Best Practices in Measuring the Effectiveness of Non-E-commerce Paid Search Programs
Paid search programs are moving beyond their traditional niche as a sales channel for e-commerce companies and retailers. Organizations ranging from component manufacturers to CPGs (consumer packaged goods companies) are starting to embrace search as a powerful way to raise brand awareness, create direct relationships with customers and generate leads for sales, particularly in business-to-business selling models.
In the e-commerce and retail world, the value of paid search programs is relatively easy to calculate -- an advertiser enters the Google or Yahoo! auction, bids on keywords that drive traffic at a particular cost per click and measures the sales made online generated from these keywords.
However, in B-to-B or non-e-commerce marketing, that conversion event is rarely translatable into a dollar value. Instead, actions driven on the site tend to be components of the sale and not the sale itself.
Take for example a large consulting firm. The sales cycles are 6 to 9 months long, with deal sizes in the $1 million or more range, and are executed by a human sales force. However, many prospects conducting research on the firm do so online through the company's Web site and get to the site through search engines. Once visitors reach the site, the consulting firm doesn't sell them consulting. Rather, it asks visitors to register for events, download whitepapers or fill out "contact me" forms -- anything that will get visitors to interact and, more importantly, identify themselves online. Given these non-e-commerce objectives, how is the effectiveness of the search interaction and the spending on paid search programs measured in this situation?
The answer is the Quality of Visit score, which is emerging as a standard metric that enables enterprises to measure the level of engagement of visitors to the company's Web site. This is the best practice in measuring the effectiveness of paid search programs for non-e-commerce transactions.
And how is the Quality of Visit score determined? Below are the three steps:
- First, the advertiser must define a strategy for where it wants to send visitors based on specific keywords -- that is, create discrete landing pages for each of the products or services being offered. In the case of the consulting firm, a different page is developed for "Customer Relationship Management" consulting than for "Enterprise Resource Planning" consulting. These landing pages need to have specific calls to action to drive customer engagement and get visitors to identify themselves, either by downloading something or registering.
- Second, the advertiser must have a measuring mechanism in place to monitor which call to action a visitor executes. This usually means configuring the Web analytics technology used to measure Web site interaction. Most Web analytics technologies are set up to see what aspects of the site visitors are activating. But for paid search analysis, the configuration has to be able to show the interaction of a user at the keyword level. This requires additional configuration.
- Third, the advertiser has to apply a "score" to each of the activities based on its relative importance to the engagement process. The highest number is a measure of positive engagement and the lower number an indicator of negligible engagement. For example, the consulting firm referenced above determined that getting someone to fill out a "contact me" form is the highest form of engagement, assigning this a 10 on a one-to-ten scale.
With this information, visitors to the site are evaluated for their depth of engagement by adding up the points of the activities they engage in on the page. This level of engagement, or Quality of Visit score, is then evaluated against the cost of the keywords from the search engines that drove the traffic to the site. A keyword like "consulting services" might drive relatively benign visitor quality, while a keyword like "B2B consulting service in New York" might drive very high-quality visitors. This information is used to evaluate the relative expense of each of the various keywords being bid, providing a way to measure effectiveness of keywords and campaigns in paid search for non-e-commerce companies.
This technique is being used by many high-tech companies (selling enterprise software and services), CPGs (measuring brand awareness), automobile manufacturers (looking at how well they drive deals to distributors) and consulting firms. Leveraging these techniques is necessary to show the company the effectiveness of search programs in providing leads to a sales funnel that has more complexity than those in the traditional retail space.
Craig Macdonald is the vice president of marketing, alliances and product management for SEMDirector Inc., a San Diego, Calif.-based provider of search marketing automation software. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org