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11 Ways Search Engine Marketing is Like Direct Marketing

by Larry Chase

Like email marketing and other aspects of Internet marketing, search engine marketing reminds me most of direct marketing.

In fact, search engine marketing is actually like direct marketing on steroids, for a number of reasons, which I list here:

1. Testing for Response Rates: Like their offline counterparts, companies that buy keywords at search engines are forever trying to maximize response rates, be it through changing copy or using different keyword phrases.

2. Cost Per Lead: Whether it's business-to-consumer or business-to-business, companies that buy keywords at search engines are figuring out how many leads they get for how much money and what is an acceptable figure... just like they do in the offline world of direct marketing.

3. Lead Prospect Conversion: Online or offline, the food chain is about the same. The initial lead may indeed be just someone searching, but not yet in the buying cycle. Perhaps they're on the way to that buying cycle, in which case they morph into a prospect. Then, with a combination of the right offer at the right time, you convert them. Nowadays lead generation often begins at the search engines.

4. The Search Business Is the List Business: Every day hundreds of millions of people raise their hands to say they're interested in one thing or another by way of conducting a search. The people who look for silver-haired foxes next Tuesday will share an affinity for at least that moment in time. This is somewhat similar to renting the list of the silver-haired fox fanciers newsletter - it's a self-defined list of potential prospects.

5. Benefits Before Features: The copy that appears in the search results listing for a website needs to appeal directly to the self-interest of the person conducting the search. In other words, you don't see many branding ads coming up in search results.

6. Search Results Are Like A Stack of Physical Mail: In direct marketing, the message on the outer envelope (OE) is sometimes called OE copy or OE teaser copy. Its function is, of course, to get you to open the envelope. In a very similar way, your copy in your search results listing needs to convince the reader it's in his or her best interest to click on your link, rather than any of the other 4 million search results. The difference to me seems to be that OE teaser copy is often hyperbolic, too muscular or "commercial" sounding, while copy found in search results listings tends to be more editorial in tone, which is to say, informational.

7. Competitive Tactic Tracking: It's easier to track your competitors' movements in the land of search engine marketing than in direct mail. The rule of thumb is if they keep doing what they're doing, it's probably successful, since they wouldn't continue a campaign that had disappointing results. In some ways, search engine marketing makes you and your competition transparent to one another.

8. Be Your Reader: Just like you would try to read your own sales letter from the point of view of its intended reader, you want to take your own pulse and see if you'd reach for the mouse when you see your own copy in the search results. If not, start asking yourself what would make you click. Make it so it's a no brainer for people to click on you over anything else in the vicinity. Just don't run your copy too close to the vest, or else you'll be the best-kept secret on the Net.

9. Numbers, Numbers, Numbers: As we move forward in time in both the online and offline world, marketing becomes more matrix-driven. You can call it accountable advertising, measured marketing or performance-based marketing. More marketers look at their numbers and respond accordingly to their respective marketplaces. Self-aggrandizing taglines, headlines, and graphics give way to the value proposition. Nowhere else is that more immediately evident than in search engine marketing.

10. Customer Loyalty: The trend is for search engines to take more seriously into account how many other websites point to yours. Search engines not only look at how many other websites point to you, but also consider what their traffic is like and who points to them. Who points to you? Right now, almost a couple thousand websites point to this newsletter. The way this helps is two-fold: a) it helps our standing within the search engines; and b) it provides traffic from those very same links that those search engines are surveying.

11. The 80/20 Rule (or Not All Traffic Is Created Equal): Anyone who's been optimizing websites or buying keywords for a while knows that not all keywords and phrases are created equal. Some phrases will bring you more traffic, but less conversions at the back end. In the offline universe, we know this as the 80/20 Rule, where 80% of your profits come from 20% of your business. Will these numbers be the same or similar in the world of search engine marketing? It probably will vary from one industry to another, but like all direct marketing, we'll know more in the fullness of time. --LC

P.S. Comparing online marketing with direct marketing is something I've been doing for about ten years now. The subject is one of my most popular speaker topics.

When I give this speech to direct marketers, they typically find greater affinity with online marketing once it's couched in their terms. When I give the speech to online marketers, many are intrigued that so much of what they live and breathe has been articulated in direct marketing terms for over half a century already. When I give such a presentation, I not only couch it in direct marketing terms, I customize the speech and the PowerPoint to reflect the industry of the organization that has contracted me.

Would you like more tips on web marketing? Subscribe to Larry Chase’s free e-mail newsletter “Web Digest For Marketers”, www.wdfm.com

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