Volume 89: 3/15/04

Teasing Search Engine Advertising from the Soup

Alphabet soup is on the menu today, except I'm going to ask you to search among the floating pasta for these letters: S, E, A, O and M. Grab three Ss and three Es while you're at it. The rest you can eat ... and while you are slurping away, I'll talk about some search engine stuff that is terribly important to how you manage your online marketing efforts.

Eating alongside me is Catherine Seda, president of Seda Communication. The author of Search Engine Advertising: Buying Your Way to the Top to Increase Sales1 (which has the enviable distinction of going into a second printing within weeks of its release!!), Catherine will share with us some valuable suggestions for paid listings.

Making Sense of the Soup

Those S, E, O pasta letters stand for Search Engine Optimization. This area covers all the structural tactics you use behind the scene that allow search engine spiders to crawl your site effectively and identify the critical information that will help you achieve higher rankings in the search engines.

The S, E and A would stand for Search Engine Advertising: pay strategies - specifically pay-per-click - that help you get the word out to the millions of people typing their search queries into a search engine.

And then there's the S, E and M. Search Engine Marketing. This is the umbrella label for the constellation of efforts you direct toward both site optimization and online advertising.

Okay ... now you can gobble up those letters. What a way to internalize some definitions!

A Focus on Advertising

Catherine reminds me that paid listings are not merely about buying a position in the search engine rankings. Rather, they are a refined tool for bringing qualified prospects to your site. And as a tool, they must be designed with conversion principles in mind. I scrunch a few eyebrows and ask, "So, what gets qualified prospects to click on a paid listing?"

"Highly-targeted copy," Catherine says after using her napkin. "The most effective strategy is to state a specific benefit of the product or service you're promoting - right in the copy of the paid listing - before offering an incentive. This pre-qualifies ad viewers, because they're forced to read what your company offers. The right audience will then see the special offer which can persuade them to buy right now."

Oh, that incredibly powerful beast - copy. Yet further evidence of the value of speaking to the dog, in the language of the dog about what matters to the heart of the dog. "But," I wonder aloud. "Do they always buy right now?"

Catherine sets down her spoon. "No, and that brings up a good point. When consumers click an ad listing and then return to the site later to buy something, that's a deferred conversion. Search engine advertisers need to make sure their tracking solution captures that data and gives credit to the referring paid listing. Sales can happen 24 hours later, or more than 30 days after the ad was initially clicked."

"I've often said," I mumble into my soup, "that not all folks act impulsively when it comes to making a decision to buy. Some need to spend a lot of time thinking and researching. That doesn't necessarily mean your ad didn't work ... it simply means the horizon on taking action was further out there." Celery has got stuck in my teeth, and I start picking at it, then realize my poor manners. Which makes me think, "What's the biggest mistake you see in paid listing campaigns today?"

Catherine smiles sweetly at my predicament, then turns serious. "Many advertisers are still sending ad viewers to their home page, instead of to a relevant landing page. No, no, no! Don't even think of doing that. It's so easy to direct potential customers to a particular product or service page. Conversion rates will skyrocket by simply changing the destination URL."

"Furthermore," she continues, "only a small percentage of search engine advertisers are creating custom landing pages for their ad listings and routinely testing new creatives to run the most profitable ones. Traffic is just becoming too expensive to neglect getting more current visitors to become customers."

In Catherine's world, and hopefully in yours if you incorporate paid listings in your SEM strategy, SEA presents an opportunity to design, test, measure and optimize one small conversion system. SEA has many of the same requirements as SEO, emails and landing pages. It's a mini experience in Persuasion Architecture.

Soup polished off, Catherine and I are headed out for ice cream. You, however, need to get cracking on some exciting work!

1 Ordering entitles you to a 30% discount on the book, $25 in free ad coupons from Overture and $10 from FindWhat.com for new advertisers.

Catch up and chew the fat with Bryan Eisenberg at Search Engine Strategies 2004 in Toronto on May 11th and 12th. Ask him what he thinks a "proprietary agile methodology" is and your next drink is on him!

Have you checked out the other places to meet us on our latest scheduled event?

We're thrilled to announce that Persuasive Online Copywriting is entering its second printing. So we'd like to offer a special discount to those purchasing 50 or more copies of the next edition. Call us for pricing details at 877-643-7244.

And finally, thanks to Santiago and Jaime of Infommersion and Xcelsius for all their help with our new interactive website conversion rate analytics calculators (in Flash) built with their amazing software. If you ever need to display any kind of spreadsheet in an interactive and attractive way, pay them a visit!

