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Sponsored B2B
Converting visitors into customers one click at a time...  

In the B2B market, an efficient PPC campaign needs to capture and motivate prospects throughout the decision-making and sales cycles; while always understanding that intent and CTR are not always uniquely matched with either the research or buying phase.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Text vs Graphical Links

Do people respond to visual elements or textual elements?

For a long time this question has been at the root of a considerable amount of Internet Research, particularly in SEM and SEO. Sometimes we get confused by the fact that in our work environment there are two separate users; namely, the computer and the person using the computer. We tend to ignore the computer, calling it an intermediary, and yet we tend to focus, by majority, on how the computer interacts with a website and not necessarily how the person interacts with the website. It isn't so much ironic as it is a red herring.

The fact of the matter is that computers see numbers and text - nothing else. Pictures are really just a series of numbers with tags to a computer or spider - in other words, graphics are a complex representation of a mathematical formula. (I wonder if Van Gogh or Monet would be impressed with this modern day view.) But to people, pictures create an emotional connection; pictures give way to resonance with a memory; pictures speak a thousand words...

E-commerce knows the value of a picture and a graphical link - when was the last time you were on Amazon and there wasn't a at the very least a picture of the book that you were trying to order. It is a way of putting a tangible inference on bits and bytes. In fact, a University of Maryland study in 2000 showed that there was a 700% increase in page views and subsequent conversions when a graphical link was used over text; or a 200% increase if both were used in an e-commerce environment. While a new study by Silverpop Systems Inc found that the average click rate for B2C e-mails with lifestyle photography was 6.3% and 5.4% without it.

Sure this is in an environment of e-commerce and direct marketing - but can the results be universally applied?

Our own research into SERP (search engine results page) interaction has shown that the visual element of text is what attracts fixations, whether that be hit bolding or resonance with a user's semantic map - the ultimate truth was that a word can act as an anchor point for a user interaction. However, the scan time is a matter of 100ths of seconds - too short to actually read and make a cognitive association, but slow enough to make a cognitive interaction with a visual element. It seems weird, but the user actually sees a picture of the word in that time frame (sort of the way all of those late night infomercials tell you that you can become a speed reader) and doesn't honestly read it. It's a stretch, but it does reinforce the power of visual elements.

If this is the case, why are most B2B websites designed to look like traditional print collateral, laden with text after text, too long, too many words, and very few images?

Understandably it is difficult to capture the promise of a fully integrated EDI solution in 8x10 glossy, but there are ways to make an emotional connection with a user through imagery in a B2B environment. In fact, when Habeas redesigned its homepage to include the image of a satisfied marketing director, page views increased 240%. Why? Because users resonated - they wanted to be satisfied marketers.

Google (pressured by AOL?) and Yahoo! have both been experimenting with graphic ads, whether it be putting them into their respective sponsored search platforms or designing new engines (like Google Base) to meet that opportunity. The fact of the matter is that SEARCH has become the front page for B2B websites, and if marketers and SEM firms alike do not start thinking about the end user and making emotional connections within a prospect/product relationship, B2B will lose. Innovation is the key to online success - taking advantage of those opportunities in the pipeline - the ones that your industry hasn't leveraged yet. For sponsored B2B, the next big thing will be an age old e-commerce practice, connecting brand/product with a graphical representation, because people make purchasing decisions; people are influencers; and people look at your ads, listings, and websites.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

The Real Cost of a Sponsored Campaign

In the past week I have had two prospective clients raise questions that ultimately stem to the "real value" of having a sponsored campaign, but more importantly, how you derive that "real value."

First of all, lets get some semantics out of the way.... Clicks are valuable; visits are valuable; reducing the CPC is valuable; brand awareness is valuable; but nothing is as valuable as a return on the bottom line. This doesn't mean just improving conversions, but improving the cost/conversion and the lifelong value of every single sale or lead. This is "real value," and sometimes being able to recognize and/or reconcile that true metric is not that easy, especially if you have a longer sales cycle and the purchase decision involves a longer than normal research phase.

