July 12, 2006
Are you in an insanely competitive SEM niche? When your prospects search for your services online, do loads of ads and sites come up? Discover a new, intelligent tactic to position your site as the best. You may be surprised by the landing pages that won this test.
Plus, the Case Study includes eight factors B-to-B marketers must consider when selecting an outside search agency.
Circuit board manufacturing is a fairly miserable industry to be in as a marketer. It's highly fragmented, so there are a zillion competitors and nearly everyone competes primarily on price alone. When you're moving a commodity, there's not much room for marketing brilliance.
… Or is there? Three years ago, MarketingSherpa wrote a Case Study about one break-out circuit board marketing campaign where the team led by Marketing Director Bob Schnyder had divided prospects into three groups -- design engineers, small standard-item orders and large custom-order purchasers. Each group had their own focused microsite dedicated to serving their needs.
Then, Schnyder poured his time, energy and budget into search marketing to drive qualified clicks to these conversion-engine microsites.
The tactic worked incredibly well (link to past Case Study below).
But when you've become a leader through great marketing, watch out because the rest of the industry is right behind you, ready to copycat your every move. Soon, search marketing competition grew fierce.
It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day search marketing wars when you're a high-volume, metrics-driven marketer. That's why Schnyder set aside part of his budget for roughly quarterly trips to marketing trade shows. The travel time served to clear his head and give him a better perspective on his overall strategy, while the shows themselves served as training.
Sometimes just taking yourself out of the daily grind for 72 hours can be a competitive advantage.
Schnyder's key lesson? He couldn't drive strategic marketing while managing highly competitive keyword buys personally anymore. "I realized I needed help." Next came the hire in-house vs outsource to an agency debate.
"I was pretty meticulous. I did a lot of homework," notes Schnyder. Given the current (insane) job market for experienced search marketers, he discovered that if he hired in-house it would probably have to be a search newbie. So he'd have to train on two fronts -- marketing circuit boards and SEM. By picking an agency, the training would be cut in half.
He set the following requirements for his agency choice:
- Must have B-to-B experience and clients, although not necessarily in his industry. B-to-B is a unique kind of marketing that either you get or you don't. Circuit boards specifically can be learned.
- Must be agreeable to the budget. Some larger SEM firms are cutting loose clients who don't have mega-budgets, and others try to force clients to raise budget. Schnyder knew roughly how much could be spent in his niche (based on extensive keyword, search traffic and marketplace research) and wasn't interested in being persuaded otherwise by an overhearty sales rep.
- Must match in-house metrics on cost per conversion. If the agency decided to spend more (or less) they still would be judged on cost per agreed-upon conversion.
- Must agree to a three-month trial engagement. Some agencies only take on clients who can agree to an annual contract up front, but Schnyder wanted proof of concept.
- Must be "sellable" to upper management. Schnyder needed credentials to pitch his choice to the CEO. If an agency head had speaking gig and article or white paper credits to his or her name, so much the better.
- Shouldn't promise the moon. Schnyder knew what was possible in search marketing and avoided reps who tried to oversell him on potential results.
- Must promise daily metrics report access tracking metrics useful to end-goals, and at least weekly team meetings via conference call. Schnyder wanted great communication.
- Agency leaders and workaday account reps must be a fit with "personality." "Nearly every agency can do the job. It's not the job of search marketing that's the problem," explains Schnyder. "The main problem is communication. I need to guide my virtual team, if I can't communicate, then it's not a good partnership. Personality has a piece of it."
After a careful three-month migration period late last year, where the team took over existing campaigns and researched the marketplace inside and out, they started testing. Many of the tests were obvious to anyone with an SEM background:
o Additional keywords and re-arranged keyword groupings
o Copywriting and key benefit statements in the ads vs the competition's nearly unremitting cheaper-prices offers
(i.e., superior customer service vs 30 years of experience, etc.)
o Testing beyond Google -- including MSN Search, Yahoo Search and other engines
They also suggested testing a change in the landing pages. Initially this surprised Schnyder because after all, clicks were being sent to microsites that had been overtly designed as conversion machines for search ads. Each click was placed directly into taking the next step in the process.
However, the team wondered, due to the high number of competitors and the fact that B-to-B searchers often open multiple windows -- reviewing a number of sites before picking the "winner"; should the landing pages be more focused on distinguishing themselves from the rest of the horde?
Everyone else's site was now screaming for the click, for the order. Why not reverse steps and calm down a bit? Why not, in fact, send new incoming clicks to an "about us" type page within the microsite from which they could then move to order?
These about us pages were never designed as conversion vehicles. They were fairly staid. Fairly corporate, without exciting graphics, big offers or enormous click buttons. Instead of talking about buying now, they discussed the relative benefits of buying from this particular company -- how PCB stood out in a field of look-alike competitors.
Since Schnyder outsourced SEM, monthly orders have increased 362% with a corresponding 75% decrease in cost per order. Although all the tweaks helped, the most significant uptick was from the change of landing pages.
For the two microsites with a conversion goal of direct online orders, conversions rose from an initial 1.01% to 3.74%, a 270% increase in paid orders by sending clicks to a different page on the microsite.
For the microsite with a conversion goal of getting design engineers to download a free software program (that could ultimately lead to orders), conversions rose from an initial 4.54% to 13.16% with the different landing page.
That's right, in a highly competitive, price-driven marketplace, you can win more accounts by positioning your search landing page as an About Us benefits page without insane price-driven hard offers. In essence, rising above the fray can work gangbusters.
MarketingSherpa's advice? Search marketing competition isn’t just about bidding wars, keyword research or clever copy. It may not even be about making your landing page more overtly conversion-driven. You may sell more by selling yourself less.
The key is in positioning your landing page to explain your brand differentiation extremely clearly to the online shopper who has multiple windows open and is checking out all competitors at the same time.
Useful links related to this article:
Creative samples -- before and after landing pages within sites
MarketingSherpa's past Case Study on the three PCB sites
SmartSearch Marketing B2B -- the search marketing agency Sunstone Circuits relies on to handle paid campaigns:
Sunstone -- the corporate HQ for PCB's sites: