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.
Have you ever done a Google search, looked at the paid search advertisements on the top and right side of the search results, and thought … “What does that advertisement have anything to do with my search?”
Recently, I executed a search for the keyword “insurance”. Amongst all of the competition for top billing in these search results, I saw an ad for “Assurance Wireless” promoting a free cell phone:
Obviously, this is a poorly placed PPC advertisement. The advertiser didn’t want to appear in results for the highly competitive and highly searched term “insurance”. The obvious mistake is that the advertiser (either intentionally or not) targeted the misspelling of their brand name “Assurance”. The advertiser will not be happy when it realizes that a large percentage of their paid search budget is eaten up by clicks that come from a keyword that isn’t relevant to their business at all. Inevitably, search engine users will see this ad, click through (perhaps by mistake) to the advertiser’s site, and quickly exit, obviously with a poor user experience. The advertiser has potentially just paid $25-$30 for each click on this mistakenly placed advertisement. That is an expensive mistake.
This is an extreme example of poor ad copy construction, but it got me thinking about three common PPC ad copy mistakes that advertisers often make.
Mistake #1: Using your brand name in the ad’s headline
The “headline” in a PPC advertisement is the blue bolded line at the top of every text ad. It is the attention-grabber, the first thing that your audience sees when your ad comes up in search results. One hint: don’t waste that space on introducing your company’s name. Chances are (and I’m sorry to break the news), your small company doesn’t carry enough brand recognition to become an asset in text-based advertisements. If someone searches on the term “auto insurance quote”, they’re not necessarily looking for a specific company (like yours), they’re just looking to get a quote. So, instead of mentioning your company in the headline, why not focus on what is going to be most effective in drawing in the audience? The first thing that searchers should see is the benefits of your “product” — such as “Free Auto Insurance Quote”. Don’t waste valuable space on your company’s brand, unless you’re a company with strong brand recognition (like Geico). Besides, if someone is actually looking for your company by name, you’ll show up in search results regardless (because you ARE advertising for your company’s name … aren’t you??).
Mistake #2: Don’t be too broad in your ad copy
Make sure that your ad is as close to the search query (the term that search users choose in Google) as possible. Be as specific as possible. In keeping with the insurance example from above, imagine that you are an agency looking to attract new customers for home insurance, auto insurance, and flood insurance. Make sure that your ads for each category are specific to that search as possible. When someone searches for “flood insurance”, make sure that the ad they are served doesn’t reference a broad and generalized “insurance company”. Instead, make sure that you include language specific to “flood insurance”, otherwise your competition will have a leg up on you.
So, tailor your ad copy to each type of keyword search that you are targeting – don’t run a homogenized “insurance”-based ad copy for each type of insurance, make sure you speak to the search engine user’s intent with specific language in your ad.
Mistake #3: Target the audience that is at the end of the buying cycle
In other words, we want to attract search engine users who are ready to perform a specific action – such as “get an insurance quote” or “buy auto insurance”. These people are the most qualified audience out there, those who have signaled their intent to purchase with their keyword search. Not only do we want to show up on keywords like those I just mentioned, but we want to emphasize those behaviors in our ad copy.
Too many advertisers use broad language in their ads, with the hope of attracting as many users as possible. I’ve actually seen some ads with the headline “Curious about insurance?” – an attempt at generating visits to the advertiser’s web site, no matter what the user is looking for. Instead, make sure that you don’t waste your PPC budget on people at the top of the sales funnel (those who are just browsing, or are curious) by offering ad copy that speaks specifically to those who are close to purchasing. Use language like “Buying auto insurance?”, “Need a home insurance quote?” , or “Get a fast and free business insurance quote now”. Not only will you appeal to those who are near the end of their search, but you’ll actually dissuade those who are just browsing (and thus saving your PPC budget for more serious shoppers!).
The lesson, when constructing paid search advertisements, is to speak to your audience as specifically as possible. It will benefit your campaign by providing just the traffic that you are searching for.
It’s a question that I am often asked by my clients who are looking to launch their digital marketing strategy: should they focus on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Pay-Per-Click (SEM, PPC)?
Too many people are under the impression that their online marketing presence should be guided by one strategy or the other. I’m here to tell you that the most effective digital marketing strategies take a blended approach, using components of both tactics.