So what are the issues?

If a click is somewhere in the distance past, how can you reconcile that unique visit with all the subsequent visits (whether organic, direct, or sponsored) within the research to purchase stage? What about linking this activity to a unique lead or any conversion? What about actually being able to cost all that activity to get a "real" metric.

These are difficult questions within the B2B marketplace... why?

Well for one thing, we are dealing with a fairly tech savvy market segment that doesn't accept cookies or traditional tracking methods - in fact, if anything, that market can be characterized with a certain paranoia around Internet activity and anonymity thresholds. This means it is very difficult to track click paths and activity linked to a unique visitor. Look at your analytics - do you honestly believe that your website is getting that many unique visitors? If it is, then your lead ratio is a bigger problem than you thought.

What else?

The B2B client isn't one person. In fact, there are multiple stakeholders involved in the process of research and purchase, each one visiting your website at some point; each one looking for different content and reinforcers; each one entering and exiting your site at different times, via different avenues. In the traditional method - the one that most sales departments are still built around - sales is an N2N interaction. One salesman, one client, one bottle of whatever it takes and a steak dinner (the original set for the Miller play). Traditionally, stakeholders were limited and any departmental interaction was behind the scenes, only bridged with the one presentation and office walk through. But today, there are a lot of influencers in the mix; namely, a tech influencer convincing his manager that a solution is needed, a manager looking to increase efficiencies, a CFO or CIO wanting to innovate, and a purchasing agent somewhere in there trying to dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s. Each one looking online for a solution, hopefully yours. But in reality, collectively they are one qualified lead - your analytics will tell you a different story.

Other Problems?

Throw into the mix the fact that you are not running just a simple sponsored campaign. You got smart along the way and started doing some organic optimization, usability testing, and customer research... didn't you? You are also probably trying to build a brand and have banner ads running (new research suggests that text ads are more effective if run in conjunction with banner ads - Harris Direct saw a 249% improvement in contextual ad clicks partnered with a banner buy) - maybe you are sponsoring a blog, or running unique PPC campaigns to whitepapers and internal research, or you have seen some value in site targeted content matching - either way, the funnel of your sponsored activity is wide.


So lets summarize... you have multiple stakeholders, a long sales cycle, multiple visits, multiple sponsored campaigns, multiple entry points, multiple exit points, probably multiple products or solutions that compliment each other, multiple conversions and conversion paths, and one "real" lead. Oh yeah... and you need to quantify and cost that lead to see if your sponsored activity has "real value" - plus you have to assess a certain share of the driving force to one campaign over the other. Now for the kicker, you have analytics giving you all kinds of numbers, different numbers for different categories, and a lot of marketing hunches.

Simplify the Problem and the Solution Appears

Looking at one thing too long makes it very difficult to see anything else, when really, sometimes by changing your direction you can see something entirely different. For example, a cylinder from one perspective is a circle, from another it is a rectangle, but in truth, it is neither. So why try and solve a problem that has so many layers going into it when there is only one outcome - qualified leads.

Why not integrate your sales, at least in as far as they actually provide you with some real estimates as to how many online leads it takes to translate to a sale. Is it 100, is it 5? The average gives you a cost/lead a number you can work with and improve.

Start by working backwards, from sale to click - and if you can't get a figure without making some assumptions that you are not comfortable with - then test the assumption first. If you cannot determine if the value is in PPC or banner ads, or assess there real relationship without making an assumption that cannot be justified. Justify it! Test the outcome by turning off the PPC or Banner ads like any A/B strategy. What was the outcome? Now reverse it? What was the outcome? Can you make now make an assumption you are comfortable with?

Not comfortable with turning things off to test the outcome? Let me ask you a question then... how comfortable are you with going forward the way you have been?

