Keyword management is key to SEM success

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Whether you are looking for auto insurance leads or you sell music online, relevant, up-to-date, targeted and whenever possible, unique content is crucial.

Content enables you to increase your reach and target your audience. And since the average search query has increased from one keyword (Mozart) to two to three keyword phases (download Mozart music) direct marketers have a unique opportunity to compete in a very competitive space.

Since direct marketing is focused on return on investment, a marketing program won't run if it's not profitable. If you can afford to pay $3 for a unique lead, you will need to determine what your conversion rates will be to achieve your $3 target cost-per-lead (CPL).

In this example, if we use a 5 percent conversion rate, the maximum cost-per-click (CPC) you could afford to pay is 15 cents and thus broad-based keywords won't work.

Does this mean search can't work for you? "It's just too expensive to compete against brand marketers who aren't ROI-focused," argues one marketing executive.

And that's probably true if you are only looking at broad-based keywords (which are well over 25 cents to be in the top 10). If you are marketing 10,000 songs, buying expensive general keywords just won't work.

However, by identifying ways to expand your reach, the size of your targeted audience will increase and you can cost-average-down your CPCs.

That's the key to successful SEM: Build your base of keywords to more than 100,000 and you will have the opportunity to bring your average CPC in line with your ROI goals. This is what creates a unique opportunity for us as direct marketers.

There are three critical steps needed to help ensure success in online search.

First, you need to be able to manage large volumes of keywords at an individual P&L-level across multiple search engines. Since we have already determined that the expansion of your keyword base will provide you the ability to cost-average-down your CPC, this is a crucial component for success.

Here's a warning, though. It only takes a few keywords getting excessive clicks without conversions to go from profitable to unprofitable. Use the day-part information to help improve conversion rates and monitor the P&L on your keywords closely.

Next, you must target/link your landing pages to the keywords you are investing in. Dynamic landing pages are the best way of converting a 'click' to an eventual qualified lead, or better yet, paying customer.

Finally, there's constant testing. Thankfully SEM lends itself to testing, so test early and often.

Remember, creating a successful SEM campaign takes time and patience. But if you make the commitment and use SEM in a serious way, the upside can be huge.

Steve Jacoby is executive vice president of SendTraffic, Lynbrook, NY. E-mail sjacoby@sendtraffic.com.

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