Before the days of search engine marketing (SEM), advertising your business to potential customers was a lot like throwing darts while blindfolded.

Assuming you faced the dartboard when the blindfold went on, you had a pretty good idea of where to toss your darts—but you had no real way to know whether you hit the mark.

For example, during the holiday season, you might have asked yourself the following questions about your advertising efforts:

  • How many people saw your quarter-page ad in the Yellow Pages, the one for which you paid extra to add festive red and green colors for the holiday season?
  • How many people heard that 15-second radio spot of your conversation with Santa? (Or how many people changed the channel as soon as they realized the music had stopped?)
  • Of the people who saw your print ad or listened all the way through to the end of your radio spot, how many were interested enough to call or stop by your business?
  • How many of the people who called or stopped by your business converted to a sale?

Saying that it's difficult to measure advertising ROI with any real degree of accuracy via print and broadcast media would be an understatement.

You might be able to get a little closer to the bull's-eye if you included a coupon or offered a discount to customers who told you that they heard about you on the radio. Still... not everyone would clip the coupon or remember to mention the radio ad.

Fast Forward to the Present

More and more people are opting out of having a phone book delivered. They haven't opened one in years now that they can find anything they need by entering a few keywords into their favorite search engine.

Moreover, with the advent of customizable streaming radio services and MP3 players, which let people take their entire music collection anywhere, fewer people are tuning in to the traditional stations that constantly interrupt the music with ads and public service announcements.

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image of Tina Kelleher

Tina Kelleher is community manager for Bing Ads, a service that provides pay-per-click advertising on both the Bing and Yahoo! search engines.

Twitter: @Tina_Kelleher