Recently, Google quietly announced that they would be making a change to their pay-per-click advertising policy regarding text ads. Starting in April 2013, Google will no longer be allowing publishers to manually insert their phone number into their paid search text ads. Practically speaking, Google is trying to eliminate ads that appear in search results that look like this (note the included phone number in the pizza ad):
There are a lot of marketers out there whose strategy is to deliver a high volume of phone-based SEM leads by including each client’s SEM-specific phone number in their AdWords advertisement. Since Google has stated that these types of ads will be disapproved in the near future, this could affect marketers significantly unless a change in strategy is executed.
A good SEM team will adjust to the changing landscape of paid search ads, and have a plan in place.
In order to be in full compliance with Google policies, all SEM campaigns will need to remove/pause all campaigns that include a phone number in their text (description, headline). In addition to that, marketers will want to utilize an AdWords function called “Call Extensions” in order to display phone numbers associated with each ad. In this case, your SEM phone number will be eligible to show up in Google sponsored search results next to your text copy, like this:
In addition, this feature will allow your phone number to be displayed as a “click to call” option on mobile devices. Google has recently begun treating desktop computers and mobile devices as similar entities when it comes to paid search (because the ever-increasing capabilities of mobile devices has blurred the lines in terms of usability), so this is an important development. One of the features of this change will allow mobile search users who find your PPC ad to simply click on your phone number to be connected to your agency. With mobile paid search growing rapidly, this is a great development for your campaigns as you prepare to field potential leads from those on the go.
The bottom line is this – Google PPC advertising is always changing, which is why it is important to have your internet marketing team working hard on your behalf to help adjust to these changes, and identify new areas of opportunity for your agency.
To a large extent, the SEM department strives to drive qualified traffic to your VIO, with the ultimate goal of converting that traffic into “quotable” opportunities (i.e. a visitor who is looking to obtain an insurance quote from your agency). I use many different methods and tactics to drive as much qualified traffic as possible to your agency, so that you aren’t wasting SEM budget on clicks that aren’t valuable to your agency – specific keyword research (at the very least, we are advertising on specific insurance products, not informational keywords), geographic targeting (so that you aren’t wasting budget on clicks from outside of your target area), and “day-parting” (the practice of showing your ads in search results primarily when your agency is open and able to handle quote inquiries). Of course, you’re liable to receive traffic and lead inquiries (calls or quote request forms) from people who are less qualified, but these are the methods that we employ to limit those instances.
But what happens after you’ve received a quote inquiry from SEM? You’re highly visible in search results for your target keywords, you’ve enticed someone to click on your specific ad, and you’ve given the user enough information that they’ve decide that they want more information from your agency via form or phone. Now what?
Here are three tips to take advantage of the leads that come through your SEM, giving you the best chance to turn leads into customers:
SEM can be a very valuable source of qualified leads for your agency — the person that tries to contact you via SEM has already performed a keyword search, seen your agency’s advertisement, and clicked through to your site. At this point, you’ve got a very interested audience – wouldn’t YOU want to take advantage of these leads?Continue Reading »
One of the most important qualities of an SEM (Pay-Per-Click) strategy is the ability to convert site visits into actual lead opportunities. After all, besides the branding lift associated with site traffic, your most valuable visit is the one that turns into an action that benefits your agency’s bottom line. When it comes to paid search traffic, the desired action is to either:
1) Complete an online quote request form, or
2) To contact your office via dedicated SEM phone number
Both have a bigger impact on your policies activated than a simple click.
Of the myriad metrics that are available to us in SEM to determine performance, the one that tracks our ability to transition clicks into leads is called conversion rate. This ratio is simply the total number of contact points over the total number of site visits, and looks like this:
Conversion rate = (SEM phone calls + SEM quote forms completed) / total SEM visits
To that end, I am always tracking the SEM department’s performance at converting traffic into leads by comparing our client’s performance to industry-specific benchmarks. A recent study shows just how effective the Astonish SEM program is at driving valuable traffic to your agency’s site.
