Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Short Tail and Long Tail Keywords

Some quick observations regarding PPC strategies that I've been reviewing recently that may help your paid search ROI.

Many companies obviously seek out the highest performing (i.e. highest trafficked) keywords relating to their products and services in determining those keywords that they would like to ultimately bid on in Google, Bing, Yahoo, et al. The catch there is the more popular the keyword, the more difficult (and expensive) it is to 1) win it at auction and 2) gain a page one hit in a search engine.

Short tail keywords (definitions) are essentially broader search phrases, usually consisting of one or two terms (think 'running shoes'), that while being the most popular search phrase for a product or service will also be the most competitive and expensive search phrase in trying to win its' use as you bid for the phrase. If you're a small company competing in a large space (i.e. the aforementioned running shoes) you would have a very difficult time competing against the budgets of global brands for these phrases.

Long tail keywords are a longer string of terms, usually 3 or more words, that are much more specific and pinpointed to your product or service (think ' Nike running shoes size 13'). While long tails might not have nearly the volume of clicks as short tails, well-researched long tail keywords can have higher conversion rates than short tails and be a cost-effective way to drive more highly-qualified traffic to your site. They are usually much less expensive, and you are more likely to be able to gain a page one result for your ad.

A large part of your paid search strategy then is to do detailed ROI analysis to determine which of those types of short tail and long tail keywords convert - to a click, to a page view, to a form completion/response, to a lead, to an opportunity, to revenue. Use tools like the Google Traffic Estimator, Wordtracker and Trellian to help you uncover keywords that would resonate with your targets and drive traffic, as well as give you an idea of their approximate cost as you bid to use them. Go to some of your competitors websites and take a look at their page code -- you can see the keywords they are using in their own title, description and keyword meta tags, which can also help give you ideas for your own terms.

Relative to your industry or space, you may find it cost efficient to in fact bid on a higher-priced short tails if the business case is there after conversion. Or perhaps you'll find that you are in a niche market and short tail keywords aren't all that expensive to begin with. You may also find that the opportunity cost of the research it takes to find and maintain enough suitable long tails to make a good strong list is simply not worth it in the long run. Additionally, as (ideally) you are matching your landing page copy to your keyword/ad copy for optimum conversion, maintaining a larger inventory of long tail keywords/campaigns requires a significant uptick in time and energy.

The trick is to find the right balance in your keyword strategy and purchase. As always with any marketing investment, test and experiment to determine the optimal blend of those tactics that reap the highest results.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

ROMI Down to the Tactic

I had an enjoyable chat last week with a software CEO who had a outstanding command of marketing strategy and tactics. He asked some in-depth questions about demand generation and the ability to calculate a ROMI (Return on Marketing Investment) down to the specific tactic deployed in a multi-target, multi-channel campaign. I thought he raised some important issues that bore discussion in the blog.

I've found that many marketing (and operational executives) feel that once a CRM or marketing automation tool is purchased/deployed it will provide the magic bullet of calculating the program ROI of a given deal by attributing that deal being closed to a specific tactic at a specific time. I'm not suggesting that isn't possible, but would caution that that type of metric might be tougher to arrive at than you think.

Frequently I've heard feedback from salespeople who say that the deals they close were not affected by any marketing outreach as much as existing contacts/relationships the salesperson had that s/he nurtured and closed. Leads that were generated and passed through by marketing to sales weren't 'true' leads in that they already existed. And in many cases that may be true.

But the likelihood that a well-crafted, multi-target campaign helped shape and influence a complex decision chain is indeed very real. I'm not suggesting that a charter of marketing should not be to identify and collect net new leads for new business opportunities. That should be a large part of marketing's responsibility. But I'd like to make a case for level-setting in the ways in which you view the impact of your demand gen marketing investments.

If your typical decision chain consists of multiple targets (say 3-5 individuals, senior exec, middle manager/s, analyst), each with differing responsibilities to the final decision, it's likely that your campaign will include multiple offers to each target through multiple stages (AIDA) of the marketing process. Thus there are numerous client interactions/touch points that can and will take place as the decision chain educates to the problem, educates to the solution (needs recognition), assimilates proof points (needs satisfaction) and then takes an action to discuss the opportunity with a vendor.

To attribute the development of an opportunity or deal to one offer or action is very challenging in this type of environment in that it is fair to think that the sum total of numerous marketing interactions, plus the relationships that sales has had in the account, helped contribute to the deal being found and closed.

