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Prior to days of the dot-com, it was expected that individuals intent on leading corporations of the future would attain a university degree. At that time, higher education was believed to correlate directly with success in the real world and the corporate environment.

At the peak of the e-commerce frenzy, however, studying doctorates and undergrads alike were all too happy to abandon their credential quest for a chance to roll the dice in the instant millionaires club of the late '90s. In fact, many of the greatest minds of today's business world left university before completing their degree, going on to wield power in some of the most successful enterprises of our day.

While most entrepreneurial types will tell you they love learning, many find it difficult to stay within the bounds of university curriculum. What is the role of education in regard to career opportunities? Does it take a special breed of individual to make it in the real world without the traditional academic foundation that society and the corporate world deems important? This issue's dilemma asks: Are obtaining a degree and academic credentials still vital to success?

Submitting an IOU on the dilemma of an MBA? 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 on converting site visitors to paying customers.

Unite and make a difference!

This Issue's Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal Weakness

Is the absence of a degree limiting my career opportunities?

I have spent the last 15 years of my career working either as the owner of my own business or working in executive roles for other companies. Although I chose not to take the academic route, I have always been very successful in my career, until now.

Over the last couple of years, it has been more of a challenge to find companies that are willing to pay me what I am accustomed to. I'm wondering if despite my years of experience, my degreeless CV doesn't stand up against my university-educated counterparts. SWOT Team readers, is it time for me to head back to school?

—Dalton T., President and Interim Executive, Anonymous Company

Previous 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% 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, a demo and a free trial. What can SWOT Team readers suggest to help us boost our conversion rates?

—Anonymous, VP of Marketing

Summary of Advice Received

Anonymous, sounds like you're caught on the treadmill that is cost-per-click advertising: you're forced to keep spending money just to stay in the game—and if you stop funding the machine, the lead stream dries up.

Search engine marketing is still relatively new, which often means a painful and budget-testing experience in the absence of established benchmarks for gauging your own success.

Nonetheless, we know that as a software company you're dealing with an extended sales cycle, in relative terms. Accordingly, your focus is not on the actual sale but on high-quality leads. Given that situation, fellow SWOT Team members offer the following advice:

1. Hone your keyword selection.

2. Target content to specific sales stage of visitors.

3. Encourage interaction to gain feedback from site visitors.

1. Hone your keyword selection

You may want to take a closer look at your keyword selection. By using more specific phrases, you may find you attract site visitors who are further along in their buying decision.

An anonymous SWOT Team member questions the value of using 100 keywords and offers a helpful resource book:

Your competitors probably have those same 100 keywords—therefore, look for bargains, and use laser-like focus to leverage your copy, landing page, and keyword selection. Do you really need all 100? What if you select only the top 20 converting terms? Are there obtuse terms that you haven't thought of yet? Read and know Andrew Goodman's Google Book for more information.

Another anonymous SWOT Team member offers a few quick steps for helping you narrow the keyword selection to attract the right buyers:

Although several factors affect conversion, it all starts with a good selection of keywords. In my experience, you get better conversions if you target people who are already informed about your product/service and who are closer to a purchase decision. To do this, you'll have to see the “person behind the keywords.” Look at the keywords and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who is this person?

  2. What does she/he know about my product, service, my market, etc.?

  3. How close to a purchase decision is this person?

Let me use marketing as an example. If someone types “marketing” in a search engine, what does that tell me about him or her? Very little, if anything. I don't know what this person wants, and he/she probably doesn't either. If someone enters “direct marketing,” that is better, but the picture is still quite fuzzy.

Now if someone is searching for the specific name of a copywriting guru, I know that the researcher already has at least some education about marketing, and I know he/she is into copywriting. If I am selling copywriting material, I stand a better chance with this one. Let me quote Claude Hopkins: “Don't try to educate prospects, it's too costly. Go for the people who already know what they want, and who are ready to buy what you're selling.”

2. Target content to specific sales stage of visitors

Keywords are the hook, but they are just the beginning. It's important to match the content of your landing pages to the expectations of each select, targeted group of visitors. Use landing pages to build on, and deliver, the promise of your selected keywords.

Damon Borozny, vice-president of Internet Marketing and Sales for Regular Joe Coffee, offers an example of the importance of using landing pages that support your keyword selection:

Is your content targeted to the visitor's position in the sales funnel? You may want to check to make sure that the copy in your pay-per-click ads is relevant to the info the customer is expecting. For example, don't put “puppy washing tips” in the ad and then lead right into a page talking about your Puppy Wash product. Give them what they are expecting.

Also, have you considered giving the info away for free (i.e., without requiring an opt-in)? This will provide an even more targeted lead. However, you do have to trust that your message will be so compelling that readers will “claw” at your organization to get more info.

Jorge O. Castaneda, managing director of Buzan Centres Mexico, believes that even with search engine marketing, a one-to-one approach is key:

The key is to focus on marketing-one-to-one techniques, whereby you identify mini-clusters of customers who have similar purchasing behaviors and needs, and then customize the value proposition, via opt-in Web pages and targeted offerings. This approach will deliver customers with a much higher probability of converting (five- to ten-fold compared to mass email marketing).

3. Encourage interaction to gain feedback from site visitors

One way to get more out of your ad spending and gain valuable information to help you successfully adjust your efforts is to survey your site visitors. Offer a low-cost incentive, such as an objective report on the problem or issue surrounding the need for your product or service. You'll gain valuable feedback and provide something of value to your survey participants at the same time.

Designer Cairril Mills, owner of Cairril.com Design, believes that gaining feedback directly from your site visitors can help you improve your current rate of performance:

Sounds like you are doing lots of the right things. Could it be that your product isn't conducive to impulse action? Maybe people are coming to your site, reading your landing page, and then deciding to shop around a little more, or see if they can find independent reviews of your product first. Obviously, whatever you're selling on your landing page (regardless of all the risk-free ways you're offering it) isn't compelling enough to get people to take action. Which means one or more of the following:

  1. Something else is happening to decrease their trust/interest in you;

  2. Your traffic may not be as targeted as you think; and/or

  3. Your product isn't one that people will act immediately to learn more about.

Without more info, it's hard to know what's going on; but you might look at getting feedback from existing customers, setting up a focus group, and running usability tests on your site. In other words, get data from people you can interact with instead of trying to guess, based on people with whom you have no connection.

A successful conversion, 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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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.