Does anything come close to SEM for online customer acquisition?

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In all seriousness I’m wondering if any online marketing technique can come close the SEM (SEO/PPC)or should even be attempted. This week I read that Google controls 23% moving to 25% and Yahoo has 19% of all marketing money, so maybe everyone is coming to the same conclusion as me. I’ve been an advocate of SEM for ages and it has always paid my bills, but I don’t want to hedge my entire company around Google.

I’ve used affiliate marketing to great success but IMO all my top affiliates are simply reselling SEM. I’ve also used email but only had success with in-house lists (built through SEM). I’ve tried, co-reg but the quality is just not there and while I’m sure SPAM is profitable I’d like to stay on this side of the law for the time being. Media buys never deliver anything like the CPA SEM does and while the advocates may argue the ‘branding’ benefits I don’t care about branding, I care about directly measurable ROI. Contextual and domain name traffic has converted in the past but now it seems I need to buy this through my Adwords account.

Can someone here please make an argument for another form of online marketing for customer acquisition?

Comments

You want an argument?

No argument here. I don't need household members to recognize my name. I want them to see me when their ready to buy. And that's SEO/SEM. And that's Google mostly right now.

I'm not overly concerned about building business around Google. Look at it like simply a good place to advertise. When the time comes that Google's not the latest greatest, I'll just move on to the next SE.

I'm with you. The results I've gotten from other venues are miniscule to what's available on the SE's. So much so that I'm better spending my time getting more depth in Google than getting breadth across other possible options.

I have one website I advertise on that provides an excellent return. But that's because it's ranking well and pulls in visitors from Google who then get through to my site.

Is there such a thing as "directly measurable ROI"?

Simply because a user is clicking a PPC ad or a natural search listing before a purchase doesn't necessarily mean that they were not affected by other media before the purchase decision.

A user goes through any number of points in the research/purchase lifecycle before reaching a purchasing decision, and their last click is a result of any number of other online media interaction points- seeing a banner ad, reading a blog posting, seeing multiple listings in the natural search results, visiting a comparison site, reading affiliate literature, an email marketing message, etc.

I believe that we should take a holistic view to online marketing - and not put all of our eggs into one basket. But of course I think SEM works "best" :)

>> Simply because a user is

>> Simply because a user is clicking a PPC ad or a natural search listing before a purchase doesn't necessarily mean that they were not affected by other media before the purchase decision.

True, but if you had a given amount of money, and could spend it on just one of the following advertising media, which do you think would leave you with the biggest pile of cash at the end of the process (say a 3 month turn around, to allow for lag in offline media)

1) TV advertising
2) Radio advertising
3) SEM (probably have to be the PPC component here)
4) Outdoor advertising
5) Flyer drop
6) Print (newspaper / magazine etc) advertising

In almost every case, it's going to be 3) I suppose there are some areas where another channel will perform better, but they are few and far between.

>> A user goes through any number of points in the research/purchase lifecycle before reaching a purchasing decision, and their last click is a result of any number of other online media interaction points

So how do products that have never existed before an online campaign survive? They do (or can do, at least) very well with no, or very little off line branding, just straight PPC grunt

Other channels are fine for "brand building", but that's bit old skool - Coca Cola spend billions on general brand building, and yes, it's served them well. How much have, say, Google or Amazon spent on "traditional" advertising methods? I'd say either of those has a comparable brand, at a fraction of the cost, and in a fraction of the time.

I'd note that GerBot was specifically asking about customer acquisition - SEM is fantastic at it. Offline marketing is probably still required for customer retention, I think

>> direct measurable ROI

and simply because the last click was on an ad or on a natural searh listing, does not mean that they were not affected by any number of other online media interaction points

When you're selling a commodity with no industry leader and you can track your conversions to search engine queries that are generic in nature - you can be very confident that you have a direct measurable ROI.

Too many marketing people take the view that if you can't prove 100% that something was not a factor - then it must have had some impact. I think that in many industries the marketing group may be more interested in marketing their own worth rather than what is best for the company/client.

Besides my own products I keep a few clients. The first thing I ask them to do after setting up conversion tracking is to turn off all online marketing campaigns except PPC. We develope measurables and then open up another channel. If it can't be measured - we drop it. So far, like other have mentioned, nothing comes even close to Google/Yahoo - and that is trackable.

No product exists in a bubble

Tall Troll, as I said, I believe that SEM works best... and I agree with Nebraska that

Too many marketing people take the view that if you can't prove 100% that something was not a factor - then it must have had some impact. I think that in many industries the marketing group may be more interested in marketing their own worth rather than what is best for the company/client.

(that's funny and true)... BUT no product exists in a bubble. Even if you turn off all other channels, a person's purchase decision is the result of their total experience. You can turn off all other online media for University of Pheonix except PPC today and I'm certain that all the other interactions that someone had with that brand before (banner ads, pop-ups, etc) would still have an effect on them clicking on that ad in the end.

