SEO Doesn’t Have To Garner JUNK Leads

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leader1.jpgADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — I’ve heard many marketers say that it’s impossible to effectively target using the Internet, much less diagnose why visitors are not exhibiting a desired response. Visitors are coming from search engines, from links and more links that are in ads, newsletters, e-mail campaigns, various forms of social media, other Web sites and by direct URL access. Visitors are coming from every corner of the world, every cubicle, coming by the millions, and skipping to and from and all around your Web site. Targeting on the Internet, analyzing the possibilities and permutations is just too daunting. Or is it?

You absolutely can effectively target using the Internet, and it’s more important than ever. Cost-effective qualified lead generation is an inviolable objective of marketing. This does not change just because you are working with new media options, larger potential audiences and more data to process. Indeed, the ease of reaching vast audiences with countless online media alternatives is a reason why targeting is more important than ever. You have to minimize the possibility of being inundated with junk leads that can hamstring your system for lead follow-up.

Or worse, alienate your sales people because they’re tired of calling on college kids who downloaded information on your products for a term paper. Success hinges on using today’s sophisticated Web analytics tools in combination with a deliberate strategy to reach the target market and buyer with linking, e-mail and search strategies and, very importantly, making sure your communications are crafted for your target buyer.

The double-edged-sword of search engines

Thousands of articles on search engine optimization (SEO) have been written to help companies increase their search engine rankings. What these articles don’t tell you is that some of the things you may do to increase your search engine rankings can negatively affect your efforts at targeting, such as, the drives to increase links and paid search click throughs.

The drive to have more and more inbound links to increase search engine rankings is probably the single greatest source of unqualified visitors. Links from Web sites that are offering products and services that do not attract a common target buyer are a prime source of junk visits. Programs that focus on links, such as link exchanges, paper or logo partnerships, and unmanaged affiliate free-for-alls may increase your search engine rankings but like any haphazard campaign, will generate tons of junk leads.

A well-conceived linking strategy, on the other hand, will improve search engine rankings and drive qualified visitors to your site. Take public relations activities, such as press releases and articles that contain that all important inbound link. You need these vehicles to consistently reach and speak to the visitors you really want. If a PR activity is geared toward multiple-audiences, you’ll need to develop multiple constituency communications – but make sure you never forget to focus on the target buyer.

Another source of wayward visitors comes from partnerships where the first objective (and often the last) is to exchange logos with embedded links. When the principle objective of a partnership is lead generation, focus on partners with a common target buyer.

To successfully target buyers through search, paid or organic, you have to know how your target buyer thinks about the products you are promoting. I once sat in a room full of employees and asked them to identify the search terms that we needed to incorporate into our paid and organic search plans. I then sat down with a group of customers and asked them the same question and then repeated the process with a group of prospects.

There was some overlap, but even more variations. In most companies I have worked with, search terms are determined internally and by looking at what competitors are using: competitors that are probably relying on the instincts of their employees rather than reaching out to the target buyers. If you want search engines to bring target buyers to your site, you need to speak their language.

The true cost of free e-mail blasts

The ability to send targeted e-mail has advanced greatly beyond the days where the only throttle was excluding folks that opted-out. Still because e-mail is viewed as free or nearly so, e-mail campaigns often blast way beyond the borders of the target buyer’s universe. The problem with this is twofold: (1) following up on junk leads is not free; and (2) you may cause qualified buyers for one of your products to opt out of your communications, because you’ve polluted their inbox with information about product they have no interest in. When defining the reach for an e-mail blast you should always select recipients based on the profile of the target buyer. Your database may not contain all of the target buyer characteristics that you would like to select on, but work with what’s available. It will reduce the two problems noted above. Meanwhile, put a plan in place to build out your customer profiles, and reduce those two problems further.

Analyzing if page view and visitor counts are the work of the target buyer

Targeting with new media is similar to targeting with old media, with one gigantic and invaluable difference: you have real and current data to analyze a campaign’s success – which will be intricately tied to the definition of your target buyer and whether you have reached and communicated with the buyer. I have seen many who toil over reams of data analyzing page view, visitor and click-through quantities and trends. This data has some value because it let’s you know that someone has actually viewed your promotions, if only for a split second, but it is nearly as nebulous for understanding the success of your targeting as the old media metrics of readership, audience share or the number of direct mail pieces posted.

Better information is in store if you look at the paths and patterns of visitor behaviors. Try looking at what your Web analytics are telling you about your visitors. What information did they view and very importantly, for how long? How many times did they visit your site and over what time period? Did their views or visits follow an orderly path, perhaps inspired by a cleverly crafted integrated campaign that indicated they were working their way through a normal new customer process: first becoming educated on a product and a brand; then looking for more in-depth information on a solution and competitive offerings, and finally moving into purchase mode.

Even with all of this data, you will still fail to possess the identity and characteristics of your visitors, forcing you to draw inferences on whether you have really reached and communicated with your target buyer. However, if visitors are following a somewhat orderly path, with or without campaign guidance, even if the path takes months to complete, or if they’re returning over and over again and spending time on their visits looking at product-related information, with some confidence you can infer that you are reaching your target buyer.

Visitors completing the forms for a sale, and those creatively encouraged to register on your site can help minimize the need for inferring success in reaching the target buyer, because now you have some information on the identity of the visitor. Depending on the data required to complete the registration or visitor willingness to volunteer information, you may have access to demographics, information on why a product was purchased, and even psychographics, such as buyer interests and preferred activities. This additional data can assist in evaluating: if you have reached your defined target; aid the process of really sharpening your segmentation, communications and promotional mix, and facilitate targeted follow-on sales and marketing outreach.

Communicating with the target buyer

If you are confident that your promotions are reaching the target buyer, but they are abandoning the process too early, you may have defined your target buyer too broadly or even incorrectly or perhaps you are not effectively communicating with the buyer. When crafting communications try following these simple guidelines:

(1) Understand what unmet need(s) target buyers are seeking solutions for from your products, and then communicate how your solution meets the need — in their terms. The writer relying on insulated internal sources to develop copy is doomed.

(2) Determine to what degree the target buyer is interested in production orientation versus marketing orientation: how something is built versus how a product helps them solve problems. Technology companies are often guilty of piling on production-oriented technical jargon that may appeal to an IT professional but means nothing to a non-technical target buyer.

(3) Decide if you need a global or multi-domestic communications strategy. If clients around the world view the benefits of your product similarly, you can use a global strategy – with translations as needed. If not, use a multi-domestic strategy. With technology products I have found the world at large often does not adopt simultaneously. Adoption varies among continents and countries, and so do the problems they are trying to solve at any given time. If your Web site is globally beaming solutions to the most complex problems, you may be building innovation into your brand, yet alienating prospects looking for solutions to modest problems.

(4) Decide to what degree your target buyers need to be educated about the benefits of a category of products (primary demand sell), versus why your product is the best (secondary demand). When companies incorrectly assume that a secondary demand strategy should be followed, target buyers often abandon a Web site scratching their heads and wondering what your product actually does. When companies focus too heavily on primary demand, they can serve as lead generators for their competitors. Have you ever wondered why so many visitors leave your site and next surf to your competitor’s site?

Winning strategy

Visitors can arrive at your site from many sources. Haphazard approaches to linking, e-mail and search can easily result in millions of unqualified visitors. Instead take a deliberate approach. Find out what Web sites your target buyer frequents, what their needs are and how they think about your products. Then target your plans for using links, search engines, direct marketing, advertising and communications to reach this buyer. Use Web analytics to monitor the results and to guide efforts that will further fine-tune your online promotions and presence.

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