I can hear some of you asking -- then why do I invest in a demand gen initiative, in a marketing automation tool, in the creative and resource investments if I can't pin down a successful deal to any one tactic? I would argue that the way to think about this is more about attributing a deal to a collection of strategies and multiple tactics that were developed and executed as a systematic and coherent approach to help identify, capture, score, nurture, route, and track leads to deals.

In your campaign/deal post-mortems you will be able to identify certain tactics that created lift, that helped accelerate the process, that had more perceived impact than other tactics. (As an example, you can research and build models around those tactics that seem to frequently be in the mix in those opportunities that you have won. In fact that type of analysis should then inform your lead scoring standards).

But I'm not confident that you will frequently be able to reduce the success of a joint marketing and sales engagement to any one tactic. And I'm not sure you should be able to. Complex decision chains have an assortment of dynamics, including momentum, timing, budgets, politics and online/offline/human interactions that in sum help drive (or retard) the progress of the decision chain through the marketing and sales funnels.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Customers as Social Media Advocates

Many of you now are quite familiar with my enthusiasm for supplementing your traditional outbound marketing strategy with an inbound marketing strategy - getting customers to find you in online communities.

A large part of this strategy requires your planting 'seeds' of your brilliance -- your thought leadership, ideas and creative, innovative thinking for solving business problems -- in forums, blogs and social media platforms where they can be found by people interested in what you have to say. Taking on a content marketing orientation or creating a mini-publishing house, with the purpose of providing a relevant, compelling source of content (information and knowledge) on a regular basis is a significant aspect of building a relationship with a prospect and being successful here.

I tend to discourage blatant product or solution pitches as a source of content in your inbound strategy. It undermines the credibility you're establishing for being about solving business challenges and not just selling product. If and when a prospect is interested in learning more about your solutions, they will find their way to your website and be able to consume vast amounts of product information.

Why not instead seek to enlist your most satisfied customers as your social media solution advocates? How much more powerful would it be for a prospect to hear how impactful your solutions are from a company who has vetted several offerings and found success with your products versus hearing it from you? I'd bet it's a pretty big difference.

Here's an example -- if you're a member, go to LinkedIn Answers and ask a question, say about what CRM solutions are out there that people could recommend. Check out how many answers come from marketing and sales people associated with the vendors they recommend (some people state their company affiliation, but some don't. Talk about integrity). See a credibility issue there?

But how much more impact do the same answers from customers have? Especially those who state they have looked at several different solutions and undertaken a detailed vetting process. It's a significant difference amongst those people seeking an unbiased opinion on what works and why.

Recruiting these types of advocates is not difficult. Once they are on-board and (hopefully) have fallen in love with your company and it's products/services, they would probably be enthused to share their experiences as they have a vested interest in helping your company to do well and grow. You could also incentivize these customers with promotions, service discounts or even chotzkes to gain their assistance. Make it easy for them to identify forums, blogs, social platforms where they could add their 2 cents, and make sure they know that they would prove helpful even providing as little as a sentence of positive feedback.

I would also stress here that you in no way attempt to shape or affect the feedback they would give (which carries some risk, but you should have a strong sense of the type of feedback they would provide at the outset). Assure them that it's completely up to them to provide an honest and principled accounting of their experience with your products and service.

I think you'd be surprised how many of your satisfied customers would love to help spread the word about how terrific your company and it's solutions have been for them.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lead Lifecycle Campaigns

I met recently with the VP of Marketing of a what many experts consider a real up-and-comer in the marketing automation space. He's an innovative demand gen marketeer and has some terrific ideas and opinions about demand generation best practices. He made me aware of some solid thinking about those leads that haven't yet achieved sales-ready status.

One area we talked about was advanced lead nurturing and what he calls lead lifecycle campaigns. He defines these campaigns as designed to ensure that leads don't go stagnant (or get lost), to keep them moving with the goal of maintaining an ongoing interaction with the prospect until they are ready to buy or engage with sales.

Driving home after our meeting I was thinking about the number of leads I've seen generated that for whatever reasons did not achieve sales-ready status that just lingered in the marketing funnel, or worse, were jettisoned out of the system with no further action put upon them. It's a big number. His reference to these types of leads as simply in a 'not ready to buy yet' state was an interesting recognition of these leads having an intrinsic value (you've invested a certain amount of time, money, resource to get them to a certain stage).

My interest was piqued and that night I downloaded his company's guide to lead nurturing to learn more. In it they discuss lead lifecycle campaigns being broken down into three categories - lead handoff, lead recycling and new customers.

