Posts Tagged ‘Search Engine Marketing (SEM)’

My Only Guarantee: If You’re Not A/B Testing, Your Marketing Programs Aren’t As Good As They Could Be

Monday, March 29th, 2010

There are not a lot of certainties for small business owners, but the one thing I can guarantee is that you’re not always right.  Neither are the marketing consultants you might talk to or the “best practices” articles you might read.  That’s why A/B testing is the one thing guaranteed to improve virtually every marketing program you have.

The concept behind A/B testing is pretty straightforward.  Try making one, and only one, change to your marketing campaign and see if it makes you more or less money.  For example, would more people respond to a restaurant promotion offering $20 off the total bill or a free bottle of wine?  We can guess or make assumptions all day long, but the only way to know for sure is to test the two offers head to head.  If you’re doing a direct mail promotion, this literally means splitting your mailing list into two groups and presenting one offer to one group and the other offer to the second group.  It’s very important that you only change one thing at a time, so keep every other aspect of the promotion identical, including when the mailings are sent (i.e. send them all at the same time).  Larger businesses with high volumes and big budgets can try something called multivariate testing where you change multiple things at the same time, but it’s far more complicated and expensive so I wouldn’t generally worry about that for most small business marketing programs.

There are a couple of other very important things to keep in mind when A/B testing your marketing programs.  First, you’re going to need to ensure you can track the results.  This includes measuring the difference in both the expenses and revenues.  For example, if you increase your promotion incentive from $10 to $20, you can’t just look at response rates to see which is better.  The $20 version needs enough additional responses to make up for the increased cost.  Also, you need to ensure there’s a way for you to tell which promotion generated the purchase.  For some channels like Search Engine Marketing (Google advertising), this is easy.  For other channels like a restaurant direct mail promotion, it may be a bit harder (but it’s still possible) to track the net profit generated for each test group.

The last thing I’ll touch on for now is the topic of sample size.  I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about statistics, but it’s important to understand that your two test groups must be large enough to ensure that one group didn’t outperform the other purely by chance.  If you randomly mail different promotions to two groups of ten people and one person responds from Group A and two people respond from Group B, it will look like Group B was dramatically more successful.  However, because the groups were so small, you don’t really know if it was a better promotion or just random chance that made it more successful.    The more people you randomly include in each group, the more confident you can be that it was the change in your promotion that drove the increased response rate.

To summarize, here are the key things to remember for A/B testing:

  1. Only test one variable at a time
  2. You need to be able to track the results
  3. You need a large enough sample size
  4. You should start right away to improve the profitability of your marketing campaigns

I’ve discussed direct mail quite a bit, but A/B testing is also important for other marketing channels like search engine marketing and your general website.  I’ll have more on this topic in the coming posts.  In the meantime, thank you for reading.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Top Money Wasters – Part 3 of 3

Monday, January 4th, 2010

I’ve already talked about how small businesses can waste a lot of money advertising on Google by not using geo-targeting and negative keywords.  These concepts aren’t too hard to understand.  The third SEM money waster is a little trickier, so I’m not going to go into too much detail.

Mistake #3:  Overusing Broad Match.  I don’t want this to be a boring lesson in SEM, so I’m just going to try to get the high level concept across in this post and focus on the money wasting problem.  Google has three ways to bid on a search term.  I’ll illustrate with a quick example.  If you’re a dentist in Seattle and you want your ad to appear when someone searches in Google for “Dentist recommendations”, your main options Exact Match, Phrase Match, and Broad Match.  For now, I’ll just focus on Broad Match, which is commonly used.  Broad match gets you the most volume because Google and the others will show your ad even if the words are shifted around or sometimes even if synonyms are used.

For example, if you broad match “Dentist recommendations”, your ad will also show if someone types in “Dentist recommended toothbrush”.  If I were a dentist in Seattle, I wouldn’t want to pay for that second search.  By the way, 1-800-Dentist is falling victim to this at the time of this writing.  They come up #1 on “Dentist recommended toothbrush”, ahead of Sonicare and a consumer search site.  When I clicked on their ad (sorry 1-800-Dentist, I owe you $5), I saw no mention of toothbrushes.

Now there are advantages to incorporating broad match and certainly including negative keyword helps.  The big takeaway here is if you decided to manage your own SEM program (or you have a friend of a friend who knows a guy who’s doing it for you), check to make sure you’re not primarily (or only) using broad match.   If you are, it’s time for a tune-up.