It takes time, but eventually you can derive a real value for every part of your sponsored campaigns. You may even be able to reverse engineer some dynamic reports from your analytics to save you next time. The best part, you can start coming up with a strategy that lets you allocate different proportions of banners, PPC, contextual matching, etc to get even better returns - constantly testing, and constantly developing. Just remember too, the difference between play-doh and a souffle is proportions.

In addition, always keep in the forefront that you need to always define what is your absolute key KPI in the first place - that is your starting point - and any improvement to that metric is where your real value is found.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Will Google's Custom Search Effect Sposnored Campaigns?

Yesterday Google announced yet another tool (it is almost a full time job staying abreast of all of these new tools). With Google Custom Search Engine, a new Google feature that lets you create subsets and tailored views of the whole Google SERP , you can evolve your internal search engine (Google Free) for those that haven't done it yet) to look outside of your domain and give your unique visitors a custom view of Search. In other words, you can become a sort of website Castro, and show your users what you think is an entirely relevant search engine results page.

Try: Sponsored B2B, B2B, Analytics, or Usability

When setting the new tool up, you can choose between searching one site or the entire Web - you specify how many (or few) sites get searched. After all, you know you current customer base better than anybody else, especially a mathematical algorythm like Google. (If you don't, you really should.) For example, if your website falls into the B2B marketplace, selling fabrics for uniforms and the like, you can tailor your SERP so that Gap, Levis, and the like don't appear. But you can also make sure that none of your competitors appear in the resulting listings. Why should you current customers know that there is another provider out there?

You can also manipulate the look and feel of the search box, to make it look integrated with the other design elements on your site. If you're not satisfied with the basic offering, Google lets you do quite a bit more customization from the "My search engines" page. This page lists all of the custom search engines you've created with a unique control panel. The control panel offers numerous options for tweaking your search engine. These options are grouped into a menu that includes basics, sites, look and feel, code, collaboration, refinements, make money (integrate with ad sense), advanced (in case you feel like taking it to a code level) and preview.

Google's new service is an outgrowth of the Google Co-Op program started earlier this year - its an interesting tool, but it really doesn't get you any new customers - it may impact bounces to competitors, but I highly doubt that it will cause any major changes in your numbers. After all, how many clients use an internal search bar to look for outside content (all the web box)? However, this little tool will provide you with some key current customer intelligence; namely, what are your clients looking for within your site - maybe outside of your site. But the most important thing you have to do is actually use that information to develop content (you can also use any analytics solution to derive this intelligence from whatever internal search you are using).

Remember though, you can listen to what your customer wants, but if you don't act on it what was the point in ever listening? If anything, this tool allows you to give your customers more of what they are looking for - relevance. Try using the tool to create partnerships with other companies, not competitors, but those that complement your product offerings - and maybe have those companies do the same.

Will this tool effect your sponsored campaign - it should - it should give you necessary information to refine your campaign for the better. It should help you tailor you current content for what customers really want. It should it should be used as a resource for making all things better. Will it be? Well, I suppose, that is up to you.

Other new Google Tools

Adwords has added 2 new report options: The Last Thirty Days (letting you create all reports for the timeline - no different than specifying the dates yourself [only SE fools never consider trends and external impacts on campaign results - an increase is really only an increase if it is above a baseline], but takes the counting your fingers aspect out of the equation) & Graphs (now including graphs for weekly and hourly reports - you don't have to labor in Excel to make them yourself).

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Google's Tool

Last week a good friend of mine wrote a blog about Google's new multivariate testing tool (Website Optimizer) and its possible implications on usability testing. Google's latest tool isn't the be all end all or any type of revolutionary innovation - it is a nice little testing platform that produces some pretty nice reports though. Basically, it takes what we should all be doing at all times, constantly testing and refining our sponsored strategies and campaigns for changes in our target markets, and packages it in a very user friendly platform.

Too many marketers get caught up in the ideology that the prize is in the messaging, or even worse, in the keyword - and spend so much time focused on demographics or behavioral tools to generate the perfect phraseology for driving traffic. Unfortunately, they tap so many resources that they hyper extend themselves before the real work is done.

