A successful internet marketing strategy isn’t simply a matter of getting visitors to your website. As Tom Barnes explained in the last issue, web visitors aren’t enough; successful marketing is all about ensuring visitors become clients.
There is a wide range of online customer acquisition techniques: search engine optimisation, pay per click advertising, referrals from other websites, email marketing and social networking. This article looks at pay per click advertising.
How it works
Pay per click (PPC) is an advertising model that enables you to buy your way to the top of the search engine results. PPC advertisements are those familiar small ads appearing down the right hand margin of the search engine results, as well as the initial few “sponsored links” appearing at the top of the search results
There are three main search marketing advertising networks: Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing and MSN AdCenter. Google has approximately 87 per cent of the UK search market.
PPC advertisers are charged on a cost-per-click basis, meaning your advertisement may display hundreds or thousands of times, but you are only charged when a searcher clicks on your advert and makes a visit to your website.
PPC helps searchers to discover your firm for phrases that your website wouldn’t otherwise rank well for and offers the possibility that your firm will appear in the first page of the search results.
It’s flexible. You can bid on any number of phrases that could bring potential clients to your website. You might choose to bid for highly specific phrases that reflect your firm’s niche area of expertise, bringing a relatively small number of highly suitable prospects to your website. Or you might bid on generic “solicitor” phrases that will bring a large number and broad variety of potential clients to your site.
It’s quick. Your site will appear in the search results, quite literally, immediately. You can change the copy on your advert and have it display instantly. And if a topical issue is mentioned on Radio 4 this morning, you could be displaying an appropriate advert by the start of the working day.
It’s controllable. You have full budgetary control, with your own daily advertising limit. When you hit your maximum budget your advertisements will simply stop appearing. You can also control the times your ads appear, control where your ad appears, and to a certain extent control who sees your ad.
It’s measurable. You will know how many visitors came to your website and the price you paid per visitor. You can also measure how many of those visitors then converted to a prospect by measuring how many enquiries you received. Then you can calculate your final return on investment by comparing the number of your new clients with your PPC spend.
It can be expensive. PPC Advertising in the legal sector is highly competitive and it is not uncommon for firms to be willing to pay a premium price for each click, knowing there is a potential client at the other end of the keyboard.
It’s temporary. Your ads only appear so long as you continue to pay. Once you stop paying, you will disappear from the search engine results. For this reason, PPC is usually used in conjunction with search engine optimisation with the aim of having your site rank well in the search results without resorting to PPC.
It’s a sophisticated process. Pay per click is not a simple auction like eBay. The highest bidder doesn’t buy his way to the top of the results. Instead, Google AdWords makes use of a “Quality Score” that determines the price you pay, assessing the relevancy of the phrases you’re buying, the quality of your website and your history as an AdWords advertiser. Get the process wrong, and you will be paying over the odds for your clicks.
It takes time. Careful planning during the set up of your campaign will yield benefits in terms of the price you pay per click. You also need to monitor your advertising to see which campaigns are successful in terms of bringing new clients and which ones you should cancel.
Click fraud. Competitors can click on your ads and cost you money. The search engines have methods for detecting fraudulent clicks as well as accidental double clicking but your most important measure has to be your final Return on Investment: how much have you paid, and how much business has it generated.
The start of the PPC process is to identify the phrases you will be bidding for. Google provides you with a free keyword research tool that will show you the monthly search volume for your chosen phrases, an indication of the potential cost per click (CPC) and a measure of the advertising competition.
Choosing your key phrases is a fine balancing act: you want to bid on popular phrases in order to get sufficient visitors to your website. But you don’t want to be bidding on popular but highly competitive phrases that might not result in getting a client.
The key metric for your keyword selection is “cost per acquisition” (CPA): how much you are willing to pay to get a new client.
The next step is to create your three-line adverts that will display for your selected key phrases. You can experiment with:
Including the key phrase in the advert, so that the searcher recognises your ad as matching what they were searching for.
Including clear benefits as to the service you provide. Try to use language that the client will relate to.
Making a strong “call to action” which often takes the form of “Call for a free consultation” or “Ring now ”¦”.
The click on a PPC advert leads a visitor to a particular page on your website known as a “landing page”. The landing page serves two purposes: it is the vehicle which will persuade the visitor to do business with your firm and it is also a crucial factor in AdWords determining your Quality Score, which in turn influences the price you will pay per click. Your visitor will decide very quickly whether they trust your site, and whether they like your business. And they’ll only spend 7 or 8 seconds looking at the page, so everything needs to be discernable at a single glance.
When choosing and designing a landing page, you might want to consider:
Is the page specifically about what the visitor searched for? If I searched for conveyancing, then take me directly to your Conveyancing page, not your Home page.
Are the benefits of your firm clear and written in simple, brief, and compelling language?
Is the page quick to load?
Have you included your main Call to Action, making it easy to see your phone, or including the form for me to fill in?
Is the page uncluttered, making good use of colour as well as white space and graphics?
Your price per click is determined by advertising competition and your Quality Score for the phrases you are bidding for. Quality Score is a dynamic metric assigned to each of the key phrases you’re bidding for in your PPC campaign. The higher your Quality Score, the lower the minimum bid you will be charged per click, and the higher position your advert will take in the search results.
Your Quality Score is determined by the relevancy of your key phrase to the other phrases in the same advertising group, the quality of your landing page and a number of other historical factors such as your Click Through Rate (CTR.) Your CTR is the number of clicks your ad receives divided by the number of times your ad is shown on the search engines results. Clearly the advertising networks like it when you get the most possible clicks, and they reward you with a lower price per click.
Running successful PPC campaigns is all about the detail: researching your key phrases, organising the structure of your PPC campaign, writing compelling ads, creating powerful landing pages, managing your Quality Score, and most importantly, keeping an eye on your budget and return on investment.
Susan Hallam is Managing Director of Hallam Communications Ltd. Hallam provides specialist internet marketing services for the legal profession.