Well that’s all for now.  If you have any other big money wasters, please feel free to share in the comments section below.  Until next time, thank you for reading.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Top Money Wasters – Part 2 of 3

Monday, December 21st, 2009

My last post talked about how companies could throw their money away with Google advertising if they don’t use geo-targeting.  The good news there is that at least it’s a bit obvious when you set up your Google campaigns that geo-targeting is an option and it’s pretty intuitive.  Mistake #2 is not quite as obvious.

Mistake #2:  Not using Negative Keywords.  If you are an architect in Seattle, you might be interested in paying for a term like “Seattle architect”.  Would you also like to pay for “Seattle architect careers” or “Seattle architect classes”?  Almost certainly not.  However, there are restaurants out there paying to attract people looking for free recipes and dentists paying to attract people looking for dentist approved toothbrushes.  That’s where Negative Keywords come in.

Negative keywords are terms that you tell Google and the other search engines you specifically don’t want.  In my examples above, you might include the words job, career, degree, classes, landmarks, and dozens or even hundreds of other terms.  Much like geo-targeting, it’s not a complicated concept to understand, but if you don’t use it, you’re throwing your advertising budget out the window.

The last mistake in the series is coming up soon – Overusing Broad Match.  Until then, thank you for reading.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Top Money Wasters – Part 1 of 3

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

As much as I love search engine marketing (Google advertising), there are some major mistakes that you can make to flush your marketing budget down the toilet in a hurry.  I’ll discuss three of the biggest mistakes over the next few posts.  If you’re running your own SEM program and you’re making these mistakes, the good news is that it’s not so hard to fix them.  If you’re using an agency or professional search engine marketer, it wouldn’t hurt to confirm that they’re on the right track.

Mistake #1:  Not geo-targeting.  One of the coolest things about Google advertising, especially for small businesses, is that you can specify the geographic location where Google shows your ads.  For example, if you’re a dentist in Seattle, you can tell Google to only show your ads to people located within 10 miles of your office.  Google will look at the IP address of the shopper and try to determine their physical location.  Also, if someone types in “Seattle dentists”, Google would likely see this as a good match and show your ad.

Let me share a real life example of a small business owner who was just throwing away money.  I was researching competition for a client who runs an architecture firm.  I live in Seattle and typed “home remodel” into Google.  The top ad was a drywall contractor in Florida.   Unless the contractor was planning on flying across the country to work on my remodel – doubtful – he was throwing that money away.  What’s worse is that if he wasn’t using other controls like daily spend limits, he could have potentially drained his annual advertising budget in a week because Google estimates that “home remodel” could get up to a couple thousand hits per day, and I’d guess that term costs at least $4 per click.

Even if you do business across the US or in multiple countries, Google will let you target the specific locations and even specific languages if you’d like.  Not taking advantage of this tool is just giving your money away.  Stay tuned for Mistake #2 – Not using Negative Keywords.  Until then, thank you for reading.

Two Big Reasons to Consider Search Engine Marketing (Google advertising)

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Just in case you don’t know, search engine marketing or SEM refers to the paid ads that appear at the top of Google, Yahoo, or MSN (Bing) when you search for something on those search engines.

There are a lot of marketing channels out there – direct mail, e-mail, print ads, tradeshows, and many more. But of all the channels, SEM is one of my favorites and it’s one you should strongly consider two big reasons.
1. Affordable and controllable. It’s hard for a lot of small businesses to afford traditional marketing programs like print advertising or TV commercials. Google advertising literally starts at $5. While that would be silly, you can realistically start for as little as $500 or $1,000 depending on your business. You can control how much you spend every day and even how much you spend for each search phrase on which you’d like to bid. If it works for you, it’s quick and easy to scale up to generate more business.
2. SEM targets shoppers when they’re looking for you. Unlike traditional advertising where you blast your message to the world and hope some of them are interested, search engine marketing serves your message to people when they’re specifically looking for your product or service. Not only are they interested, but they’re also in research/shopping mode. Virtually no other channel can offer that the way that SEM can.

I will say that SEM may not make sense for every business model, especially if you have very small margins, but it’s still worth examining to be sure.  Before you implement search engine marketing, take a look a the next few posts so you can avoid some of the most common SEM money-wasting mistakes. Until then, thank you for reading.
-Jeremy