SWOT Team: Pondering Paid Search—From Clicks to Ka-Ching!
by Yvonne Bailey and Hank Stroll

Search engine marketing has helped to level the playing field for companies that lack the patience, expertise or dedicated team it requires to get their sites ranked high using “natural” search.

As pay-per-click search engine marketing heats up, marketers have seen cost-per-click rates increase to an average of over $4.00. Many companies, focused squarely on keeping their traffic volume high, are happy to pay the price for a 1.5% visit-to-lead conversion rate, but what about the other 98.5%?

The argument is that pay-per-click ads are keyword targeted and should deliver a more qualified site visitor. Savvy marketers prepare dedicated landing pages that help these visitors navigate directly to a targeted point of interest with an opt-in carrot at the end of the stick. Why is it, then, that so many site visitors leave the site without opting in or making a purchase? This issue's dilemma asks: What methods can you use to increase your conversion rates when paying per click for site visitors?

Click bank running on empty? Let us know what keeps you up at night. What dilemma do you take with you when you leave the office? Your peers would love to help. Write to us and ask our SWOT Team about your dilemma. Tap into the collective strength, wisdom and experience of this group. It works, and you could win a free copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

Revisit our previous dilemma—read below for your peers' best advice for determining whether using an in-house or a third-party email list is best.

Unite and make a difference!

This Issue's Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal Weakness

When we're paying per click, how can we convert more of our site visitors into customers?

We have invested heavily in search engine marketing over the past nine months. We dabble in over 100 keywords and obtain highly targeted traffic for our efforts.

Despite this success, we are still only converting about 1.5 percent of our traffic to leads, and at this rate we're paying almost $300.00 per lead. As a software company, we offer three opt-in entry points: a request for information, demo and a free trial. What can SWOT Team readers suggest to help us boost our conversion rates?

—Anonymous, VP of Marketing

Previous Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal Weakness

Should we continue renting from third-party list brokers?

When it comes to our email marketing efforts, we have always rented lists from third-party brokers. I understand that the new CAN-SPAM laws make the issues of compliance fairly tough on this group.

For our own security, we are considering building our own in-house opt-in list. What has been the experience of other SWOT Team members in dealing with list brokers since CAN-SPAM came into effect? Should we make the switch, or is there a way to verify that the brokers we deal with are in compliance?

—Anonymous, Marketing Manager

Summary of Advice Received

Anonymous, your concern is shared by many SWOT Team readers. With so much information floating around in the headlines about CAN-SPAM regulations, it's expected that we may have more questions than answers until the dust settles.

The irony here is that while legitimate marketers may be losing sleep over CAN-SPAM, illegal marketers all over the world have merely bumped up their efforts to hit inboxes in droves. Despite the regulations, SPAM doesn't look like it will dissipate anytime soon.

Your question is a valid one. How do you stay on the right side of the law and avoid any appearances otherwise? A couple of our responses came directly from list brokers who offer assurances on how to meet with compliance.

Here's what your peers had to say:

1. Clarify your email marketing objectives.

2. Alleviate your concerns by using a broker.

3. Build an in-house list and use third-party services.

1. Clarify your email marketing objectives

Anonymous, email marketing is like any other practice. Clarifying our overall objectives at the outset of the campaign helps to ensure that you obtain the results you want and reduce marketing waste and inefficiency.

The president of The StaffWorks, Daryl Lucien, offers this comparison of two primary email marketing programs that serve different objectives:

I suggest that you work this backwards, from your objective for using email marketing to the purpose the email serves to your audience.

  1. If it's all about cost, then a viable opt-in program will need a value proposition that meets with your targets' desire to know WIIFM. An example would be a newsletter that always contains free nuggets of valuable business information addressing the everyday problems submitted by readers.

  2. If it's about the speed of message or sizzle by way of Flash/HTML, or any other email alert, proceed with caution. If the use of email marketing allows you to prompt readers to take immediate action—a benefit that wouldn't exist in another format—then you may have a case for developing your own email-based opt-in program.

