Searching Beyond the Paid

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Boosting PPC Results with Geo-Targeted Campaigns

Much has been written lately about the US economy and the recession we seem to be in at the moment. Much has also been written about whether search marketing is recession-proof or not. I think SEM is probably more recession-proof than other types of marketing - just because we're in a recession doesn't mean people aren't still looking for things online.

That said, we've noticed with many of our clients that it's becoming more difficult to maintain market share online. It seems that, because SEM is perceived as a more effective use of marketing dollars, more money is moving from traditional channels to online channels. While that's great for the SEM industry, it means more competition - and sometimes translates into a tougher market for PPC advertisers. Combine the increased competition with low consumer confidence and spending levels, and it often translates into higher-than-optimal cost per conversion for advertisers.

Another issue is reduced search volume - fewer consumers searching for products and services means fewer prospects for advertisers. We've had to get creative in finding new pockets of opportunity for our clients, without blowing their metrics out of the water. One such way is by making extensive use of geo-targeted PPC campaigns.

Geo-targeting is an obvious choice for local or regional advertisers who can't, or don't want to, serve a national audience. However, geo-targeting can also be a great choice for national advertisers who want to expand their reach. Travel clients, in particular, can find success by geo-targeting PPC campaigns to their key feeder markets: locations from which they draw the most or best customers. One of the great things about geo-targeting is the ability to bid on more general terms than you might on a national basis. For instance, buying the term "Las Vegas Hotel" on a national scale is pricey, and the ROI may not be all that great. But buying "Las Vegas Hotel" in a 3-state region around Vegas can work very well, since those searchers are more likely than average to convert.

Another effective use of geo-targeted PPC is to supplement offline advertising campaigns, which are often regional in nature. Syncing up an online message with TV, radio, and outdoor campaigns, repeating the message as closely as possible online in those broadcast markets, is a great way to build brand awareness and help with message recall. Again, general keywords can be used, as well as phrases from the offline creative - many of which would be expensive and/or ineffective on a national basis, but very targeted on a geo level.

Finally, we've had significant success with promoting online contests and giveaways through geo-targeting. Again, bidding on "free coupons" and "sweepstakes" nationally costs a fortune, but bidding on these terms in a single DMA is surprisingly affordable, and better still, is a great source of leads for the client from those who probably weren't initially seeking out that particular product or service. If you're looking to build an email database of prospects in an inexpensive way, running a geo-targeted online contest which requires an email address can be a very effective way to do so.

We've also found that geo-targeted ads tend to get good Quality Scores, resulting in lower click costs than can be had on national campaigns. Lower CPCs translates to lower cost per conversion and higher ROI.

So the next time you're wondering how to get the best ROI for yourself or your clients, consider geo-targeting. All 3 major PPC engines offer it, and we've definitely found it to be a worthwhile source of additional business for our clients.

PS: If you're not familiar with geo-targeting and want a well-done overview of how it works, check out my friend Marty's post at his aimClear blog.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

My 5 Favorite SEM Tools

Frank Watson at Search Engine Watch has a great post called SEM Tools of the Experts. He asked several SEM rockstars what five tools they can't live without. Answers run the gamut, from an A/B testing tool, to web analytics, to keywords tools, and Excel, all of which are great tools.

Here are my top 5, as posted in the SEW Forum thread.

Excel: While somewhat old-school, it performs so many tasks with ease that it's still irreplaceable. I can create and upload new campaigns in minutes using Excel.

Google's keyword tool: KW Discovery, WordTracker, and others are good too, but I can get almost everything I need from Google's tool.

A good analytics program: I've used several (NetTracker, WebTrends, ClickTracks, Atlas, Google Analytics, proprietary stuff) and they all have pros and cons, but if you set any one of them up properly, the data you get is invaluable.

The search engines themselves: The best research tool for what's actually going on, and to see what the engines are testing. I love what Google's doing with Local results right now, and you can't get a feel for that without going to Google and looking for yourself.

My own brain: There's no substitute for experience and gut feel. Tools can only do so much, and then a human has to interpret all that data and make decisions based on it.

Oh, and a sixth one: The great SEM community at SEW and elsewhere on the web, as well as at conferences. It feels like we have a lot of super-smart experts all working toward the same goal.

What are your top five? Post at SEW, or comment here.