Duh.

So I was totally excited recently to see one of my favorite clients site was now ranking like #3 in Google for one of our top keywords… its a 2-word keyword and is a big one in the industry. Its not terribly specific, but has a tremendous search volume associated with it, and sure enough a high ranking has been driving lots of traffic…

So I hopped onto Google Analytics to see “how much traffic” this keyword and our recently-improved ranking was providing. Over the period I selected, we had something like 700 visits to the site. I clicked on the “conversions” tab. Yeah… ZIPPY! Not a single lead from 700 visitors. Silly, really. So being that our goal is lead-generation, this effectively means that this keyword – which is now this client’s top keyword in terms of traffic volume – is trailing like several hundred other keywords in terms of its real value to the firm as a means of generating leads. Lots of crazy-long-tail keywords have brought us 1 and 2 conversions without even giving any thought to targeting those phrases.

This is nothing earth-shattering. I’m not an idiot. I walk around singing the mantra of “how many leads did it produce” instead of “how are we ranked”. But alas, even I can (momentarily) fall in love with a pretty ranking or a sexy traffic volume. Fool’s gold people, fool’s gold.

Now the silver lining here – or the justification rather – is that in a sense traffic is ALWAYS good even if it doesn’t convert. Why?

  1. Well shoot maybe it did convert…
    • Maybe instead of filling out the form they called on the phone (we’re not doing call tracking on this particular site). Okay great.
    • Or maybe they did a search on that big-volume keyword and found our site, and then remembered the company’s name and 2 days later did a search from another computer and became a lead. No way to track that back to the big-money keyword, but it still generated the lead.
  2. Traffic brings people… some of them have blogs or social network accounts or will email their friends.
    • Basically the more traffic you get the more opportunity for word-of-mouth referrals, social media mentions, and some indirect or viral link building to occur which will help your site rank for that keyword and other keywords which may generate traffic and leads later on.
    • So you rank for “generic phrase” and that gets you 1,000 visits… one of those guys has a nice blog and links over to you, raising your site’s reputation score.  Now you site moves up 3 spots for “really specific keyword” and gets a few more visits that it was getting before, that produces 1 or 2 more leads.

Anyhow, just wanted to share some thoughts here.  The point is that traffic, sure, is always a good thing… but when you run lead-generation websites you need to make sure you don’t fall in love with fool’s gold keywords that produce lots of traffic and no conversions, unless of course you can make the case in item #2 above.

One of my sites generated our first lead in a new category late last night.  One of my partners sent an email saying:

“Who shops for _______ at 12:16am???”

So I got to thinking…  12:16am is late, and the product here is sort of random.  My inclination is that if you are shopping for this product at 12:16 am you are not just casually browsing.  You are looking to take some action.  That is the perfect site visitor.  So I wrote a longer response:

<< begin response >>

Consumer traffic is totally like that man.  People have to work during the day, so they oftentimes are only able to do their personal shopping at night.

In fact I find that people do lots of “shopping” and “browsing” during the day, but lots of “buying” at night.  I once saw someone make a huge mistake… they had a B2B site and put their PPC campaigns on pause on evenings and weekends, figuring that people weren’t at work then and therefore wouldn’t be buying.  They were “sorta right”.  Most of the traffic was during that time, so even though their ads only ran like 40% of the total hours in the week they still got 80% of the traffic potential, and thus only saved 20% of their total cost by turning the ads off weeknights and weekends.

But the mistake was this… Read the rest of this entry »

The vast majority of my firm’s clients provide either a service or a high-involvement type of product that is not typically bought via an e-commerce store.  As such, the client websites are all lead-generation websites.  Their primary focus is to generate leads that are then in turn used by the sales team to communicate with the prospect and close the sale.  Generally speaking, my criteria for what I will call a “lead” tends to be a bit more strict than most.

When I use the term “lead”, I’m generally talking about an opt-in, direct consumer-initiated action where they are specifically requesting more information from the client.  The most common manifestation of this is the prospect doing a search, finding the client’s website, and then either picking up the phone to call the client or filling out a contact form to request more information about the services, pricing information, etc.  That’s what I think of when I think “lead”.

I know this is a rather narrow definition, and discounts a lot of other great types of leads that are less-direct, but still quite valuable nonetheless.

