Search Engine Marketing With Six Sigma

Success with paid search is creating some interesting dilemmas for many companies today. In most cases, success is dependant upon the expansion of keywords, higher budgets, and a continual search for opportunities that the competition has not yet unearthed. Already data-centric, growth can often include problems and missed opportunities because there is simply too much detail to account for and review.

Despite the volume of data involved, paid search is an intrinsically cyclical process. At its simplest, the process entails figuring out what keywords you want to buy, purchasing them, and monitoring their placement. Then, modify and repeat the cycle until successful. So, how can we best manage this repetitious process, yet continue to develop and implement process improvements to lower cost, and improve paid search campaigns? One solution may be Six Sigma.

Six Sigma is a management process that was developed at Motorola in the 1980s, but gained its prominence at General Electric and other larger corporations during the following decade. The program was initially used in manufacturing, but rapidly spread through other high volume, standardized production processes. Its goal is near perfection in any process to which it is applied.



To achieve Six Sigma, a process cannot produce more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities. With a goal that ambitious, it’s the journey - not the destination (or the definition of defect) that’s important. For many processes, Six Sigma is impossible to achieve, but planning and working towards it still returns significant and positive results. In fact, successful implementation has saved billions of dollars for the corporations that have embraced the Six Sigma methodology.

As with many successful management philosophies originally implemented in larger corporations, Six Sigma was quickly adopted by smaller companies and even non-manufacturing departments within larger businesses. One flourishing use of Six Sigma is within the marketing departments of many corporations to manage detailed, highly repeatable processes like direct marketing or merchandising.

These functions usually have fixed tasks, but still have the need to be constantly evaluated and improved to get the maximum return on investment possible. Sound familiar? It should, because your paid search campaign should fit that description exactly. This is where Six Sigma can help.

When utilized within search marketing disciplines, Six Sigma’s fundamental objective is to implement a consistent, measurement-based process that eliminates waste and provides a platform to both constantly examine current procedures and evaluate opportunities that might materialize.

The core of Six Sigma is a five-step program that evaluates existing processes that aren’t performing to a pre-determined specification, or that could trigger the implementation of incremental improvement. The program’s DMAIC process (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) seeks to change existing or new business processes at Six Sigma quality levels. It provides a methodology for teams to identify and quantify a problem, create new solutions, measure those results, and ensure adherence to the resulting “best-practice.”

A simple example applied to search marketing might be:

Define – Define a problem or opportunity. (Example: Expand keyword set at a local level on Google and Overture)

Measure – Use metrics to detail the current status. (Example: Research current CPC, local search counts, etc.)

Analyze –Select possible improvements based upon evaluation of the problem/opportunity and current measurements. (Example: Based upon high keyword counts and low CPC, pick several local keyword sets to test.)

Improve – Make the change. (Example: Purchase the keywords.)

Control – Monitor the improvement. (Example: Measure direct local campaign results against pre-local campaign metrics.)

Repeat consistently for other problems and opportunities.

Six Sigma can begin by simply applying DMAIC to a few small projects. When you see the benefits that can be derived from it (and are committed to tackling something larger), there are a host of services to help you or your staff gain proficiency.

Several organizations and universities provide training on Six Sigma expertise, guiding you through levels from Six Sigma Green to Black Belt certification and enabling you to take on more complicated projects.

A word of caution: When applied to bigger projects, Six Sigma is a challenging, data and fact-driven program that requires discipline and focus (hence the karate level references), collaboration, proactive management, and a drive for perfection (along with the ability to learn and change from failure). The results, however, can be remarkable for those search marketers with the commitment, fortitude, and discipline to implement Six Sigma within their paid search campaigns.

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