Pay-Per-Click vendor Wordstream just finished a study on SEM spending and conversion rates amongst some of the more competitive markets in the search landscape, and it highlighted some interesting findings.
First of all, to no one’s surprise, the Finance vertical (which includes and is heavily influenced by insurance-related searches) was the most competitive landscape in paid search advertising. The top two advertisers amongst this group were State Farm and Geico (again, unsurprisingly). The costs and conversions were the highest amongst the industries, highlighting the importance of having a dedicated SEM program to help you navigate this important, but crowded, marketplace.
Second of all, and something that I found most interesting, was that this presented a couple of benchmark metrics for Astonish to use in assessing our own client’s performance. The one that sticks out to me is the average conversion rate (the % of people who completed an action after clicking on a PPC ad) across the entire industry is just over 6%. I’m pleased to say that Astonish PPC conversion rates are exceeding that industry benchmark. In 2012, 10% of all paid search visitors (to Astonish clients’ sites) are converting to a quote request form completed. This means that Astonish SEM campaigns outperform the industry by a whopping 66% when it comes to converting everyday traffic into leads.
Author: David Osowa is the Director of Search Engine Marketing at Astonish. He manages and optimizes hundreds of PPC campaigns on behalf of Astonish clients to get them the best possible lead opportunities available.Continue Reading »
This is a multi-part leadership series written by Tim Sawyer, President and Director of Client Services at Astonish. The goal is to give your insurance agency the tools necessary for effective leadership from a man who’s helped thousands of insurance professionals succeed in marketing their insurance agencies to the modern consumer.
As the head of client services for the largest digital marketing company in the insurance industry, I have worked with thousands of insurance professionals over the past 5 years. Through our work with these professionals we have discovered specific characteristics that must exist in order for an individual agency to successfully implement strategies to meet the growing demands of the modern consumer.
First and foremost, successful execution and implementation of any marketing strategy, whether digital or traditional, requires the active presence of a dedicated, passionate leader. Having installed training and marketing systems into several thousand businesses, we have determined that leadership is the number one reason for success or failure.
Practically speaking, because most leaders are not the implementers of the actual strategy, there is a natural tendency to pass the responsibility on to the “go to” person in the office. Typically this person is a seasoned insurance professional with little or no insurance marketing expertise, whose primary function is not related to the success of the initiative. In fact, this new initiative may actually be perceived as an impediment to their ability to perform their primary unrelated tasks. This dynamic can pose serious risks to the desired outcome of the marketing initiative.
In the worst case scenario, the implementers may actually, unknowingly undermine the initiative altogether. When questioned by the agency principal as to the progress of the initiative, the lack of success is often blamed on the process, perceived added workload, lack of training, lack of quality, etc.
For this reason it is imperative that someone other than the actual implementers be held responsible for the success of the initiative. In other words, the outcome requires the active participation of a strong leader.Continue Reading »
Your company has multiple social media sites – good for you, but why are you spending more time on Twitter than LinkedIn? Content varies from one site to the next and posting the fun company office photos you’d upload on Facebook isn’t something you can do, say on your company’s YouTube account. The sooner you realize each site is meant to be used differently the better you will keep your audience engaged! There are numerous social sites out there, but these four remain as the top reigning ones that are most visited each day. Your business can definitely be bettered by utilizing all four, just make sure you’re keeping on top of all your accounts appropriately and equally. Here’s how each one should be maintained for your business:
Facebook – Most people still view this as a site for college students to put pictures of your friends partying online that will stay on the Internet forever and we don’t blame those people because Facebook was originally created for college level men and women. However, since its inception almost eight years ago, this popular social tool has become much more than a time waster. Companies are now using the site to gain a virtual audience for their business by setting up online promotions and taking their customers into their office by way of videos and photos. Those with accounts on the popular social site are viewing these companies who also have accounts as driving forces in their communities just trying to make a name for themselves. You are able to interact and respond with people almost instantly about anything you post on your page! This is a very gratifying way to launch your business’s name to the online world.