Anyhow, when working with a new client I often find myself recommending that they add a contact form to their website, if they don’t have such a form already.  Anecdotally, I’ve seen this improve conversion rates and, just as importantly, improve the ability to track effectiveness of campaigns and use that data to improve the campaigns.

We just started with a new client this month, and here is what I emailed them regarding a contact form:

Hi <<Client>>,

I’d very much like to add a contact form to your website, a short form asking just a few pieces of info like name, email address, phone number and service they are interested in, etc.  Here are the reasons I’d like to do this:

1) Improve Conversion Rates – In general, I’ve seen contact forms improve the conversion rate of visitors-to-leads for the vast majority of clients.  The main reason is that it enables prospects to take action during off-hours.  Especially with a service like yours, there is a good percentage of your traffic that is visiting on the weekends, or very late at night.  If their only option is a phone number, they won’t call b/c they expect no one to answer the phone.  Additionally, you also will get the “goofing off at work” crowd which is actually quite significant – people who are spending a few minutes while at work researching personal stuff, and they don’t want to call b/c their coworkers will hear, but they are happy to fill out a form to make initial contact.  You currently have an email listed on the site as well as a phone number.  Again, a form is one better than that.  For some people just having an email address is to vague.  Its not a strong enough “call to action”, and since it doesn’t prompt the user with questions sometimes they don’t know what to write.  On your end, a form submission is better b/c you can ensure you have the 2-3 pieces of information you really need from a new contact.  With an email they might leave something out such as their phone number or the type of service they are interested in.

2) Better Tracking – We can track all form submissions in our analytics package.  We cannot track phone calls or emails sent via the email link in the same way.  With forms, I can gain valuable data and learn which keyword phrases bring you the most leads, not just traffic.  Often we may find that keyword abc brings 100 visitors and 3 leads, whereas keyword xyz brought only 40 visitors but 6 leads.  Without the form tracking we would think keyword abc was better and deserving of more attention.  With the form tracking we clearly know that keyword xyz is more valuable to you.

Convinced yet?  🙂  The cost of implementing this is on us.  Thoughts?

Upon writing this I realized most of the evidence I have is in my head and in my experience. There is a client we started with about 2 years ago that went from 2% to about 3% conversion rates when moving from email to form.  We did not leave the email up so this was email address vs. form rather than email address vs. (form + email).

Who has hard data on this?  Any case studies?

Two days ago I wrote an email-turned-blog-post about SEO pricing. It got me to thinking a bit about the relationship between pricing models and responsibility or metrics for evaluation.

a) Scale of Pricing Models

My thoughts…

pricing models, evolution of service pricing

pricing models, evolution of service pricing

  • Hourly Rates – responsible for time spent on work, quality input during that time.
  • Flat Project Rate – responsible for the completion of the project and quality execution of all components, a step beyond the individual inputs (hours) involved.
  • Per-Action (CPA, CPL) – responsible for generating leads or conversions (traffic-to-lead or traffic-to-sale), producing results, a step beyond execution of the campaign.
  • Revenue Share or Commission – responsible for contribution to generating revenue, also would include cost-per-acquisition (another CPA), a step beyond lead generation.
  • Ownership – responsible for overall entire success of the business venture (profit, etc.), would also include profit-share and stock, a step beyond revenue.

My argument is that these are listed from most simplistic to most involved. As you go down the list, not only do they become more involved but also become more closely associated with the overall success of the company. That is, Company X buys hourly work to contribute towards a project or campaign… that campaign has a goal of generating leads or prospects… some percentages of those prospects turn into sales (revenue)… the owner or CEO or other manager has the objective of not just generating that revenue but doing so profitably. They must control limited resources and also identify which components of the revenue are truly profitable, and which are not. That last item is something I’ve really worked on lately – don’t take silly little projects – they aren’t profitable!

I think each model has its merits, and none is better than the other… just depends. As a buyer, its probably best to match your objectives (what you want to acheive) to a pricing model that is in line with that. Probably not bad from a seller’s standpoint either.

Your thoughts on this “evolution of pricing models” or scale of sorts? Agree? Disagree? Something to add?

b) SEO Pricing Resources, Models and One-Time Projects vs. Ongoing

Here are some other great resources about pricing, with respect to SEO services. They are still fairly relevant for any type of consulting or professional services, though.

