Search Engine Guide: Search's Success Raises Costs, Reduces Tracking

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The direct response industry has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Web. Philosophically, I regard the Web as a wonderful alternative to telemarketing.


When properly designed, a Web site can be friendly, build brand and relationships and educate while motivating consumers to spend as much or more than they would when talking with a live operator. And the biggest benefits are cost and scale.


Web transactions can cost pennies compared with the dollars or tens of dollars spent on a live operator, and it is much easier to scale for the uncertainties of direct response on the Web versus trying to staff a telemarketing center.


These advantages coincide with consumer preference. Buyers increasingly prefer the Web as a response medium as opposed to calling a number. Our clients experience an average of more than 40 percent of response to advertising via the Web as opposed to the phone, with the average rising at more than 5 percent a year. Some of our campaigns aimed at younger demographics see Web response levels at 70 percent or more.


But recently, because of consumer habits and browser dominance, some of the Web's advantages are disappearing. Consumers have become accustomed to using search engines to reach sites, even when they know the Web address. So instead of going directly to the home page, they are inadvertently making a query. They still find the home page, but typically they do it in two steps, clicking through on Google or Yahoo.


Many consumers have become so dependent on search engines that they no longer try to remember Web addresses and simply type the product name into a search engine. Marketers who are blindly paying for top placement in the paid search engine results then end up paying premium prices to pull potential customers to their sites.


With keyword searches growing at an average of 2.6 percent a month over the past year - according to Fathom Online - this has become an expensive proposition. Some of our clients now pay several dollars to Google and Yahoo for that click through, which can affect the financials of the campaign so severely that it no longer works.


To add insult to injury, when buyers come through search engines instead of directly from the Web address, we lose much of our ability to track the response against the media that generated it. The marketer's profitability is reduced so the company either has to lower quality, raise prices or discontinue products. Consumers pay more, buy a lower quality product or have fewer choices.


Less profit or the inability to track advertising results in a cutback in ad dollars, which affects the advertising industry. The result is a lose/lose situation for everyone involved, unless you own stock in Google or Yahoo.


It is a difficult problem to tackle, but we are responding by educating consumers on the simplest way to reach the desired Web site. We clearly call out and continually reinforce in the creative that consumers "go to www.thedesiredsite.com." This reminds me of the early days of direct response television and telemarketing when DRTV had to clearly explain the concept of "call now as operators are standing by."


We also are more commonly using sitelets or splash pages with differing Web addresses that consumers tend to go to more directly and offer better tracking. But ultimately, the battle will have to be won by changing consumer habits and/or how they interact with their computers.


As long as consumers continue to use "mega browsers" to interface with the Web, the challenges will grow.


For more articles from The Direct Marketer's Essential Guide to Search Engine Marketing, visit www.dmnews.com/search .


A PDF of the guide is available at: http://www.dmnews.com/pdffiles/semguide.pdf


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