2. Alleviate your concerns by using a broker

Your question raised the potential negative effects on email marketing when using a broker, but as our SWOT Team readers point out, there are positive benefits you may not be aware of or may not have considered.

Daryl Lucien continues his response with this insight into the role that third-party list brokers should play in heading off the potential to become blacklisted as a sender of spam:

Unfortunately, we are now faced with three “flavors” of spam: regular, spam-lite and stealth.

  • Regular spam comes from the enlargers, meds, and XXX, and is fairly easy to filter out.

  • Spam-lite is on target with the audience, but there is so much bulk-mailing taking place that the initial reaction of most recipients is to delete it, simply because you can't remember what you opted into or out of... or even why.

  • Stealth is the most damaging. Some smart guy obtains an email with a legitimate header that contains your domain in it, hi-jacks your IP identity from it and begins a SPAM attack on the world. Using a legitimate domain buys them some time to operate under the radar, at your expense. It would take about two weeks to have your domain most likely blacklisted with several ISPs. Consider the impact on your branding.

Until the Feds and ISPs get their act together and create a secure email sending capability, I think list brokers actually are in the best position to create a standard for watermarking or fingerprinting bulk email that can clear the filtering gates being set in place and alleviate the email ill will that has now reached a toxic level. If enough of the list buyers demand it, this service may become a reality shortly.

Consider the amount of effort your company would pay to create an opt-in list. Then some cowboy at one of your targets notifies a Spam-Cop because s/he forgot she or he okayed the email solicitation or newsletter. Your company domain name is now on a blacklist that gets replicated in nano-seconds. Consider how you would deal with that scenario and keep your job. It's an old argument, but stick to your core business and buy the expertise when you need it. Owning expertise is very expensive to maintain full time.

Terry Nugent, vice-president of marketing for Medical Marketing Service, Inc., offers the perspective of a legitimate list broker on this sensitive issue:

By way of disclosure, I am vice-president of marketing for a provider of an email broadcast service to physicians. Our understanding of CAN-SPAM is that it is a very marketer-friendly, opt-out (vs. opt-in) statute. It is, in fact, much more nurturing of email marketing than the prior state legislation in place.

Third-party or list broker/manager email services that use emails acquired through legal means as per CAN-SPAM are not adversely affected by the new regulations. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

The only portion of CAN-SPAM that poses a challenge is the issue of opt-out suppression. We and other broadcast service providers have responded successfully by maintaining our own suppression lists and asking that clients provide theirs, so that no one who has opted-out from receiving a client's email marketing will be included in our broadcast. It does make some sense from a compliance perspective to consolidate broadcasts with one vendor, so that opt-outs generated by broadcasts to your house list as well as from rented names will be centralized.

3. Build an in-house list and use third-party services

Finally, we look at how to combine both options to come up with a viable solution to your email-marketing dilemma. Norm Swent, president of Marketery, Inc., also a list broker, notes, “The answer is you must do both, build an in-house file, as well as utilize the services of a quality, knowledgeable list broker.”

Norm continues with this suggestion for how to hone in on quality brokers with the right expertise to help you effectively manage and balance your email marketing list requirements:

You will never reach your total potential market without doing both, and even if you do, it's still likely that you will not penetrate your total potential. Verify that the broker will suggest only legitimate opt-in files. A quality, knowledgeable list broker knows CAN-SPAM, and provides guidance to his or her clients, not just on renting outside files, but will also provide sound advice and assistance on building an in-house file.

Way to cut through the confusion, SWOT Team—thanks again!

We did our best to provide a thorough overview of your responses to this timely topic. All of the advice we received was insightful. Thanks for your participation. We appreciate it!

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Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.

Yvonne is a “customer engagement coach” and President of EVE Consulting, helping companies achieve sustainable market leadership through the power of customer engagement.