Thus far, the research that we have seen in this space has been biased toward making a point - Seo has better ROI, PPC has better Conversions, etc. I think until we do some long term research that includes surveys of tracked users, we can never really say that one or the other has a direct mesurable ROI, unaffected by any other interaction.

After reading Natasha's &

After reading Natasha's & Nebraska comments I'm starting to think part of the problem here might be accountability.
If these above the line techniques can't be tracked 100% then maybe that is why we don't think they are as good as SEM. That being said, what is the excuse for online media that should be trackable?

Hedge you business around Google

Putting all your eggs in the adwords business can lead to trouble. Not that you should abandon it just don't let it be the single biggest driving force of your income.

Depends

...on what you're selling.

For products it's probably hard to beat SEM. But for something like selling SEO services, or SEO seminars, my best leads are newsletter subscribers.

Now, it is true that many became newsletter subscribers through SEM though. I've never actually thought about tracking my clients to that level, but it probably wouldn't be that hard to do.

yep

everyones right - its about so many things and it depends so much on the product - you're not going to spend £50,000 on a new Jag because you searched 'expensive car' on google and found a PPC ad, its a lifestyle choice and its built up of a lot of history, but you might decide who to buy it from because of SEM.

But it has to be cyclical, if everyone only SEM'd for the next 10 years it would stop working because people would forget what to search for in the first place.... people can only find you with SEM if there's a specific brand, item or problem they can target a search towards. If you sold something so unique that no one searched for it you'd have to promote it some other way, online or off, to create a market. Luckily for most of us there are very few markets or problems which don't attract searches so SEM works fine in isolation at the moment - especially as other people are running branding exercises which we can piggy back off of.

Nope...

1) TV advertising
2) Radio advertising
3) SEM (probably have to be the PPC component here)
4) Outdoor advertising
5) Flyer drop
6) Print (newspaper / magazine etc) advertising

... as long as the Net is the biggest audience for you, yes. Otherwise, for a given amount of money and with only one choice, I dont think Coke or Pepsi would go for the Net. It would be TV.

As for me who am not yet Pepsi, yes, it is Google.

>> I dont think Coke or

>> I dont think Coke or Pepsi would go for the Net. It would be TV.

I think if Coke or Pepsi were starting today, it'd be MySpace all the way, and TV could go fuck itself. Traditional media serves established brands, because it's how they got where they are, the brand they've created is informed by the media that were available to do it with. "Brand" execs are comfortable with traditional media, they owe their careers to it.

Ebay are a good example here. Back in the day, there were several auction portals - but, who here has even heard of QXL? Who's ever looked at a QXL auction, even if you've heard of them?

Thought so.

Ebay are, I'm sure we're all aware, truly brilliant at using the online channel to gather exposure and audience. It wasn't until about 12 months ago that they ever ran a TV ad, I think, and that's largely because even Google are running out of inventory for them to spam. They are simply using TV as a branding exercise, to reposition their pre-exisiting brand in the marketplace.

That's what TV etc are still good at, and I don't think they'll ever TOTALLY die out. I'd remind you of the OP again

>> another form of online marketing for customer acquisition?

Nope, unbeatable pretty much. Social media stuff might overtake it, in certain sectors one day soon, but right now, SEO and PPC are where it's at

I work a good deal in local

I work a good deal in local markets and online SEM has a big impact on all those other forms of "customer acquisition". They see an ad in the paper and look for the website...read that and make their decissions about stopping by. When they stop by they say they saw the ad (not the website). During conversaion they reveal they have been to the website...we have built in some bits that are so revealing (knowledge they have they could not have gotten except from the website).

Web site metrics? They don't support the impact that is evident by talking with customers. That's why we started building tracers into the web pages... because the small biz owners didn't think the web site was making much difference, and the analytics didn't make a strong case for otherwise. Once you start controlling the customer relationship via the website, the impact of the site on customer acquisiton is more evident (yes, I agree that is part of branding).

>>They see an ad in the paper

If the industry is not dominated by known brands it is just as helpful for *your* customers to see your *competitors* newspaper ads. All you have to do is be there when they go looking for 'red widget'. Convinced them you are the best place to make the purchase and from then on they should search for 'YOUR red widget'.

That said, I do think it is good to have non-SEM marketing, but it's hard to beat SEM. Especially when you can track it so well.

There's another form of online marketing

Just like in the offline world you need to place your products where people shop. Although people do use search engines to look for products and SEM is effective your best bet is to go 'where people shop'.

If your selling products online you will move the largest volume by utilizing a compliment of Yahoo Shopping + ebay + amazon + overstock + froogle + bizrate + pricegrabber + shopping.aol.com + nextag + shopping.com + pricewatch.com + + + + + +

When using shopping sites (just like in the real world shopping malls or department stores like Wal-Mart) plus SEM you'll score big. If you use shopping sites to promote your product or online store you'll quickly see that SEM will amount to a very small overall contributor.

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