How Your Company Can Improve Its Response
Now that we’ve established the unique nature of search leads and reviewed some common issues that prevent companies from realizing their full potential, here are some easy internal fixes that can have an immediate positive impact.
As we’ve discussed, form leads generated from search can be highly valuable, because the searcher is actively engaged in researching solutions at that exact time. However, they will rarely stop with contacting one company and early responders to these leads have a distinct advantage.
Submission confirmation message – All too often, upon clicking “submit,” a prospect receives a generic message from the website that reads something like “Thanks! Your submission is confirmed.” This allows the person to know that the submission was successful – but doesn’t let them know that you value their interest – or what will happen next, and when. A more effective message will cover these bases – for example, “Thank you for contacting us! We appreciate your interest in our services and are eager to answer any questions you may have. One of our knowledgeable experts will be in touch within (short timeframe).”
Autoresponders – An email autoresponder that is triggered when a form is submitted can serve two important purposes. First, it quickly reinforces the sentiments that you have expressed in your submission confirmation message. Secondly, and more importantly, an autoresponse that provides something of value related to the searcher’s interest can end or shorten the search session of the individual, thereby limiting the number of competitors they will contact. Typically, a person searching for particular services may submit a form, see a standard submission confirmation, and move on to the next search result. However, if they suddenly receive a notification that they have a new email and this email not only confirms their form submission but also includes a whitepaper or other resource of interest, you may succeed in ending the search session while also impressing them with your knowledge of your industry. By offering something of value that successfully holds the searcher’s attention until you are able to contact them directly, you can effectively reduce the number of competitors they contact while simultaneously impressing them with your industry knowledge.
Response times – As previously mentioned, most companies treat leads from search no differently than they treat leads from other sources. But leads from other sources, such as referrals, direct mail, or other outbound channels, are fundamentally different. Those types of leads will have a different level of patience as they are usually familiar with your company prior to contact. If at all possible, search leads should be contacted as soon as possible – and if you can contact them within a few minutes, you greatly enhance your chances of having a meaningful conversation that moves them further down the pipeline.
Routing – Technology such as Dynamic Telephone Number Insertion (DTNI) not only allows you to track leads that come in directly from search, but also gives you the opportunity to route these leads differently than routine inbound calls. Remember, a search user is only a click away from finding a different potential provider, and they are less likely to go through an auto-attendant just to talk to someone. If you can route search leads directly to a line that is usually answered by a knowledgeable representative, you will go a long way toward getting on their short list.
Voicemail – If search leads must be sent to voicemail, use the same philosophy as with form submission confirmations (above). A simple voice message that thanks them for their interest, lets them know that you are eager to answer any questions, and tells them when to expect to hear back will greatly enhance your chances of engagement.
Answered calls – Whenever possible, have a skilled representative answer inbound calls from search leads. Remember, this person found you via search and is looking for a potential solution now. Moreover, the fact that they picked up the phone to call you means that they are interested in talking about your services now. If you can accommodate them you will have a big advantage over your competitors who can’t.
Common Mistakes Most Companies Make and How to Correct Them
When speaking with companies regarding the overall quality of the leads they receive via search (whether organic or paid), I hear common complaints. Examples include:
“The leads come in and we respond, but then we never hear back.”
“The leads are already talking to our competitors.”
“The leads don’t respond well to our proven sales process.”
All of these statements are often true, but the conclusion that is often drawn (that these leads are low-quality) usually is not. The truth is that there are critical differences between leads that are generated from a search query vs. leads that are generated from referrals and other sources, and that search leads are better served by a customized approach. Here we’ll discuss common mistakes most companies make with leads in three separate posts, including the primary reason why search leads are distinct from others, some common sales approaches that can hurt your chances with them, and then some relatively simple adjustments that can be made to better capitalize on them.
The Immediacy Factor
A huge upside of search leads is that they are largely comprised of prospects that are interested in your services right now. The downside of this is that these leads demand immediate attention if you want to increase your chances of landing them. The nature of search implies several things about these prospects:
- They are almost certainly also contacting your competitors
- They have set aside time to research your services right now
- They are likely to forget your name and brand after utilizing the initial contact mechanism on your site
Clearly, these can be high-value targets. So why are you missing on so many? It could be that you are treating these leads the same as you do all your other leads, when they call for a different approach.