SEO and SEM strategies are complementary ways of achieving the same goal: prominent inclusion in search engine results that lead to traffic to your website. However, while each is effective and critical tools in your digital marketing arsenal, they each have unique principles that can help you reach your objectives. Let’s take a look.
SEO, or search engine optimization, is the tactic of using your site’s content, linking structure, blog posts, and social media exposure (amongst other things) to help you rank organically in search engine results. Search engines take all of these cues into consideration when deciding where to rank your site in their results for a particular keyword, like “auto insurance in Rhode Island”. SEO is the critical foundation to your website’s visibility in search engine results. The things that you do to optimize your online content and relationships will have a long-lasting effect on your rankings in search engines. However, those effects, while critically important, might take a long time to take hold in the search results. Google indexes your content at its own pace, and the general rule of thumb that search engine marketers go by is that it can take between six and nine months before you begin to realize the results of your on-site optimization.
On the other hand, SEM has more of an immediate impact. Once you build a campaign that targets your specific keyword set, and you set that campaign live, you are eligible to see an instant impact on your traffic and visibility in search engines. While inclusion in organic search results are merit based, your SEM campaign can force Google (or any other search engine) to place you within the top results of some competitive keywords. With that newfound visibility, your website is bound to see traffic increase. That’s what the pay-per-click model does for marketers. However, the effects of your SEM campaign are not as long lasting as your SEO strategy – that is, unless you have an unlimited marketing budget. You see, your site is guaranteed inclusion in search engine results for only as long as your campaign is funded. As soon as your campaign has generated enough clicks to exhaust your budget, your traffic will stop. The great thing about SEM is that it is a guaranteed source of traffic – if people aren’t clicking on your ad and visiting your site, you don’t pay a cent!
Now that we’ve reviewed the different characteristics of SEO and SEM strategies, it is important to note how they work together. In fact, our best e-agencies have told us that the best performing digital marketing strategy leverages both SEM and SEO in tandem. This blended strategy has helped them appeal to a broad and comprehensive audience, and has resulted in their website being a more prominent piece of customer acquisition.
Here are three reasons why you should have SEO and SEM as part of your site’s digital marketing strategy:
- Gain visibility on all keywords, even the most competitive terms.
Your SEO campaign can help you gain inclusion in search results for a wide variety of keywords related to your business. Chances are, though, that you can’t organically rank for your most important keywords – they’re just too competitive! You’re not alone. Many of our friends in the insurance industry are running up against the same problem. They can’t rank for highly desirable keywords like “auto insurance” because that search landscape is dominated by highly reputable and voluminous competitor sites in the industry, such as Allstate, Liberty Mutual, and Progressive. However, when our clients target these competitive keywords in their paid search campaign, they’re guaranteed traffic on these critical sources of website traffic. Use SEM as a way to target even the most competitive keywords when your SEO campaign can’t!
- Target a specific audience with a customized campaign.
Want to get traffic from a very specific set of keywords, but don’t want to dedicate content on your site to optimization of those terms? Look no further than SEM. With a targeted paid search campaign, you can drive traffic to your site on keywords that don’t necessarily dominate your site’s content. Use SEM to force traffic to your website through keywords that your site hasn’t yet developed content for. This is a great testing opportunity for new areas of business.
- Use SEM data to inform your SEO strategy.
One of the biggest benefits of SEM is the sheer amount of data available to marketers in the paid search space. We can use keyword-level data to see which keywords are driving the most visits to your site, the keyword combinations that visitors are using to find your site, and even the keywords that have had the most success turning searches into traffic. While marketers use this information on a daily basis to optimize their SEM campaign’s performance, too many people fail to realize that this performance data can be used to inform your SEO tactics. Have a keyword that has shown to drive the most interest in your site? Why not target that term with enhanced content on your site? Is there a term that has shown to convert visitors in customers at a greater rate? Use that word prominently on your home page.
These are just three reasons for you use SEO and SEM in a blended strategy. Doing so will give you a well-rounded digital marketing presence, and likely drive enhanced search engine traffic as a result. Stay tuned to this space for more reasons why you should focus on a blended approach to digital marketing.