Twitter – Believe it or not most people are still intimidated by this site simply because its format strays from a typical site of adding a picture and a bio. It offers you the ability to express whatever’s on your mind, but only in 140 characters or less so get a little creative with how you post! Twitter was designed to be more of a mobile social site where you can share anything on the go – a true information network. Want to let your customers know of a great promotional video that’s running for your company? Attach the link and in seconds anyone who’s following your Twitter account can have access to it. Need to send a quick message to a few Twitter followers about a question they had for YOU? No problem! Group your Tweet so you’re interacting with all of them! Twitter is a fantastic option to become a true influencer in your community and create a professional network of people who share the same interests as you. Don’t be intimidated – create an account and jump right in!
LinkedIn – This is THE professional site today. You want all the positive information about your business on your page as possible. That includes a photo of yourself or the company’s logo, contact information so a potential customer can reach you like a website and phone number, and how about some comments from past customers or employers? LinkedIN has a feature called “recommendations” where you can opt to have people leave positive feedback about your business and the type of worker you are. People who visit your page will read through these comments and will instantly know yours is the company to get in touch with and that you mean business. LinkedIn is also a fantastic networking tool because it can provide you with information on potential employees looking to work in your industry. You can browse for interested applicants for jobs and connect with colleagues and friends who also have a page on the professional site.
YouTube – Unlike the first three sites, this one is all about video and nothing else. YouTube was designed in mind with the idea that anyone – pretty much literally – can add videos to the Internet and in a matter of minutes hundreds of thousands of people can view what you’ve uploaded. There are acting and music sensations today that began their careers with the simple click of the “upload video” button on their accounts. You can become an online star as well. Utilize the fact that YouTube reaches so many people and create customer testimonials. Sure a written recommendation does the job the same, but people are more drawn to watching something positive than having to scan pages of a letter. Be creative with your YouTube account – link it to all your other social sites; have you thought of that? Once you have that powerful piece of video, take it and put the link on your Facebook and Twitter accounts so more than one realm of your audience can view it! Tools this simple are made this way so everyone can enjoy them without the hassle.
So now you know just what each social media site can accomplish for your business and how it affects your target audience. The amount of time you spend on each site is entirely up to you, but make sure it’s divided equally as you have just learned all four of these sites can do amazing things for your company. You wouldn’t want to be thought of as amazing some of the time, so don’t just go on these sites some of the time!
Continue Reading »
There’s a good chance you already have a LinkedIn profile (and if you don’t, what are you waiting for?!), but there’s also a good chance you aren’t taking advantage of everything this great networking platform has to offer. After you’ve tweaked your profile to perfection, added a professional looking picture and received a few recommendations from colleagues and clients, what else is there to do?
You need to think of LinkedIn like an after-hours networking event: you show up in your nice suit, grab a drink, put some of your business cards out on a table…and then sit in the corner all night.
No! You work the room and meet everyone that you can. You want folks to get to know you and understand what you bring to the table. The same method of thinking needs to be applied to your LinkedIn profile; don’t show up to the party and then sit alone for the entire evening.
One of the most valuable parts of LinkedIn is their “Answers” feature. LinkedIn Answers allows users to post questions and also answer questions that other users ask. If you log on to your LinkedIn profile, click on “More” in the top navigation and then “Answers” in that drop-down menu, you will be directed to the Answers portion of the website. I recommend just clicking around as a way to really see what Answers is capable of, but here are a few reasons why I think it’s so great:
1) You can position yourself as an expert. People are able to ask their questions in very specific categories. Click on categories you feel that you are very knowledgeable about and if you think you can provide a great answer, go for it! If the person asking the question thinks you had the best answer, you will begin to earn expertise. Experts are featured on the Answers homepage and in each category of questions. This is your way of showing what you know rather than telling people what you know.
2) Increase your blog traffic. If someone asks a question and you think a blog post you have written can be used as a resource, feel free to share your thoughts and your link. Obviously you shouldn’t do this if it has nothing to do with the question at-hand (don’t be that guy) but if you can work your post in to your answer in a seamless way, you definitely should.