Clicks are only clicks - they mean nothing really. Ask any traditional brick and mortar storefront how much value he places on the foot traffic out of his front door. Any one of them would trade one hundred look-i-loos for one buyer. But the rub is that you need to attract look-i-loos to land a buyer. However, if you spend too much time worrying about clicks, you wont have enough time to worry about conversions.

Landing pages are where the real money is made. A landing page motivates a sale, through content, messaging, usability, visuals, and other anchor points to resonate with a relationship and emotional connection between a buyer and a seller. (You can call yourself a service, information site, or whatever you want... if you have a website, you are a seller; if you look at a website, you are a buyer.) Usability and Relationship Management determine conversion paths and the perfect landing page - listen to your customer - and this is where Google's tool can be best used.

Website Optimizer will help you reduce some of the reporting time you are already investing in your PPC A/B testing strategies, or translate very well to you actually starting a testing strategy if the lack of available resources has been your reasoning thus far. Either way, it is obvious that in the near future, Landing Pages and identifiable conversion paths will be much more important to the search engines as well - why else create these free tools and focus on relevance with every algorithm upgrade - at least as important as they already are to your clients or to all those potential clients that are increasing your poor bounce rates.

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The Best Influencers Go Home

I was recently asked by Gord Hotchkiss to look into the traffic and search engine share of a few of our B2B clients. He was being interviewed by a financial analyst wanting to collect some information about sponsored campaigns, whether or not there existed a perfect formula for budget allocation across the various engines, and whether or not the dreaded Panama (or highly anticipated depending on how much you like having real search volume numbers instead of Google type ranges) had made any effects as of yet.

Truthfully, it wasn't terribly involved and the insight was limited, but I started to think about the questions being asked a little more than usual - not necessarily because of the answers, but because the questions were being asked.

First of all, I take the firm stance that there never has been, nor will there ever be, a strict and perfect formula for running a sponosored campaign. The customer always has to be at the center of every decision - if you don't know what the opportunities are then your current analytics are the next best thing. What are existent clients using as their search engine of choice; if your client base is primarily being referred through Google, then Google should get your majority share. Starting any sponsored campaign based on your current customer base is not only a safe route, it is often times the best route.

Unfortunately, this is where a lot of B2B marketers stop and fall relatively short. If you start a campaign based entirely on the information you have collected on your current client base, you will never grow, never see an uncharted opportunity, never make any inroads, and in the end, never hit any of your goals. Why? It isn't rocket science that when you give Google 60% of your total budget that it keeps feeding 60% of your total referrals. All things being equal, this is the way it always should be... however, with some of our strongest clients (those that have made the best inroads in usability issues and understanding that a strong sponsored campaign is about integrating and aligning solutions and not running independent solution lines), interesting opportunities have arisen when we have looked deeper into the popularity and daily traffic volumes of their current sponsored campaigns.

What did we find? In a nutshell, B2B influencers go home at some point in the day. I know this information is radical at its root, but believe me (as I write this at midnight), your market may not be at work all the time, but work - its thoughts, issues, needs - is still in their periphery.

The interesting thing is however that at home, some influencers haven't had the in-house tech guru assign their browser preferences. In fact, there home PC has probably been used by the entire family, and more than likely his teenage daughters are setting the default homepage as MySpace or GoogleTube. So what happens, for some odd reason the high converting query-engine match becomes MSN in the evening. Why? Because the IE browser search window uses MSN and sometimes that qualified target can't be bothered to change it at home.

Customers tend to define their own paths and their own schedules - answers and solutions are never predefined. Anlytics should only ever be a starting point, because if you rest on your laurels, there will always be somebody else to take advantage of that opportunity and pass you by.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Conversion Pages and Paths in B2B

Directing only the most qualified leads to sales is often more important than just increasing the number of leads, especially given the high price points on B2B products and solutions, as well as the drawn out sales cycle.