Lead handoff is when a marketing qualified lead (MQL) becomes a sales-ready lead (SRL) and is passed into the sales team. Details about the lead including date passed, nurture time and how quickly sales engages with the lead are noted. If the lead is not acted upon in a timely fashion (time frame established by sales and marketing together), not moved forward or is moved backwards in the sales process, there is a set period whereby the lead is reassigned or recycled back to marketing. This ensures the lead doesn't get lost or stuck or otherwise slow down the sales engagement process.

Lead recycling refers to leads which are not yet ready to be acted upon by sales. It's an acknowledgment that these leads have value and should continue to be engaged until they are ready, or until it's absolutely clear that there is no further sales potential. Recycling is important due to the fact that so many leads that enter the sales funnel are ignored or lost. The critical point here is that there are a percentage of these leads that are simply not yet ready to buy, but do down the road fully intend to purchase a product or solution. Potentially yours if you maintain a relationship with them.

The guide refers to two recycling scenarios, where leads are either automatically recycled according to set rules or they are manually recycled by sales. In either case, these leads can be ported to other campaigns in place which are cognizant of their status, the level of data that has previously been exchanged between the prospect and the company and provide tactics which reflect and leverage that information.

The final component of lead lifecycle campaigns is when new customers are won - and the opportunities you'll have to build upon the relationship you've developed with the (new) customer and add to their lifetime value with cross-sell, up-sell and service offerings that continually meet their needs. Drip campaigns for these customers can include welcome notes, helpful hints, newsletters, et al, that would be an ideal means to further deepen your customer engagement and strengthen your relationship.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Real-time Search in Google

I'm sure many of you have read either yesterday or today about Google's new search enhancement whereby they are now including real-time search results from news sites, blogs, and social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, et al. You can sample this new feature by going here.... scroll down to the box labeled More Hot Topics, type in Obama.... then watch real-time posts from a myriad of sites spill down one after the next. Pretty cool.

Obviously this is great news (and has huge ramifications) for inbound marketeers, not the least of which is the importance of being able to serve immediate content in Google about your space, company and solutions. This now provides a channel for your timely and relevant brilliance to be found immediately by prospects, partners, customers and media.

You'll also have an opportunity to monitor and respond to mentions about your company and it's assets virtually real-time, as well as identify other openings where you can affect the conversation about your industry and its' solutions.

Yet another reason for evolving your marketing organization into a mini-publishing house to take advantage of the multiple channels to create content for your prospects and customers and further increase your awareness and build your relationships. More to come on this in the days and weeks to follow...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Contact Acquisition

Many companies aren't always certain where to start when they tackle the task of building up their house lists (prospect & customer marketing databases) for future marketing and demand generation. When asked, I've maintained that a contact acquisition strategy should be included in the overall lead management strategy at the outset of any new lead management initiative at an organization.

When I talk about contact acquisition, I'm referring to those contact records you own (or have access to) that comprise the initial database source/s that you will aim your offers/messages at in hopes of generating interest (and leads) for your solution or service.

Ideally you would identify multiple contact data streams that would flow into your lead gen machine on a regular basis, feeding the campaigns you build and filling your funnel with the responses that evolve into qualified leads. And hopefully many of these streams would be economically sustainable over the long haul.

The question is -- where do you start? For many the first place they go is to a list broker (person or firm that specializes in procuring contact lists for use in marketing campaigns). I don't disagree that a good list broker should be part of an overall contact acquisition strategy. But list rental can be expensive ($150-400 CPM for B2B email lists) and reap poor results (open rates <15%, CTR .25-.75%).

List rental, data services (such as Jigsaw, Hoover's, InfoUSA), paid and organic search, content syndication, newsletter sponsorships, trade shows and events all should be important channels for contact acquisition (with special attention paid to acquisition cost and ROI).

But I also try to bring in as many easy, low-cost channels as I can when brain-storming ways to acquire new contacts for my campaigns. Simple things like adding a compelling link/offer to all company email sig files are free and simple ways to build your lists through transactional and customer service/support emails.

Remember to make all your web pages landing pages, with a newsletter sign-up field on every page as well as a gated offer or two (demo, webinar). With effective SEO, website visitors can be coming into your web site through other ways than the front door (home page) - make it easy for them to sign up to learn more about the problems you solve (and your company's solutions).

Also look to your marketing, sales and alliance partners to trade access to proprietary contacts with a message or offer that may be appealing to their list members.