Bad Copy: An Example in the Negative

We've talked often enough about the importance of communicating your value proposition, not only on your home page, but on all your landing pages. You want to give folks an up-front, concise idea why they absolutely need to be doing business with you.

And we've talked about the importance of the message being meat, whether you are penning the words to that value proposition or any other piece of copy on your site.

Sometimes it helps to look at an example in the negative and evaluate it by identifying what you should not do! Just like those fashion DOs and DON'Ts columns. Most people who read that stuff tell me they get a healthy idea of what they should do based on an explicit presentation of what they should not do.

Read on for the full flavor of this great big DON'T. The copy is word for word ... only the name of the company has been changed to protect its questionable innocence.

Home Page

Acme Software is a custom software development company specializing in the rapid development of highly maintainable and dynamic software to meet custom client software specifications. Acme attains rapid delivery through active management and focused teamwork coupled with the constant improvement of our internal processes and development methodology.

Acme's highly cohesive team of individuals, each with both a breadth and depth of experience can help you out of nearly any software bind. Our custom software architects have been seasoned by experience in technologies ranging from custom middleware and wireless frameworks to client-server database clients. With this diversity of experience, we can create complete custom applications from scratch or convert legacy client-server systems to distributed n-Tier applications with deployment on a variety of clients.

Our project management and in-house methodology enable us to quickly turn our technical expertise into custom software solutions that deliver value. Using our proprietary agile methodology, we deliver products that closely follow the evolution of the environment in which they will serve.

By working closely with your existing development team, with your IT management, or on a free-standing component to be integrated as part of a parallel effort, we can decrease your time to market, decrease your costs, and improve your chances for project success.

Let's say you actually find yourself resonating with this garble, so you want to know more about who these folks are (you certainly aren't going to satisfy that task on the home page). You click on About Us in the only place you can find to take action, the global nav at the top. There you get to read virtually the same thing yet again, with one major revision:

About Us Page

... Our software architects have been seasoned by experience in technologies ranging from the nascent to mature. ...

What's so wrong with this? Let me count the ways!

Comprehensibility. Having read this really important copy - remember it appears as the sole "active window" element on the home page and is regurgitated almost word for word on the About Us page - do you really understand what this company does? I figure any intelligent lay-person (and I consider myself an intelligent lay-Martian), after reading this, should be able to come up with a concise, explanatory statement about a business's character. I can't.

Clarity. What the heck is a "proprietary agile methodology" (elsewhere referred to as their variation of XP 'Extreme Programming')? And by "nascent to mature technologies," do they mean some of their dudes work with laser devices while others use animal bones and chipped stones?

Image. I figure it's best if we say what we mean without dressing it up too fancy. There's a point when useful meaning starts to drown in pomposity, and you find yourself in a head game rather than a persuasive process. And in an image-conscious world, this is not the sort of image or emotional reaction you want to cultivate.

Showing versus Telling. Anyone's auntie can tell you she'll deliver value. Ya-da-ya-da-ya-da. The real key to winning the hearts of folks is showing them you can deliver value.

We-We. The overwhelming level of insiderness here is appalling. It's not just that the copy waxes lofty about how wonderful Acme is. Look at all the jargon (at least, I assume someone somewhere acknowledges that this means something). That insider pretense pushes most folks away. Its purpose is exclusionary.

Persuasiveness. Here's the real problem. Having thoroughly confused me, the copy then offers nothing in the least bit persuasive to encourage me to stay engaged with this site. No embedded links. No calls to action. It doesn't speak to any emotional need I might have. In fact, it doesn't even seem to care about me, leaving me only with a few bright technology-related images and a global navigation bar. Believe me, I'm not persuaded.

The short of it is this: if I can't make sense of why you think I need you, then how in the world can I have any degree of confidence in you? How will I believe you'll be able to understand and work with my needs?

The only way I'd allow any of you, my lovely readers, to put copy like this on your Web site is if you told me you wanted to drive away 99.9% of your visitors to increase the odds you'll be working with that rare client who "gets" this sort of communication.

For the rest of us, perhaps a little hungrier and much happier to appeal to a broad audience, this sort of copy is a negative filter. Take it from me. If you have copy anywhere on your site that reads even remotely like this, you are in serious trouble. And if you feature it as the sole active-window element on your home page, I predict dead-in-the-water status for you.

Personally, I think the best use for copy like this is to play MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over) games with your friends. Time them. See who blanks out the fastest. Unlike my little exercise today, you don't even need to make a point with it!

With thanks to John Morana for bringing this item to our attention!

Volume 89: 3/15/04


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