By Bruce Morin
The holiday season is in full swing. Christmas is just around the corner and now that the Black Friday shopping frenzy is over, it seems that everyone involved in marketing and retail has started looking at spending numbers. Unfortunately for brick and mortar stores, this year was not stellar. In fact, retailers in the United States gained only 2.3-percent over last year, making this the smallest increase since the last recession.
However, online shopping is another story and a bright spot for retailers, as well as consumers. According to IBM Corp., online sales rose 20-percent from last year on Thanksgiving and 19-percent on Black Friday. This seems to suggest that people are more willing to buy online than to fight the crowds at the mall. People are starting to realize that you can get the same (or better) deals online without the travel and the hassle.
This is great news for online retailers and marketers – in the paid search space, there were huge increases in spending by retailers. In fact, our partner, Kenshoo, reports a 33-percent increase on Thanksgiving and a 21-percent increase on Black Friday over last year.
“Thanksgiving and Black Friday are two of the biggest shopping days and this year both consumers and advertisers had their wallets ready”, said Aaron Goldman, Kenshoo CMO. “Kenshoo saw dramatic increases in paid search ad spend and online sales revenue on these two days signifying the peak shopping season is off to a hot start. With the 2013 calendar condensing the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we expect the torrid pace to continue”.
Not surprisingly, the largest growth was in mobile device activity. According to Kenshoo, marketers spent 79.5-percent of their paid search budgets on computers during the 2012 holiday season and only 11.8 percent on phones and tablets. This year, they spent 60.3-percent on computer ads while spending 21.2 percent on phones and 18.5 percent on tablets.
“It’s clear that the story of the shopping season to date is the mobile migration,” added Goldman. “In fact, this isn’t just a migration we’re seeing, it’s a full on revolution. With phones and tablets accounting for nearly 40% of all paid search ad spend on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, its clear marketers have multi-device strategies in place to lure consumers wherever and whenever they’re shopping”.
These days, retailers who take advantage of paid search on mobile devices are being rewarded. 55.8- percent of all paid search clicks in 2013 were still on computers, but phones and tablets represented almost half of all paid search clicks on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. It will be interesting to see how this trend will affect the financial and insurance industries in 2014.
Do you own a Smartphone? How about a tablet? If you are like most people, these devices are an important part of your everyday life. We rely on our phones for a lot more than making calls. In fact, more and more people stay connected to email, surf the web, and shop using their Internet-connected devices.
For years we have been hearing how mobile phones are going to overtake PCs as the main way people get online. We haven’t reached that point yet, but the recent mobile statistics are staggering. When it comes to consumer behavior, we see some pretty remarkable trends:
• 47% of consumers use their Smartphone to search for local information such as a local storefront they want to visit.
• Nearly two out of three shoppers use a Smartphone to research and purchase while shopping.
• 80% of mobile users prefer locally relevant advertising and are more likely to take an action after seeing a location-specific message.
• 65% of mobile users used their mobile device to find a business to make an in-store purchase.
• By 2015, it is predicted that mobile shopping will account for $163 billion in sales worldwide.
So, what does this mean for insurance agency owners and advertisers? For many, it means a total shift in how they approach advertising on the Internet. As more people choose their phone or tablet as their primary way to search for goods and services, more attention must be paid to how ads are presented to them.
Mobile device advertising allows agencies to dramatically extend the reach of their online SEM (pay-per-click) campaigns. Recently Google created a new type of ad campaign called “Enhanced.” The new campaigns let SEM managers manage complex targeting, bidding, and ads for different platforms. You can now run a single campaign that targets computers, tablets, and Smartphones. Along with the Enhanced campaigns, Google has just announced the rollout of their new mobile adjustments for AdWords accounts.
This new system allows SEM managers to adjust bidding at the ad group level within the campaign. You will now be able to set bulk bid adjustments for locations, day-parts, and devices. This ultimately saves time and provides more control and precision over bids within a campaign. This is a huge upgrade, since originally mobile bids adjustments were only available at the campaign level.
As mobile search becomes more prevalent, it’s important not to overlook your mobile ad campaigns. This is true for businesses selling goods, but also applies the service industry. Businesses such as insurance agencies need to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to advertising. Many agencies have only recently started advertising online and may feel that what they are doing with paid search is enough. Those are the agencies that will ultimately be left behind and leave revenue on the table.
