Choosing the Right Success Metric for SEM

We run more than a few Search Engine Marketing (SEM) campaigns for our clients, specifically Pay Per Click. These campaigns run across multiple search engines, and across both the search and display networks. Just like other marketing activities we need to demonstrate a positive ROI and we are always asked to report on the success of a campaign.

Here is what I feel should start any SEM campaigns discussion on success.                       

The best metric is the one that allows you to measure the success of your goals.

And to pick the best metric we need to pick the best goals. Having multiple goals likely leads to multiple campaigns, ad groups and keywords, with the possibility of each being measured by a different metric.

Your goal might be to increase sales, acquire new customers or advocates, strengthen or nurture existing relationships, or possibly a combination of a few, in any case setting the right goals upfront will make your measurement of success easier from the start.

What is right for one brand may not be right for the other. For example, if your product or service has a long sales cycle, tracking a keyword and ad creative’s click through to an online sale from your shopping cart may not be a realistic goal of the campaign, but if you are selling a $20 download, it might just be the ultimate conversion and therefore measure of success.

Many experts cite “conversions” as the holy grail of success in an SEM campaign, and I would agree. Conversions often allow us to see one step beyond the click, usually leading to a more meaningful relationship with our customer or prospect. But a conversion can take on many forms, here are a just few:

  • Final Sale of a good or service online
    Easily tracked back to the keyword and the ad creative which deliver the most traffic at the lowest cost and still result in a sale.
  • Download of a white paper/view of a video
    Great for long sales cycles where your website is used to educate before the final decision.
  • Subscription to a newsletter/joining a club or group
    Great for long sales cycles where you wish to establish a relationship and nurture the lead.
  • View of multiple pages on the site
    Common metric for awareness campaigns where engagement is considered showing interest beyond a single click.
  • View of a specific page on the site
    Works best if the page is a click away from the destination site, but challenging as we are intentionally asking the user to make an extra click. It does validate which keyword and creative is delivering more qualified leads to a page vs. driving to the final destination page where no click is required. Best used if the page itself has a specifc and clear call-to-action.
  • Time spent on the site
    Time on site is a valid statistic in an awareness campaign where engagement with the brand is a key measure of success; however, it is important to note that time is measured by subtracting the start time on a web page from the start time on the previous page from the same web site. So if a user clicks on 4 pages on your site, reads each of the first 3 pages for 1 minute and clicks off the 4th page to a third party website after having spent 5 minutes reading your last page, the time on site stat would read 3 minutes, not the actual 8 minutes they spent on your site.
  • Following on a social media outlet
    Can be a useful metric if your online strategy also includes a social media strategy for engaging and nurturing relationships.

Optimizing with conversion tracking:

Looking beyond the click can allow us to test factors that not only test the relevance of our ads to the search behaviour of our target, but also allow us to test the connection to the content on our site.

Case Study

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the importance of conversions as a success metric for an SEM campaign is to look at a case study where we did just that, tested conversions to determine the ad with the best CTR.

For a packaged goods client we tested 6 different ads focusing on different product attributes, including and excluding Price and a Free shipping offer. The factors we tested were:

  • Headlines
  • Offer details, Price, Shipping etc. (one test included mentioning free shipping).
  • Benefit statements
  • Tie in to other in market advertising (in this case we used the same tagline from some online banner advertising)

The result was one Search Ad which outperformed the others by over 200% in conversions and 630% in revenue.

Impressions Clicks CTR Orders Conv. CPO Revenue
Pre   Optimization 20,289 546 2.69% 20 3.66% $164.70 $299.80
Post   Optimization 20,289 690 3.40% 57 8.20% $58.23 $1,909.15

Even before the optimization began you might assume that the CTR for the various ads running was quite reasonable, but after optimizing the ads against the conversions (sales versus simple visits to the page) it is easy to see why tracking beyond the click is very valuable, in this case a significant jump in revenue.

So, if you want value from your SEM campaign, pick the right goal, measure that goal against conversions and test your campaign attributes against achieving the highest conversion. And if you need to have more than one goal go-for-it!

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