Common Sales Practices that Hurt Performance
Inbound Form Leads
Search leads from forms on your website or landing pages can come in at any time of day and any time of the week. However, it’s common for salespeople to schedule all of their calls for a certain time of the day, or only on certain days of the week. For example, let’s assume that three inbound form leads come in throughout the day on a Wednesday. Your salesperson likes to get sales calls out of the way the first thing in the morning, so these people aren’t contacted until Thursday morning. However, we know that these leads are likely to have also contacted several of your competitors, and by this time they have probably talked to some. This delay can leave your company on the outside looking in, assuming that you are even able to get in contact.
I once met with a client who requested that we minimize the phone number on their website in order to direct more visitors to the online form. The rationale was that they felt that the people who sent in form leads were more likely to engage than those who called. I had a hard time accepting this as a blanket reality, so I put my phone on speaker and called the number we had designated for search leads. My client was horrified when the phone rang five times and then was answered by a voicemail that simply said, “This is Tony – you know what to do,” followed by a beep.
Most examples are not this egregious, but do you know how inbound calls from search leads are handled at your company? Are they funneled into the same general sales line as all other leads? Do callers have to go through an autoresponder with a series of options just to get someone to talk to them? If someone answers the phone, are they qualified to answer any questions the prospect might have? If nobody is available to answer questions about your services at the time of the call, is the caller given clear instructions on what information to leave, along with clear expectations of what will happen next?
Remember that the commonality of search leads, whether through form or call, is immediacy. These prospects are a back-click on their browser away from finding someone else, and the more obstacles you put in their path and the longer it takes you to engage them, the more likely they are to look elsewhere.
Tracking the source of your leads is perhaps one of the single most important elements in your overall marketing campaign. It’s the method by which you’ll gauge budget, approach, revisions, and a host of other deciding factors. Whether your reps are instructed to inquire “how did you hear about us?” or there are checkable boxes online, having a lead tracking system in place is a mighty tool and an asset to your business – bottom line. The value of an SEO campaign in terms of lead tracking is tied up with the particular search engine marketing company you select. Based on the company’s abilities, it can take your existing SEM campaigns from lackluster to high performing marketing tools that are integrated, of course, into your overall initiative.
In most non e-commerce applications, the obvious goal of an SEO campaign is to generate both a high number of leads and also a greater quality of leads. Of course, the search engine marketing company running the campaign can sometimes be frustrated since its involvement with lead data ends as soon as someone sends a form or picks up the phone to call the client company. The big problem here is that a wealth of data is being lost that could help improve the SEM campaign, and it becomes harder to follow closed leads back to their original online source. Moreover, it’s nigh impossible to track the online source of customer calls. Without help from a search engine marketing company, the client company itself is often unable to compare leads from the web versus traditional sources. On its own, reliable lead tracking becomes a near impracticality despite its importance in reevaluating future initiatives. This is a shame since the data is readily available.
As anyone who has ever done a lead quality analysis, which hopefully you or your search engine marketing company has performed, you’ll know that all leads are not created equal. That is to say that leads from some sources will be a higher quality than other sources, making frequent, detailed lead tracking a necessity. What follows are three scenarios starting from most ideal – exceedingly rare – and trending to the most common, which is unfortunately, well, common.
Three Lead Tracking Scenarios
Scenario #1: Ideal – In a perfect lead tracking scenario, leads from the website are filtered through a sales management system, such as Salesforce, which has an easily integrative tool that takes leads from the website and automatically fills in the data, adding it to a data set. A custom phone number can also be created by your search engine marketing company and used for each individual campaign that you wish to track, so that the salesperson filling in the data on Salesforce can tell by incoming numbers where the lead was generated.
If someone interested in your services or products came by a pay-per-click ad, for example, he or she could be sent to a customized landing page with a designated phone number to call. If a visitor came in through an organic SEO channel, there are off-the-shelf programs that serve up a unique phone number that a typical visitor punching in the URL would not see. Taking it one more step further, there are systems that will allow you to tell with great granularity where each phone lead came from, down to the individual ad/keyword level, etc. The phone call data from closed sales can thus offer the same wealth of integration that you can receive from online lead forms, for example. Indeed, you can track any metric that’s internally important, from which channel is bringing the highest quality leads and average dollar sale per web channel, all the way to a direct ROI correlation for each individual search engine marketing initiative (again, down to the individual keyphrase level, if desired).
