successful and, because of this, the real value of success is ever-shifting.
If you're capturing e-mail addresses, is the address from one search term more valuable than another? Is a person who reads one of your white papers more likely to buy something from you if he came from a banner ad or a search query? Or, for that matter, does the message that brings them make a difference?
The answer is, obviously, yes. Yet, in many cases, the success is just seen in the number of conversions.
The "Holy Grail" of our industry is the ability to create an absolute valuation of success – easiest in the online e-commerce area (but even here there are degrees) or the pure publishing arena – and until we start to acknowledge and work on this, we'll remain the unruly children in the marketing world.
In the meantime, I have to get in touch with one of my clients who set up my bonus structure based on my 'close' numbers, and who's been inundated with responses from my Twitter posts. Hey, a 'close' from any source still pays as sweet.
Chris Boggs Fires Back
Frank, you bring up some very good points, as usual. I agree that we need to increase the number of ways to be able to measure and value success. I'm concerned with the apparent insinuation by Squali that Google needs to drive more people to the paid listings.
If I were Google, I'd find a way to ease investor concerns by redirecting their attention to just a few of the many other products that haven't yet been monetized. The last thing Google wants to do is alienate searchers by forcing them to scroll through more paid listings or in some way blurring the line between paid and organic.
The argument about the variance in value of an e-mail visit or a white paper download is certainly worth expanding on, as you have. On a parallel course is the affiliate industry, which should be trying to find ways to update payout based on the visitor delivered.
According to Jeff Molander, who presented at SES New York on a panel that covered how to deal with affiliates, "there is a difference between new customer acquisition (new-to-file) and a past customer coming back to the site through an affiliate link." This is a wise statement and similar in theory to what you suggest about each conversion mechanism having a different value based on the user.
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