The ideal conversion path in B2B should be no more than 3 clicks, with two follow-up pages; namely, a “thank-you/confirmation” page and an auto-responder email with links for direct contact, questions, timelines, etc. However, on each page it is also absolutely necessary that the next logical and intuitive conversion trigger be highly visible. Given the long sales cycle, the quicker a user can be qualified, the faster that vital offline contact can be made and the relationship reinforced.

Oftentimes, B2B marketers make the mistake that the keyword is the user qualifier, and that there is no difference in intent from a researcher and a buyer that may be using the same search query; hence why there is usually only one conversion trigger and path per landing page. But there is no sure thing when it comes to organic rankings, and you are never certain that a research prospect is going to land on the research landing page when using a broad query. Because of this, maybe traditional "best practices" do not necessarily apply. Instead, why not have multiple highly visible conversion triggers on one landing page, the best ranked landing page. Like an old direction sign on the rural crossroads - help your prospect get to where they are going within your webite and don't put all your faith in the search engines to get them to the right landing page.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Whitepapers to Generate Leads

White papers that provide clear, concise and accurate information about enterprise technology products and services are tops in the leading sources of information that technology decision makers use to make purchases. When written well, white papers provide important benefits in educating your prospects and building a business case for your solutions. When disseminated to the right people, they are valuable tools to generate highly qualified [and educated] prospects. In addition, white papers provide real business benefits by reinforcing your company’s credibility and demonstrating your role as a thought leader within your market segment.

White papers serve to build mindshare for your brand and your product. To make a positive impact, white papers must be up-to-date, relevant and compelling; use industry lingo, select language that all readers will understand. Also, review your competitor's white papers before writing yours - so the position you choose gives you a competitive advantage.

Writing the white paper is only the first step. Getting key prospects to read it after its written is critical to meeting your business communication objectives.

There are several easy ways to get your white papers to the right audience:

  • E-Newsletters – Promote your white papers in your own e-newsletter or buy sponsorships in media that allow you to reach your target market
  • Directories - Syndicate your white papers to technology directories and white paper libraries where you will find a robust network of highly respected web sites that are trafficked by technology buyers
  • Lead Generation Programs – Subscribe to lead generation programs that allow you to use your white papers as the ‘trojan horse’ to qualify your prospects who are interested to learn about your solutions.
  • Press Releases - Issue a press release about each white paper.


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Friday, October 06, 2006

Ideal Conversion Scenarios

Ideally, every click to your company would be from a highly qualified lead far enough along in the buying funnel that they were right on the edge of converting; however, because of the long sales cycle associated with B2B products and solutions, it is far more likely that each prospect visits the website multiple times, researching multiple products and solutions, looking for different benefits, pricing, and implementation content before ever actually initiating an offline contact and becoming a qualified lead.

The “trick” would be to somehow match the behavioral intent of every click to a unique landing page with dedicated conversion triggers – where a researcher would land on a page that said “looking for more information”, while a CIO would land on a page that said “have questions about the implementation process” or “cost savings and real ROI from…” However, sometimes a researcher, buyer, manager, and tech use the same keyword when looking for different aspects: for example, “MFT” when looking for product specs, whitepapers, cost/benefit analysis, and implementation strategies.

So what is the solution? Content is key to directing each unique click to the most relevant conversion path. In other words, the universal landing page (unless search engines progress to a level of behavioral targeting that lets you filter a researcher from a purchaser and redirect each click accordingly even though they are using the same exact keyphrase) has to be a “written net” that is equally able to capture all types of behavioral intents. What does this mean, visible conversion triggers leading into intuitive conversion paths. It means understanding who and what your core target market is and is looking for. It means designing a landing page backwards!

When designing that ultimate landing page, work from the need of your target back to a single landing page. If there are three possible final pages (a research conversion page/whitepaper, pricing "learn more", and implementation plan download) work backwards from those pages to a single landing page with clear, although multiple conversion triggers.

