How-to Grow through SEM, and How Not To

Focusing on growth-plus-ROI is more powerful than focusing on ROI alone. But what's the best way to grow?

We've been talking a lot, over the last few weeks, about the need to shift SEM focus from ROI alone to ROI-plus-growth. An ROI-only focus, after all, runs serious risks: you can end up ignoring lost market share, losing sight of your true business goals (you're not in business to get ROI, you're in business to be the industry leader-ROI is just the means to an end); and your ROI target numbers may actually be miscalculated.

Far better is a focus on ROI, plus a focus on growth. Focusing on ROI means maintaining fiscal responsibility. Focusing on growth means pursuing the lofty dreams your business stands for, capturing market share, and creating a safety net in case your ROI goals are completely off base.

But if we're suggesting pursuing growth, what's the best way to pursue growth? And what kind of growth, exactly, should you be pursuing? To answer that question, we'll explore the two ways businesses tend to pursue growth through SEM: the unintelligent way, and the intelligent way.

Unintelligent Growth. The unintelligent growth strategy works as follows: On the surface, unintelligent growth makes a lot of sense: you bid high prices for high ad positions, and get very high traffic volumes in return. High traffic volumes, in turn, translate to high conversion volumes. In other words, you put a lot of money into the system, and get a lot out of it. On the surface, that makes a lot of sense.

But when you scratch the surface, there's a lot of trouble with the approach. Because SEM isn't about driving traffic, and hoping good conversions will follow. It's about driving conversions, and designing your outreach and conversion architecture to achieve that goal. That means attracting the people most likely to convert, and creating the conversion architecture that leads those people to your desired conversions. If you don't get both of those points down, you could bring in loads of searchers who aren't actually interested in what you sell. Or, you could bring in highly relevant traffic, but your conversion architecture could be poor — meaning your highly relevant traffic drops off before they've made a conversion. Either way, you're paying top dollar for a high traffic volume, but achieving such a poor conversion rate that you're also wasting money.

Meanwhile, ROI numbers alone won't tell you if your campaign is unintelligent. You could be getting great ROI, but still running a campaign that's plagued with waste. And you might not find out that you're facing so much waste until you're faced with a competitor who spends more efficiently than you do, or who has deeper pockets than you do — and you're forced to strain your own inefficient campaign to the limit, just to keep up. Or, you might never realize how much money you're losing in SEM waste, every day.

Intelligent Growth. An intelligent growth strategy is, of course, the opposite of an unintelligent one. It focuses on optimizing every part of your campaign, at every level — creating the most powerful ad messaging, the best landing pages, and the most effective conversion architecture possible, from search engine through conversion point. It also chooses the keywords and ad positions that make the most sense, given the level of funds you're dealing with right now.

In other words, an intelligent growth strategy maximizes your conversion volume (not just your traffic volume) in the most efficient way.

An intelligent growth strategy also reinvests. Once an intelligent strategy receives good returns, it reinvests the money you've made off of SEM into still higher ad positions, more keywords, and more powerful terms. That reinvestment translates into more conversions — this means more money to reinvest, once again, into your SEM campaign, starting the positive cycle all over again.

So an intelligent growth strategy is responsible, because it starts off with spend levels that are supported by your conversion architecture, and won't take a next step until your architecture is truly optimized for raising the bar. At the same time, though, the sky's the limit — it improves on itself indefinitely, bringing continual growth. It's the best of both worlds.

An intelligent growth strategy is a win on every level. You achieve strong ROI, every step of the way. You never lose sight of the real goal of becoming the strongest player in your highly competitive industry, and continuing to grow even after you've made it to the number one slot. And you make sure, before continuing to the next level, that the system you have in place is entirely ready for taking that next step.

That's why we call it intelligent growth: because it's the most intelligent approach you can take for your SEM, bar none.

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