"We had hit a brick wall," says Neil Greer CEO Impact Engine Inc. "By January 2003, we'd reached the end of internal smarts about who we thought potential customers were."
His 18-month old ASP, which sells presentation technology to executives in mid-large companies, had pretty good sales. But Greer realized that he'd picked the low-hanging fruit - the easiest sales. To grow, he had to make his marketing work a lot harder.
Thing is, his marketing was already close to state-of-the-art for the software business.
Greer had focused his efforts almost entirely on paid search marketing to reach prospects who were actively looking for services like Impact Engine's. He carefully tested keywords, and set up about 10 different landing pages based on best practices in usability. (Link to sample campaign below.)
His offer was soft - visitors could take a 10-day trial without handing over a credit card. Greer hoped the service itself, combined with email newsletters featuring Case Studies of brand name clients, would convert trials into buyers.
In January 2003, Impact Engine's average campaign stats were:
Google ad clicks .5-1.5%
Click conversion to trials 5%
Trial conversion to buyers 1%
Greer found this intensely frustrating because, "If you're a motivated targeted buyer who found us from search marketing, why didn't you buy?"CAMPAIGN
Greer's breakthrough idea was fairly simple -- why not ask past trials why they didn't convert?
He quickly set up an online survey form for non-buyers (link to sample below). "We set it up as a series of conditional logic flows based on their responses. For example if they said the reason they didn't buy was price, their next question expanded on that. It's a typical reverse funnel.
"Each recipient saw no more than five questions in all. It was very hard to pick the five. You know the old saying, 'If I had more time I would have made it shorter?' Prospects have such a limited time to give us feedback, I wanted to make sure we got 30 seconds of their most valuable opinions."
After Greer emailed his list of non-buyers a quick note asking them to take the survey, "within 30 minutes we had almost 100 responses back. It was just phenomenal. In the end, the response rate was something like 20%."
The results "radically changed the way I was looking at things."
In the past, Impact Engine's landing page copy was a classic mix of lots of benefits and features with a broad exciting-sounding value proposition. It's the kind of copy you would write for a direct response campaign being sent to a good list to try to get people interested in you.
However, from his survey results, Greer learned that prospects coming in from search engines were very different than prospects you might approach through other channels. They were not interested in all his wonderful benefits and all the glories of his product.
The only thing they wanted to know was, does this product match the precise need I've got to fill right now?
Any other information in his search ad or in his landing page was extraneous and almost annoying to them. He learned, it's not about impressing people with marketing hype, it's about clearly and simply stating how you serve their specific need.
Greer revamped three aspects of his search campaigns to reflect this insight:
Change #1. (Much) more targeted copy for paid search ads
Previously Greer had focused on writing broadly applicable copy, with a strong promise and offer, and placing the same ad across many related search terms.
Now he switched tactics completely. Each search term got its own ad. The ad's headline was usually the search term itself, so seekers could see this matched their needs precisely. The short body-copy focused more on facts than hype. (Link to samples of old and new-version ads below.)
"I think Google has changed the way people think about any marketing - not just search. People now think, 'I wasn't looking for what you are talking about, so I don’t care. I'm ignoring you. They have such a limited bandwidth now."
Change #2. Expanding from 10 to 100+ landing pages
Although Greer avoided the all-too-common mistake of sending clicks to his home page or a single catchall landing page, he only had about 10 landing pages to serve more than 100 search terms.
So, he got together with his tech team to invent an internal process to create, track and modify new landing pages quickly and easily. Then he launched a new page for almost every single search term he advertised under. These were built using best practices, including:
o The headline prominently features the particular search term. "The main message has to match exactly what they were looking for. If I'm searching for 'flash presentations' and your main page says 'revolutionize your marketing', I'm gone. You broke your promise to me in your ad that said you were going to help me. And you're not relevant to me."
o Links to samples and information also feature the search term and terms very close to it.
o Visitors can respond immediately without clicking anywhere beyond the page if they don't want to -- the phone number and a response form are prominently featured.
o Visitors can see the entire page with almost no scrolling.
o Copy is fairly short and completely focused on the need that visitor has to fill.
"Instead of talking to them in terms of features and benefits, we talk in terms of what you can use our products for. That's the biggest difference," notes Greer. "Simple is better. The less you show people, the more you get. If you try to over- informationalize people on the landing page, then you're done. We take the opposite approach, we don't put a lot of content there."
Change #3. Refocusing email newsletter to product-info
If someone had shown us Greer's old email newsletter, we would have said, "Wow, that's great." It was beautifully written and designed. (Link to sample below.) Each issue featured a 'member profile' - a Case Study of how an Impact Engine customer used the technology.
However, after his survey-based insights, Greer trashed the old newsletter format completely and relaunched it as list of new product features. So, instead of fun Case Studies, readers got very specific details on how the product had been improved to serve them better that month.
If the recipient was a non-buyer, they also got a personal name and password to test out the new features for five days.
The new newsletter was far less soft and fuzzy, far more directly to the point. Greer says, "What readers want to know is when we improve products. They don't want extraneous marketing information from us. They are on such information overload. Our newsletters are now notifications."
His example, "I don't want a column from the CEO of QuickBooks, but I do want to know when they come out with a new sorting feature."
After watching the results from the new ads, landing pages, and newsletters carefully for a couple of months, Greer decided to expand his PPC ad investment and test Google's new AdSense system whereby text ads are placed on content sites with articles or other information relating to the subject in question.
He was careful to set up this test in such a way that he could track his clicks, landing page conversions, trial-to-buyer conversions, and average order size, separately from his regular Google ads. (In fact we strong recommend no marketer test AdSense without having separate metrics in place first.)
Greer tested a variety of broad and narrow search terms, looking to see which would work best, and if he should continue with AdSense at all…
Since switching ads, landing pages and newsletters Impact Engine's average Google AdWords click rate has risen to 2-25% depending on search term; landing page conversions are now at 15%; and trial-to-buyer conversions are at 5-7%.
The words "profound impact" don't even begin to describe a marketing test success of this magnitude. Greer's average CPM is around $5 and his sales are up 600%. And, again, let us note sales were not that bad before.
Interestingly, unlike many marketers we've spoken to, Greer's also had significant success with his AdSense ads (the ones that show up on content sites rather than search engines.) His click data fits what we'd expect -- he tends to get about a quarter of the clicks that he would get for the same term in a search engine.
However, after testing a wide variety of terms he's found many that pull in the same visitor-to-trial and trial-to-buyer conversion rate as traditional Google ads. "Once people drop into the funnel, we get pretty good numbers again."
Here’s the kicker -- Greer's average sale for a traditional AdWords lead is about $75 month. His average sale for the content-targeted AdSense leads is $175 per month because these leads tend to choose more expensive service options.
Why? Greer thinks it's because he's gotten much more targeted with keywords for AdSense in order to make it work. So, his ads are likely to only appear next to highly relevant articles that only a true professional in the field would bother reading. Therefore these execs are more highly qualified than the average lead from a broader term.
Greer advises everyone else using paid search marketing to invest in a non-buyer survey. "If you don't know what you look like to your customers and prospects, you're walking around with blindfolds on, trying to figure things out by trial and error."
He adds, "Our survey has really driven a lot of our success this year."Useful links relating to this article:
Before & after samples of Greer's search ads, landing pages and newsletters:
SurveyMonkey - the ASP Greer uses to conduct his surveys
Hitbox Enterprise by WebSideStory - the analytics software Greer uses to track campaign results:
Greer's home page