A common red herring in B2B is to assume that the query is the only qualifier, and that intent always matches the keyword. In other words, a user looking from a research perspective will type in "MFT whitepaper", but more likely, a user types in "MFT." What you need to do, is be able to capture that long tail and those varied intents in one landing page.

In future posts I will discuss how landing pages can be tailored for multiple intents, and some best practices to qualify prospects within your site, maintain a strong relationship, and lower bounce rates.

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Public Relations Online

The most recent findings from the Pew Internet & American Life tracking surveys and comScore Media Metrix estimates 60 million American adults are using search engines on a typical day. Factor this statistic into the global evolution of broadband adoption and the sheer volume of daily global internet users is staggering, nearing half a billion. In addition, the overall global audience for any given product or solution is so vast and geographically diverse, that it is difficult to ensure that the right messaging is always getting delivered; add to that the fact that the internet is a two-way communication device, and the control of perceived reputation and brand identity seems daunting to say the least.

Search has grown beyond the industrial commercial web and is now well integrated with personal publishing, blogs, wikis, user reviews, comments and all kinds of publishing options which makes keeping track of what is being said about a company, product or service more and more of a challenge. Just do a search for Starbucks on Google and look at the 2nd result. For all of the blogs and social networks out there praising different companies and product lines, there are just as many doing the opposite. One’s reputation on the Internet is becoming just as important as, or perhaps even more than, one’s real world reputation. “A great brand can take months, if not years, and millions of dollars to build. It should be the thing you hold most precious. It can be destroyed in hours by a Blogger upset with your company.”

More than ever, reputation management through all online resources is an absolute must for any business – if WOM (word of mouth) can create a business, WOM can infect and spread across the internet like a public relations nightmare, forever impacting sales, leads, and brand perceptions.

There is, however, a difference between online and offline public relations. Basically, online PR involves activities geared towards influencing media, communities and audiences that exist solely on the Internet using online channels. That includes search engines, blogs, news search, forums, discussion threads, social networks and other online communication tools. Brand reputation monitoring and management is also a focus area for online PR.

As with all marketing tactics, a company should really consider the overall marketing strategy and choose the appropriate mix of tactics that will support the execution for a strong and integrated public relations strategy. The mix of SEO, blog marketing, and press release optimization along with the integration with offline marketing/PR tactics can be very powerful.

If a business has news, they should make it easy for the media to find out about that news. Tools include press releases, wire services such as PR Newswire and PRWeb, an online media kit, an optimized blog and a good SEO effort. Whenever a company gets online media coverage, they should be sure to use social bookmark services such as and to archive them. It’s also a good idea to use a company blog as a way to reach out to other blogs in the same space to encourage coverage of company news.

The most important online PR resource a business can have is a talented PR pro that can research story opportunities and persuasively pitch both online journalists and Bloggers accordingly. Sending out press releases alone is like throwing spaghetti against the wall to see if it sticks. Software tools can help make things easier, such as or Google Alerts for brand monitoring, but it is human interpretation that provides the most value. Monitoring how consumers talk about your brand can provide early warning signs for product or service issues as well as promotion opportunities that can be leveraged. However, by and large, developing relationships with online publication editors and Bloggers is also particularly useful, and for that, a dedicated resource is absolutely necessary.

Basically, reputation management (online) is the business of monitoring what the marketplace is saying about your brand. It also means responding to situations before they run out of control. Venues include blogs, discussion threads, forums and social networking sites. A simplistic formula is to allocate a proportion of resources to reputation management in relation to how important your brand is to your overall business. With the explosion of Internet which is now reaching an increasingly immense audience and the flood of information currently available online, a good corporate reputation can also be built and maintained online. More and more people are using internet, search engines in particular, to hunt for "unofficial" opinions and reviews of products and services.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Future Articles and Posts

Watch for future posts and articles about how to get the greatest return from your sponsored activity in the B2B market.

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