3) Target potential clients. Think about what kind of clients you are trying to attract – small business owners? Technology companies? Auto enthusiasts? Think up a question your ideal customer might want to answer and put it out there. Once people begin to answer your question, be sure to message them individually and thank them. Don’t try to sell them anything; just be genuine! This is a nice way to slowly build a relationship with someone who has the potential to bring a lot of money in to your agency.
LinkedIn Answers is a fantastic networking tool if used correctly. Just remember to only ask and answer relevant questions; don’t waste your time trying to answer a million questions every day. Good relationship building takes time, but the ROI is often well worth the wait.Continue Reading »
About a month ago, Google announced the plan for their upcoming algorithm changes – different than the Panda updates of the past. In this initiative, the search engine stated they would begin to punish websites that are “over-optimized” or “over-SEO’d.” They have since back-pedaled on their statements to push the focus of this campaign to webspam, but nonetheless, “over-optimization” is a component to watch for.
The update, dubbed “Penguin,” officially rolled out on April 24. The Penguin update is looking to penalize websites that utilize some of the following:
- Aggressive keyword targeting (over-optimization)
- Overuse of keyword domains (over-optimization)
- Low quality article marketing (spam)
- Keyword stuffing in links (spam)
Google aims to bring searchers the most natural results they can, first and foremost. This update is aimed toward giving the Google user the most positive experience and most relevant results.
So, what can you do to help your website? Keep things natural and relevant! When writing your landing page content or your blogging content, make sure that your content is driven by topics and information that would be useful to your customers and/or prospects. You can keep your content topic-driven without losing any of your keyword optimization.
For example, if you’re writing a blog post on some updates in health insurance legislature in your area, you can easily integrate any specific health insurance keywords you have without throwing them in the reader’s face – it’s all about natural integration and keeping the post topic-driven. If your post is about a legislative update, make sure you stay on topic and give the reader all of the information needed. If your health insurance keyword only naturally fits one time in the post without sacrificing the message, then so be it. It’s important now, more than ever, that Google and the other search engines see that your content is high quality and useful to the reader – not just a 500-word post stuffed with keywords you want to be found for.
You should use the same principles in your link building as well – keep it natural. For example, if you are writing a guest post on a local community blog and you’re trying to bring visitors to your website for a health insurance term, make sure you can integrate it without sacrificing the content quality or spamming the reader. Make sure your post is relevant to the topic of the keyword and don’t squeeze in numerous links. The best practice with using keywords in links it to keep it simple – post one link back to your website using your term and only if it fits into the content without disrupting the reader. If you have a blog on your website and you’re linking to other pages within the site, use the same principles; keep keyword links minimal, simple, and non-disruptive.
There are already reports of websites seeing negative effects as a result of the Penguin update, as well as sites see positive results, such as higher keyword rankings, better traffic, etc. As long as you are utilizing best practices and ensuring your internet marketing strategies are in line with what Google is looking for in a high quality website, you should eventually see the fruits of your labor. Think of how you feel when you visit a website that spams you, whether it’s through low quality content, excessive links, or obvious keyword stuffing. Enacting a high-quality SEO strategy takes time – these are long-term strategies. But, at the end of the day, you’ll thank your internet marketing team, representatives, or even yourself for sticking it out and taking the “righteous” path in your SEO strategy.
How is your website responding to the Penguin update? Tweet me @astonish_shawna with any Penguin stories or suggestions!Continue Reading »
The world of Internet Marketing is always changing, so Astonish Results makes it a priority to provide employees with opportunities to educate themselves and stay on top of the latest trends. On April 2, I was lucky enough to attend Distilled’s LinkLove conference in Boston.