Let me also add that my firm used to take on “one-time projects” where we would do A, B and C, and we would charge $x. We don’t do that anymore. My problems with that model… for us… are:

  1. SEO takes time, and with that model you aren’t around to see the results and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
  2. SEO has elements of time built into it… Google likes to see sites improve over time. Even if you could write a ton of great content, overhaul the site infrastructure and build a ton of great links overnight you probably shouldn’t do it. It looks fake, and that could hurt you versus spreading things out more.
  3. We’re better in month 6 than we are in month 1. The hardest thing about SEO for our clients – for me – is really learning the client’s industry and the details of their company. It takes me a little while to really learn that, and if we did one project and finished it and moved on to another then we would never be able to learn enough about the industry to be as effective as we are when we partner with our clients for a longer term.
  4. Things change. SERP algorithms change. Competition changes. Competition starts optimizing when they hadn’t before. Trends emerge. New keywords emerge, etc. One-time projects only get a snapshot.

When I did offer the one-time project option I knew all of the above, but we presented it basically as a low-cost option for clients who simply didn’t have much of a budget allocated for SEO. It was a compromise.

So I just did a Google search on “lead generation” and noticed my lead-gen firm is ranking #16 and this blog is floating towards the top of page 5…  anyhow somewhere on page 7 I saw a firm called Admire Group and the approach their site takes really intrigued me.  First of all, its nice and simple, which I love.  Secondly, they really presented “lead generation” as the clear service they are selling… and SEO is merely the way they generate traffic and interested prospects.

I’ve been running an SEO agency for 5 years now, and I’ve just realized in the past 6 months that what I’m really selling is lead generation, not SEO.  Sure I always knew that the leads (results) were what kept my clients – as opposed to rankings (the means to the ends or results)… but I’ve always thought of my firm as an SEO agency.  Well screw that.  We’re now a lead generation firm.  Now someone just needs to find some time redo the website a bit…  Perhaps I’ll use my backup instead?

So back to Admire Group.  I love their approach.  They basically boil their service offering down to four simple steps, and walk you through the process.  They are:

  1. Hi, we’re a lead generation firm.
  2. We use “search engine maximization” so that the prospects find you, not visa versa
  3. We then optimize the landing pages to produce better conversion rates
  4. We do this by building “microsites” …that presumably saves them time and trouble versus overhauling a client’s main website.

I love how this isn’t overcrowded.

So this appears to be a relatively new phenomenon, as many firms that may have thought of themselves as SEO firms are now viewing themselves as either e-commerce consultants or lead generation specialists today.  Count me in.

Why the change?

Several reasons, as I see it

1) SEO has negative connotations. Sure, most of us are good (most?)… but search engines tolerate SEOs at best, and there are so many snakeoil salesmen out there that give the industry a bad rap.  Check out Aaron Wall’s post about this:

Pick a Smart Professional Label

Google can not keep growing their revenues at an acceptable rate without beating the value out of others. If you are new to the SEO field and want to excel online, call yourself something other than an SEO. Using the label SEO invites arbitrary monitoring and punishment, and there are too many plastic personalities in this field willing to dime out a friend in exchange for a wooden nickel.
from: http://www.seobook.com/to-google-you-are-a-spammer

2) Clients have evolved. While hopefully most SEOs worth their salt have long since realized rankings for specific keywords are virtually meaningless – since they fluctuate so often and are now subject to personalized and geo-based algorithm variations – and that traffic and conversions are what really matter… well truth is most buyers are just starting to get this.  SEO is still a nice buzzword, but its allure as “cool” is wearing off as businesses start to look at the real ROI, which is most easily measured in the contribution of search traffic to the top and bottom lines.

Still Not Perfect…

While SEO has negative connotations, so does “Lead Generation”.  In fact, the word “lead” means dramatically different things to different people.  To me, its an opt-in, “they contacted us” type of inquiry where all we are doing is giving a price to someone who specifically wants to work with us.  That sort of lead can convert at 20-50%.  To others, a “lead” is a name and phone number on a list of 50,000 others that is five years old and consists of people who are no more targeted for a given offering than the general public.  I hate this word “lead”, as I have to explain how our leads are actually good things and not what others might associate the word with.

