Segment Right After That First Click

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Not all customers are created equal, and the worst thing a company can do is to commoditize its audience.

Yet too often in search engine marketing, the click is commoditized. Every respondent to a particular keyword ad receives the same result upon a click-through.

This is particularly troublesome in search engine marketing because paid keyword search has a few unique segmentation challenges when acquiring that click.

First, considerable ambiguity can exist in the meaning of a particular keyword depending on the frame of mind of the search user. Many advertisers chase the same keywords with very different markets in mind.

Next, squeezing a compelling ad message into 130 characters of plain text leaves little room for segmentation cues. Often, AdWords-style ads are accidentally - or intentionally - misleading, pulling in respondents who have very diverse intentions.

These issues contribute to the relatively low average conversion rate of clicks acquired via paid search: 3.6 percent.

However, even when a search user attributes the same meaning to the keyword that the advertiser has, and the smidgen of ad text induces a correctly intentioned click, the fact remains that not all prospects are the same.

A stream of traffic from search engine marketing is likely to contain several distinct audience segments. These segments can have different value to the advertiser, and they are likely to be attuned to different sales propositions. To optimize your SEM, you need to be able to segment these audiences, both to tailor your pitch to them accordingly and to accurately assess the type of traffic your keywords are drawing.

The best time to segment respondents is immediately after they click on your keyword. Instead of a one-size-fits-all landing page, we suggest a "landing path" - a sequence of two or three pages. The first page of the path should be your segmentation page, offering two or three choices to the respondent: If you are interested in X, then click here for details; if you're more interested in Y, click here instead. You are offering respondents information more relevant to their needs in exchange for one more click. Using this technique in campaigns for our clients, we typically have seen segmentation rates of 60 percent to 70 percent.

Your segmentation can be based on whichever factors are most important to your lead acquisition strategy, including:

• Desirability of prospects (luxury versus economy vacationers).

• Implied interest level of the respondent (hot versus lukewarm respondents).

• Audience characteristics that alter their receptivity to variations of your pitch (selling a resort for a romantic getaway is different than for a family vacation).

With this information, the second page of your landing path - and all subsequent content - can deliver on giving respondents what is important to them. This is the essence of good post-click marketing. As might be expected, tailoring your post-click marketing by audience segment tends to boost your conversion rate, often by more than double.

However, this approach yields another benefit that can affect your paid search strategy: You now have a high percentage of segmentation information on those incoming clicks that can directly tie back to each of your keyword ads.

This early segmentation means that you acquire segment data even for many of the respondents who don't convert. This lets you distinguish between segments that are drawn only to your keyword association and ad text versus those that also are oriented to convert based on the rest of your marketing pitch.

Once you know which keywords and ads draw in which audiences on particular engines, you can manipulate those levers in pursuit of your overall SEM strategy.

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