With the new Google updates, agency owners and their SEM managers are being given the right tools and greater flexibility to analyze mobile search data and make quick changes when warranted. Ad group mobile bid adjustments should be available to all users sometime in May.
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.
One of the best aspects of search engine marketing (SEM, or Pay-Per-Click) is the notion that we can use it as a tool to target very specific audiences. We can do that in a number of ways, including:
- Keyword targeting (use this to reach only those searching for “auto insurance”)
- Day-part targeting (use this to show ads in search results only during your business hours)
- Ad Copy targeting (tailor your ads to speak to a specific user behavior, such as those who are looking to buy insurance, and not those who are looking for insurance jobs)
- Geographic targeting (also known as “location targeting”)
Geographic targeting is the notion that, within an SEM campaign, you are reaching out to an audience that is qualified via their physical location. If you are the owner of an insurance agency that is licensed to sell policies in Wisconsin, it stands to reason that the only geographically-relevant audience are those search engine users within the Wisconsin state boundary. Any pay-per-click traffic that arrives at your agency’s web site from California, for example, is likely to be a mismatch for both your agency and the visitor (why would I want to research an agency that is ineligible to sell me insurance?).
The result? A visitor to your web site that not only has no relevance to your agency’s offering, but also has counted against your pay-per-click budget.
On the other hand, reaching the right audience geographically can be a big benefit to your SEM campaign. Search engine users (especially in the insurance landscape) greatly value search results that show local businesses. Often we hear from agency partners who have a competitive edge over the carrier conglomerates with their customer base simply because they are local – there is a sense of comfort for insurance shoppers that they can physically visit their agent in times of need.
So – how do we use SEM to target this very geographically-qualified audience? Here are two ways to do that:
Tell your SEM campaign where it can/cannot show your ads
Your SEM team is should be adept at discussing and executing the right location-based strategy for your pay-per-click campaign. Whether you want to target an entire state, specific cities, or even a specific mileage radius, your SEM campaign should be built to reflect the geo-targeting that is customized for your agency. Your SEM team will tell Google not only where to show your ads, but just as importantly, where not to show your ads.
Use location-based keyword searches
Another method to target those searching for geographically-specific information is to target those terms in our keyword list. Launching your SEM campaign with the settings listed above will make sure that your ads aren’t shown outside of a target location, but what if your Wisconsin insurance agency wants to be sure that your ads appear at the top of search results for those queries that include a geographic qualifier, such as milwaukee insurance, fon du lac auto insurance, and insurance in Oshkosh, wi? To ensure that you put your ad front and center when these search terms are used, your team should build these terms (and any close iteration) into your campaign through extensive keyword research.
Keyword targeting in conjunction with location-based settings is a great way to reach the audience that will drive search engine traffic that is most valuable for your agency, and is just one of the facets of search engine marketing can reach the right audience for you.
About the Author: David Osowa is the Director of SEM at Astonish. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on location-based targeting via search engine marketing.
SEM performance, when it comes to our agency partners, can be analyzed in two ways:
- SEM campaign performance (cost per click, average position in search results, cost per lead)
- Sales (agency) performance (policies activated, percentage of leads quoted, total premium acquired via SEM)
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:
- Be open to all types of customers. SEM is a great tool to target some specific types of insurance, mostly through the use of good keyword selection. That way, we can make sure that we capture those searching for “auto insurance” and not “earthquake insurance” (kind of important when your agency is in Chicago!). But what about the term “business insurance”? Can you imagine all of the various types of businesses that will arrive at your site via that search query? Don’t throw away that lead opportunity just because your agency doesn’t specialize in funeral home insurance.
- Don’t sit your “varsity” players! We all know that different producers have different success rates when closing business for your agency. When you are paying for the traffic (and thus, leads) that come from SEM, wouldn’t you want to give yourself the best chance at closing a policy as possible? The answer is simple – use your sales metrics to assign all SEM leads to the producer that has the best closing ratio. After all, it’s much easier to close a “referral” than a digital marketing lead, so put your best player on the field as the competition gets tougher.
- Haste makes waste. This is probably the oldest rule in the insurance sales book – the quicker that you get in touch with a lead, the better your chances of getting their business. This is particularly true for digital marketing (and SEM) leads, because those that are on the internet are likely using the down time after they fill out a quote request form on your website to research other agencies. Don’t let them get to far – call them as soon as you receive their inquiry, or else run the risk of losing them to the other local insurance agent down the street.
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?
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.