Anyhow, perhaps its not so much SEO firms switching over to lead generation, as it is lead-gen firms realizing the power and effectiveness of SEO?

Okay I’m about to call it quits here as this is a terribly incoherent post and its 11:00pm and I need to go home…  I’ll leave you though with one other link, here is another firm’s presentation of SEO-based lead generation program.  Again, I like the simplicity… I just get a slight uneasy “infomercial product” vibe… maybe b/c of the single-page approach.

Tim Staines recently posted about early adopters and I brought in some comments about the product life cycle.  It got me to thinking about the Industry Life Cycle for Online Lead Generation.

What stage of growth do you think this industry is in?

I’d say obviously not the last two or three stages… but what about Stage 1 (Dormant) versus Stage 2 (Takeoff).  Some might argue either way.  I’d dodge the question and say Stage 1.5 🙂

A client of mine just sent me a note saying:

Jon,
We’ve seen a decent uptick in <region> area leads/conversions. I know we are spending more $ up there, what – if anything else – do you see happening?

As per usual, I spent some time revisiting the data and identified not one but many contributing factors. I could respond one of two ways to this question. The first would be to basically say “Well we’re doing a better job of targeting our customers and delivering them to better-converting, more relevant landing pages.” That’s basically it. That’s why we’re getting more leads and conversions. I probably should have written that. But alas, the good Lord did not bless me with a knack for brevity.

So here is what I found, more specifically. Note that I’ll paraphrase a bit from my email reply to the client, and also cut out a few points that were situation-specific and not so applicable to PPC-based lead generation and conversion in general. I also changed the regions and keywords as well. The client is in fact not a pizza shop. That would be e-commerce conversion, not lead-gen conversion. We don’t do that!

Hi <client>,

Many things are playing into this, hard to isolate just one:

1) The previous PPC campaign (prior to us) that was targeting Maryland was a national campaign that had keywords which included “Maryland” or other regional words. As such, this would effectively show the ad for a guy in California (not the region we’re targeting) who searched for “Maryland pizza shop” or for a guy who is actually in Maryland and searched on “Maryland pizza shop”, but not a guy in Maryland who just searched on “pizza shop”. Chances are that guy wants a pizza shop in Maryland… but its certainly possible he wants one in Iowa. Just not likely.

We have since paused that old campaign and our current one is regionally-targeted. This means it will show for a guy in Maryland searching on our targeted keywords (without specifying his location), as well as a guy in California who specifies something like “MD” or “Maryland” in his search phrase.

> Video about Google’s Geo-Targeting via AdWords

2) We’ve refined the ad groups and keywords we are bidding on in Maryland such that a greater percentage of the money is being spent on your core services now than it was several weeks ago.

3) I believe the ads are a bit more targeted now than they were previously to people in Maryland, in that they not only have something like “Maryland” or “MD” in the ad copy, but also will show “Maryland” under the URL b/c of the geo-targeting feature.

4) The landing pages we’re sending traffic to now (as of last month) are better matches for the content and also present a clearer “call to action” in my opinion. Thus better conversions. This is a result of the time we spent creating individual, targeted landing pages for each service type your firm offers.

5) By separating out the campaign (versus before us) into separate ad groups for each we’re taking people directly to what they are looking for. If they search on “thin crust pepporoni pizza” we’re taking them directly to that page, not just a page about “pizza in general”. Before everyone was going to the homepage and had to find what they wanted specifically. Now we take them directly to the page they are looking for.

Note: Don’t put a bunch of different keywords in one ad group! That will effectively force them all to the same page (unless you go through extra effort) and will also make it much more difficult for you to compare one type of service versus another in terms of their performance. Break your offerings down into 5-10 smaller buckets and make each of those its own ad group. You’ll be able to better-targeted and match your ad copy to the subject, as well as get higher quality scores for your resulting landing pages.

6) All of the above basically contribute to a lower CPC that we’re now paying. You were paying $10 per click in Maryland and now you are paying like $5.50. Plus I believe you’re getting better quality visitors too. Thus, more traffic and more leads for your money.

So there you have it. Side note on pizza… these pizza kits are yummy. Mmmm. Okay now back to online lead generation!