Of course, only two obvious channels have been cited, SEO and PPC. You can, however, use the same philosophy effectively for any initiative, such as email marketing, banner advertising, or the like. Unfortunately, a majority of companies are not set up for this type of granularity, especially without guidance from an experienced web analytics or search engine marketing company. Rather, a number are set up to work with a proprietary CRM system that doesn’t lend itself well to web integration, leaving meaningful lead tracking by the wayside. Sometimes, companies still perform lead tracking using spreadsheets or other such simplistic methods. Often the people tasked with such initiatives are aware of the severe limitations of the current system but suffer from an inability to get buy-in to switch to something more high tech.
Transforming Your SEM Campaigns
This brings us to scenario #2, which is not 100% ideal, but still allows for significant lead tracking and data analysis. In the next installment, we’ll discover how both this scenario and scenario #3 can also be used to track sources and metrics with a high degree of success – if done properly. From ideal, we travel to workable, and finally to a common but unfortunate lead tracking scenario, which still presents some redeeming qualities for you and your search engine marketing company to work with.
Allow me to offer a pre-emptive caveat – I own a successful search engine marketing company. Like most businesses, we are constantly trying to expand our client base – primarily through using the same search engine and internet marketing methods that we deliver to our clients. A quick search on terms such as “search engine optimization company” or “internet marketing company” on Google will demonstrate that we practice what we preach. As I write this, on a “clean machine” (one with all browser settings reset and cookies removed), my search engine marketing company ranks number 1 on Google for both of these phrases and the plural forms of the phrases. Based upon your past search tendencies, your specific location, and whims of the Google Gods, your mileage may vary, but you should find us near the top of the SERPs for those and hundreds of other related terms.
The Value of Integrating Different Internet Marketing Methods
The point here is not to boast – these results are due to the collective efforts of my expert team, not solely my own expertise. The point is to back up my contention that we practice what we preach and that the vast majority of our leads come from the internet marketing methods we apply to our own site. However, there has been much debate over the years in the search engine marketing community about whether it is proper or even hypocritical for a search engine marketing company to use other forms of advertising unrelated to internet marketing. The naysayers generally have a common argument: a quality search engine marketing company “shouldn’t need” to engage in any forms of offline marketing. Depending on the goals one has for their search engine marketing company, this may actually be true for some. A smaller boutique firm or an independent consultant may have all the leads they ever want from their internet marketing methods. They may even be turning business away while they make blog posts about how companies such as mine shouldn’t need to look offline for additional business opportunities.
However, this again relates directly to goals. If a search engine marketing company has capacity even after they maximize their online leads, and their business plan calls for maximum growth, what is the issue with engaging in other forms of marketing? As long as other marketing channels provide an acceptable ROI, I do not buy the argument that you “shouldn’t need it,” no matter what your situation.
The metrics are obviously what are important. It has been our experience that our own internet marketing methods provide us with, by far, the highest ROI of any of our other marketing efforts. However, this does not mean that the ROI from our online marketing efforts constitutes the baseline for what is ACCEPTABLE in terms of a return. In fact, we have done the math, and we know that we can afford to pay much more per lead.
Or, to look at this another way, we often work with companies that are embarking on online marketing for the first time. These companies almost always already have successful offline marketing campaigns in place (after all, they are successful businesses). They are obviously delighted when they discover that their cost per lead or cost per sale with internet marketing is much lower than their other marketing efforts – but does this mean that they decide to shut those other successful channels down? Of course not.
And do we, as a responsible search engine marketing company, advise them that they should shut down those channels and put all of their eggs in the online basket? Of course not. We just enjoy the fact that our internet marketing methods provide the best bang for their buck. Nobody can deny that the advent of various internet marketing methods has been a game-changer. Some forms of traditional advertising may even be on their last legs. Trade show attendance is down. Magazines and newspapers are in decline. I can’t remember the last time a door-to-door salesperson came up to my house* (except those selling a particular religion – but that’s a different story).
However, some channels, in our experience, can still provide exceptional returns. Direct mail, done properly, still works for us. Channel partnerships with offline marketing businesses can be profitable. Offline PR, when done properly, provides our search engine marketing company with exceptional exposure and returns. As long as we are achieving acceptable margins on these endeavors, we will continue to use them.
