If pay-per-click search-engine marketing (SEM) is such a fabulous way to peddle your website’s products and services, why do so many e-enterprisers who use it — even those with substantial search advertising budgets and a full-time in-house professional SEM staff — hate it so much?
Or maybe “hate” is too strong a word. Maybe dislike is more accurate. Or perhaps distrust. Maybe it doesn’t matter how you label the attitude. Maybe the only thing that really matters is that 57 percent of senior-level corporate SEO operatives recently surveyed on behalf of [x+1], a leading provider of predictive marketing solutions, ranked the expected efficiency of their 2009 search-engine marketing campaign at one or two on a scale where seven is best and one is worst. (Zero was not an option, but would probably would have been a popular choice if available.)
According to the [x+1] survey, only 10.3 percent of the survey respondents reported a lift conversion ratio (the ratio of “hits” resulting in a purchase, acceptance of an offer or other action relative to the total number of hits) of more than 20 percent for keywords purchased from search engines. Over 50 percent reported a conversion rate of under 20 percent and a full 15.9 percent said they hadn’t experienced any appreciable increase in conversion rate at all.
Understand that [x+1]‘s poll takers weren’t talking to mom and pop site owners who, perhaps, were newbies to search-engine marketing and didn’t understand all the nuances of selecting the right keywords to buy and the optimum ways to SEO their pages to maximize conversions on those keywords.
Almost 90 percent of the people reporting such dismal results from paid search, [x+1] says, lived at or above the VP or director of marketing level on their company’s organization chart and 51.4 percent had “decision-making authority on spending and allocation of search.”
And while it’s true that only 53.3 percent of them had annual marketing budgets of more than $5 million to play with, a lucky 7.5 percent were planning to pull the trigger on at least $100 million.
So we aren’t talking about clueless dweebs here. Or, if we are, they’re probably the highest paid clueless dweebs in the industry — especially the 15.9 percent who claim to be working for companies with more than $1 billion in annual revenues.
If these experts, armed as they presumably are with the best metrics, analytics and strategic thinking money can buy — not to mention very little to do with their working hours except trying to get and keep their company’s marketing communications program on track — are getting such poor results from search marketing what hope do all the little fish in the SEM pond have?
Quite a bit, actually. Since there really is no direct correlation between money and brains (think Paris Hilton vs. Einstein), there’s no reason a’tall why some intelligent, aggressive operator can’t develop a better, more effective keyword-bidding strategy for his kitchen-table website than some 31st-floor executive can for his offshore-owned Fortune 500 one.
This is particularly true because the small-site operator is quite likely to be a lot closer to his customers and have a much greater feel for their interests than the research associates doing the grunt work for the seat warmer in the executive office. You can call this ability to connect with end users intuition or empathy or gut feelings, but whatever you call it, it’s one of the few things in the business world you can’t put a price tag on. Steve Jobs would have it even if he left Apple to become CEO of a corner hamburger stand and ex-GM CEO Rich Wagoner wouldn’t have it if he were managing a neighborhood lemonade stand.
There is another side to this story, of course. The execs polled by [x+1] can afford to be wrong. If their SEM effort is underperforming this year, they can just throw more bucks at it next year. We’re not making that up, nearly two thirds of [x+1]‘s respondents said they plan to spend at least as much on SEM this year as last and more than 13 percent planned to crank up SEM spending by over 20 percent despite economic cutbacks in other areas.
Small business operators are in a different boat. While risk-taking is an integral part of operating any business, the scale of the wagers they can afford is far smaller and their margin for error is far, far thinner. Which makes ethical, relevant linking an even more compelling and viable strategy for building traffic, converting visitors to customers, and branding a website in bad times than it has historically been in good ones.
The reason is this: There is no such thing as a losing scenario for a quality linking campaign. That may sound — and probably is — self serving coming from LinksManager, but that doesn’t make it any less true. We’re not saying you always come up a winner with a link exchange, some links just aren’t productive. But you haven’t lost anything on those non-productive links because you haven’t paid anything for them; they aren’t draining cash from your pocket every time they get clicked without resulting in a sale.
Meanwhile, your productive links — which are also costing you nothing — are adding sales to your bottomline with zero overhead. Which is a great win by anyone’s definition.
If you’re a regular reader, you probably know that we frequently dispute the opinions of the SEO guru community. In the case of Pay Per Click SEM — particularly Pay Per Click during the worst economic crash in exactly 80 years — however, we have to agree with SEO Pro Steve Baldwin, editor-in-chief at Didit, the well-known search engine marketing agency.
“Paid search is an exceptionally difficult marketing medium to master, despite the perception promoted by the search engines that it’s a self-serve, plug-and-play road to profits,” Baldwin wrote in late June 2009. “Here, failure isn’t just an option: it’s practically guaranteed for the unwary and unequipped.”
And, frequently, if the [x+1} survey is to be believed, for the wary, well equipped and enormously funded as well.