LinkLove is the ultimate gathering of the web’s top link builders. We met at the Martin Conference Center at Harvard Medical School (I like to think spending the day at Harvard made me smarter by osmosis) and had the honor of listening to nine speakers, each with their own area of expertise. The presenters were the best of the best in our field. If there was a king of SEO, Rand Fishkin from SEOmoz would be the reigning monarch…and he was there! Other presenters included Justin Briggs, Ross Hudgens, Rhea Drysdale, Wil Reynolds, John Doherty, Adam Audette, Colby Almond and Tom Critchlow – all AWESOME.
I learned a ton and look forward to implementing some things I learned in to Astonish’s link building tactics, but there are also some things I learned that are great for you as a business owner to keep in mind:
I want to thank Distilled for hosting such an outstanding conference and Astonish Results for giving me the opportunity to attend. I can’t wait to put all of the speakers’ great tips and tricks in to action for our clients!Continue Reading »
Link building plays a significant part in how high your website ranks in the search engines. There are a variety of different ways to get links back to your website, but one of the most effective methods is to step away from the computer and out in to your community.
1) Sponsor an Event. Nearly every city or town has a few popular events that happen every year – music festivals, 5k runs, county fairs and restaurant weeks. What better opportunity to get your name in front of a big chunk of the local population? Check to see if any of these events have websites and if so, whether or not they link to their sponsors. If you find an event that makes sense for your business to sponsor and it seems like they will link to your website, go for it.
2) Be a Speaker. If you have a special talent for public speaking, you may have some great link building opportunities. Investigate your options to speak at local and national conferences and events. Finding knowledgeable, charismatic orators can be a challenge, so jumping on board with a relevant conference will usually be a mutually beneficial relationship. Bonus points if you can get a gig speaking at a college or university; their .edu URL holds extra authority and link juice.
3) Host Your Own Networking Event. Everyone loves free food and good company, but not everyone likes to play host. Put together a small (or large, if you’re feeling ambitious) networking event and hold it at your office or a more spacious venue. You could invite local artists to display their work, plan to have a guest speaker or maybe offer some kind of door prize or raffle. Whatever you choose, you need to give the attendees a reason to show up. Once you have decided the logistics of the event, use social media to spread the news. Write a post for your blog, Tweet your Followers and update your Facebook Fans; hopefully, those who follow you will begin to re-purpose your content and alert their followers about the event as well. The goal is to not just throw a great party, but get a nice amount of back links in the process.
These are just a few ways to get started with link building in your community. Don’t be afraid to get out there and network in person – you never know what kind of back link you might be able to secure!Continue Reading »
So, who are you anyway? If you don’t know what your business is all about, your clients certainly won’t either. This goes beyond “My company is XYZ Insurance and we specialize in home insurance and employee benefits.” Plenty of businesses do what you do, so why should someone choose your agency to take care of their insurance needs? What makes you special? It’s time to consider your Unique Value Proposition (UVP). Your UVP is just like it sounds – it is what sets you apart from your competition and what you can do for the customer that no one else can. No one goes in to business hoping to be mediocre and just like everyone else, so it’s important to pinpoint what you do, why you’re good at it and what kind of value you can bring to the table. Before you start to brainstorm ideas, keep this point in mind: UVPs should be short. Really short. You need to tell people in about 2 sentences or less why you rock and why you’re unique. Popular examples are M&Ms’ “The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand” and Domino’s old UVP, “You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less – or it’s free.” This may seem easy, but there are a few questions you need to ask yourself and answer before you formulate the perfect Unique Value Proposition.
- What does your agency do well? Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn; you’ve earned it. Forget being humble and write down every single thing you think your company excels at.
- What makes your different from your competitors? You may have a ton in common with a lot of the local insurance agents, and that is totally normal, but there has to be at least one thing you have that they don’t. Figure out what that is and make it work to your advantage.
- What do my customers value? Step outside of your world where you understand insurance and the important part it plays in helping folks secure their assets. Now, pretend you are one of your potential clients. What do you think matters the most to them? Your agency’s reputation? Your ability to get them the lowest rates? Outstanding customer service?
Now that you’ve answered all of these questions, it’s time to put your thoughts together in to a successful Unique Value Proposition. If your agency already has a UVP, please feel free to share it in the comments section of this blog!