And I will continue to stand incredulous when I hear from those who tell me that we shouldn’t.
*Unless you count Girl Scouts peddling cookies.
Yes, you read the title right. My company recently performed extensive search engine optimization on a client website, and the results were staggering. Within a month, organic search traffic had dropped by over 60%. Inbound leads from organic search had dropped by over 50%. And the client was absolutely thrilled with the results.
So when is less organic search traffic better? And when are fewer leads from organic traffic better?
Less traffic from organic search traffic can be better when the site attracts the wrong kind of traffic, and fewer leads can better when the site attracts the wrong kind of leads.
To give you some background, this particular client offered a highly-specialized service to B2B companies. The reputation of the company and the quality of the service commanded a high dollar figure per engagement. They were THE major player in an industry that they had practically invented. However, their prior search engine optimization company did not factor in any of these very important considerations whilst optimizing the website.
The firm in question was clearly from the “traffic-at-any-cost” school of search engine optimization, and they never engaged the client with the type of questions that you would expect from a real business partner, including the most basic questions, such as “Who is your target market?” They were not a marketing partner – they were a traffic delivery mechanism. They were not actively involved in the client’s success, because to them, increased organic search traffic was the sole measure of success.
They certainly were not lacking in technical skill – they were able to deliver quality rankings for competitive keyphrases. And the methodology was not suspect, as all techniques were well within the terms of service of all major search engines. So what exactly was the client justified in complaining about?
It turns out they had plenty of legitimate complaints. Although rankings and organic search traffic were up, sales were down. Additionally, web form leads were coming in and the phones were ringing, but nothing was closing. The sales staff was spending a lot of time following up on leads that were, quite frankly, junk. Outbound prospecting had come to a standstill because salespeople had marching orders to follow up on inbound leads, which were certainly abundant.
After a brief analysis, it quickly became clear what the root of the problem was. The prior search engine optimization company, with their “traffic trumps all” mentality, had turned the site into a magnet for do-it-yourselfers, small firms or individuals with very low budgets, and visitors looking for free advice.
In their quest to obtain the most organic search traffic possible, the prior search engine optimization company had erred with the most fundamental building blocks of the campaign – keyphrase selection. Instead of carefully selecting keyphrases that were suitable to attract the high-end clientele that the client was accustomed to, they successfully (in the sense that they achieved high rankings) targeted keyphrases with modifiers such as “free,” “advice,” and “ideas.” All of these keyphrases were immensely popular, all of these keyphrases were difficult to achieve high rankings for, and all of these keyphrases should not have been utilized in the campaign in the first place.
When you optimize for low-quality phrases (“low-quality” obviously means different things, depending on a company’s goals) you receive low-quality organic search traffic in return. When low-quality traffic submits a form lead from a website, it stands to reason that the lead itself will also likely be low-quality. This was, of course, exactly what was happening to our client.
After our analysis, we broke the news to the client that the campaign had been fundamentally flawed. They were not happy to hear this news, but it did match up with their experience. We also told them quite frankly that moving forward, we would be emphasizing traffic quality over quantity, and by extension, lead quality over quantity. They were quickly convinced that organic search traffic was not the most important metric in a search engine optimization campaign, and were excited about a new, ROI-based approach.
Luckily, we did not have to throw out all of the work from the previous firm. They had laid a solid foundation in terms of tactics, which allowed us to recalibrate the keyphrases and realize results in a very short amount of time.
So, to revisit our accomplishments, organic search traffic decreased by 60%, leads were cut in half, and sales increased dramatically. The slowing pace of the incoming leads was more than offset by the quality of the leads – many leads derived from the Fortune 500 companies with whom this client was accustomed to working. Previously, visitors from these desired companies had been turned off by keyphrase modifiers such as “free” – they were serious people looking for a serious solution and they recognized that what they needed was not going to be free.
For too many people, including practitioners, search engine optimization has a very strict meaning – acquire rankings and traffic from related keyphrases. Until more companies realize that search engine optimization is a marketing tool to be judged and evaluated just like any other, there will be countless examples of campaigns deemed a huge success by those who worked on them, but as failures by those who have to deal with the aftermath.