Starting Over

Over the last few months we have watched our clients make some dramatic cuts in their paid search marketing programs. Some of them have even pulled back to 2003-2004 levels of spending and scale. In cases like these, it's fair to say we're starting over, and our job over the next year will be to build these campaigns back up to the state where they capture the full opportunity.

Starting over can be frustrating, but it also provides some unique opportunities. A more rigorous focus on results is forcing us to reconstruct campaigns in a smarter and more efficient manner. Here are a few examples of what I'm talking about.

Geo-Targeting. A relentless focus on efficiency and customer quality is prompting us to take broader advantage of geographic targeting. We have always used geo-targeting to some extent, but on an as-needed basis. Today we are using geography as an additional performance lever, like bids or ad copy, and segmenting campaigns down to the city and even zip-code level.



By deaveraging performance geographically, we achieve greater control, limiting exposure to poor performing markets and doubling down on markets with high value, high converting customers. At present, this means our campaigns are smaller, but more effective. And as we build them up over time we will maintain a high degree of control, and an ability to tailor and optimize on a geo-specific basis.

Site-Side Optimization. We are also seeing more interest and action in aligning the site-side experience with searcher intent. We've pushed this for years, but in most cases site-side optimization has never risen to the top of the priority list, and the potential benefits were outweighed by the deterrent of corporate IT departments and rigid Web release schedules typical of enterprise-level companies. These are a deterrent no more. With search campaigns pared back to the bare minimum, clients have an interest in making their limited investments as efficient as possible. They are willing to push through changes in site-side experience and are breaking down IT barriers.

Today we are working on several clients to optimize their conversion processes, a project that can yield performance gains of 15%-30%. We are also building custom landing pages tailored to searchers at different points in the conversion processes to increase site relevance and searcher engagement. These may seem like obvious opportunities that should have been exploited already, but with mature, scaled campaigns there were always other more pressing (and less painful) priorities to occupy our limited resources. When we're starting over, it's easier to focus on the big opportunities we missed the first time around.

Measuring value. Lastly, we are taking full advantage of measuring the value of our efforts and their impact on our clients' businesses. I've written about this topic before, but it's nice to see it actually happening. To be fair, most of our clients have over-adjusted at present, and are focused today on keyword-by-keyword ROI (portfolio optimization is dead). But I am encouraged by their enthusiasm for new metrics, and the general consensus that the standards at present are far too conservative. Interest in measuring search as a branding vehicle is piqued. Clients are asking for insights into cross-channel sales and we are developing methods for tying search spending to in-store metrics. Some clients are even asking us to quantify the opportunity costs of not being present in the search landscape on specific keyword categories. These are encouraging signs that our newly constructed campaigns will be measured on multiple dimensions that better reflect their impact on consumer behavior.

The good thing about starting over is that you are generally smarter than you were the first time around. This will help us as we work to reconstruct our search campaigns over the next weeks, months, and years, because the new reality is more complex than the old. Geo-segmentation adds complexity. Site-side optimization adds another dimension and work stream to the project plan. And cross-channel quantitative and qualitative measurement is just plain hard to do. But overall we'll be better served, our campaigns more effective, and our knowledge of what's working fortified as we emerge from this process of creative destruction, or destructive creation. Here's to starting over.

3 comments about "Starting Over".
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  1. Marc Engelsman from Digital Brand Expressions, April 24, 2009 at 12:41 p.m.

    Matt, it shouldn’t take the loss of revenue to force you to start over and now employ best practices others of us have been using all along. Maybe your clients wouldn’t be cutting back so much if you were making this kind of effort in the first place.

  2. Patricia Neuray from, April 24, 2009 at 4:56 p.m.

    Great article Matt...I think it is easy to forget how important it is to take a fresh look at campaigns on a regular basis and consistently innovate....

  3. Steve Plunkett from Cool Websites Organization, April 24, 2009 at 5:27 p.m.

    The next trend YOU will need to know.. "Bounce Rate" this July it will be a bit past a year since it's use...

    Low Bounce KW ranked in top 3 SERPS + Conversion Tracking = Platinum

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