Search Engine Marketing Case Study: Analytical Investing

See how a pay-per-click advertising campaig helped a stock and investing Website increase its visitor traffic and subscriber sign-ups. See how to expand an ad campaign while maintaining a low CPC.

Problem

Analytical Investing, a stock ratings service, launched its Website, www.analyticalinvesting.com, in early 2004. The web site offers free trial subscriptions for its investment research services. Despite having an appealing site, the company found itself receiving a meager amount of Internet traffic and signed up few subscribers. In May 2004, they were referred to Apogee Web Consulting LLC, and we initiated a search engine marketing strategy.

Goals

  • Increase traffic and boost free subscriptions.
  • Get immediate results to help beta test the Website.
  • Keep initial Internet advertising budget low since free trials yield no revenue at the outset.

Solution

Because of the need for immediate results, we launched a PPC (pay per click) advertising campaign on one search engine in May 2004.  We created a PPC ad campaign on an additional search engine in June 2004.  The  PPC ads were improved as needed, bids adjusted and new keywords added every few weeks.  Due to expensive bids on primary keywords, we researched secondary keyword phrases in order to expand the ad campaigns while maintaining a low CPC (cost per click).  In August 2004, we created a PPC ad campaign on an additional search engine.

apogee

At Apogee, our search engine marketing strategy varies by site, industry and budget.  Our general approach, however, involves launching a PPC ad campaign on Google early in a search engine effort.  Google ads go live within a few minutes after creating them and the minimum CPC is only 5 cents.  Having an active Google ad campaign early in the process allows us to determine which keywords are generating traffic and which ones are converting well to sales. This knowledge can then be applied to other search engine campaigns as well as to SEO (search engine optimization) work.

After collecting a few weeks’ worth of keyword data from a Google ad campaign, we develop and launch an Overture campaign.  Overture, now a Yahoo! company, has a similar reach to Google.  The minimum CPC is higher at 10 cents versus Google’s 5 cents.  Also, keyword ads go through an editorial process which can take a few days or even a week.  On the positive side, Overture allows more text in a search engine keyword ad which makes the ads look more like the natural, algorithmic search results.  The CTR (click through rate) of an Overture ad is often higher than a similar Google ad, largely due to this factor.

Once a site is receiving high quality paid traffic from Google and Overture, we consider the next step.  If the traffic is converting well to sales and at a reasonable ROI (return on investment), we move on to search engine optimization.  Optimizing a Website to increase the likelihood of ranking well in free search engine results is an arduous task which can take months to see results.  Knowing which keywords generate traffic and, of those, which convert to sales can save months of iteration during a search engine optimization project. Our strategy, then, is to undertake an SEO effort as the last phase in an overall SEM (search engine marketing) plan.

Often, after Google and Overture ad campaigns are stable, we either launch PPC ad campaigns on second tier search engines or else we broaden the scope of our keyword research and find secondary keyword phrases that will drive quality traffic to our clients’ sites.  Our favorite second tier search engines are FindWhat and Searchfeed.  Both offer a reasonable amount of traffic at lower cost than Google and Overture.  They also both have adequate search engine ad campaign administrative tools and reporting features.  Over the past couple of years we have implemented and tested ad campaigns on about a dozen search engines.  We have whittled our list of effective PPC search engine advertising platforms down to four: Google, Overture, FindWhat, Searchfeed.

For Analytical Investing, we did find it necessary to expand our keyword research parameters to find secondary search keyword phrases. Facing competition from advertisers on Wall Street with large advertising budgets forced us to adopt an expansive strategy.  Competitors were driving bids close to $10 per click while we were focusing on bids below 20 cents. We researched search phrases with three, four and five keywords in them and examined keyword phrases highly specific to the industry. Our keyword count for the Analytical Investing Google AdWords campaign has now grown to well over 1200 keyword phrases spanning 18 ad groups. That count does not include negative keywords. We make extensive use of negative keywords to insure their ads do not show for content that is not relevant. This also improves the CTR, thereby driving down costs as the ads will receive higher placement for a lower CPC.

Our Overture account for Analytical Investing now exceeds 600 individual keyword ads. Our Google accounts always have more keywords than our Overture accounts. Google differentiates between singular and plural so that can often double the number of keywords on Google right off the bat. Additionally, since the Google system displays ads based on popularity rather than restricting ads through an editorial process, we can experiment with a wider range of keywords to see what works. The Analytical Investing FindWhat account includes close to 100 keyword ads.  For second tier search engines like FindWhat, we list fewer keywords than with the top tier search engines.  Because the volume of traffic is considerably lower, we focus on high volume keywords.  We choose high volume keywords that we know convert well on the bigger search engines.  On the smaller search engines, these conversions hold true but the CPCs are much lower.  This results in high ROI.

Analytical Investing’s Internet traffic doubled in May 2004, the month we launched their initial PPC ad campaign. In subsequent months, the traffic quadrupled and then quintupled from the level of traffic for the month prior to implementing search engine marketing. The number of free trial subscribers climbed each month as we expanded their search engine advertising campaigns.  In June, there were 86% more new subscribers than in May. That’s not cumulative. The total number of subscribers tripled from May to June. The June to July comparison saw 25% more new subscribers and July to August saw 26% more new subscribers. And that’s during the summer months, which are a traditionally slow period for the stock markets.

Comparing the PPC advertising campaigns across the three search engines yields some interesting results.  For the month of August 2004, here are the average CPCs for the search engines:

• Google:  $0.12
• Overture:  $0.15
• FindWhat:  $0.10

Over that same time period, Google accounted for 41% of the paid traffic and 43% of the new subscribers, Overture accounted for 43% of the paid traffic and 36% of the new subscribers, while FindWhat accounted for 16% of the paid traffic and 16% of the new subscribers.  Clearly, the number of sales (signup of free trial subscribers) was proportional to the traffic paid for.  It is worth noting that 5% of new subscribers came from free hits, either natural search results or people who typed the site url directly.  What’s particulary interesting, however, is to track the CPA (cost per action / acquisition).  For the month of August 2004, here are the average costs per paid search engine to acquire a free trial subscriber:

• Google: $7.38
• Overture:  $11.92
• FindWhat:  $6.79

Clearly, then, FindWhat is the most cost effective source for new subscribers.  Every $6.79 of ad spend on FindWhat resulted in a new subscriber.  However, since it only brought 16% of the paid traffic whereas Google brought 43% of the paid traffic and at a still reasonable CPA, Google is arguably the best source for new subscribers.  Surprisingly, Overture brought in the largest amount of paid traffic but this internet traffic did not convert as well as either Google or FindWhat.

Conclusions

• Do list on both Google and Overture to target a wide audience.
• Do not forget about smaller search engines like FindWhat and Searchfeed.
• Do extensive research to find keywords that convert to sales at a low CPC.
• Do not keep a narrow list of keywords and get in a bidding war with competitors.
• Do optimize a site after gathering data from PPC ad campaigns.
• Do track CPA to determine where to focus future efforts.

Future Work

Our work for Analytical Investing is far from over. We have yet to launch a Searchfeed ad campaign and perform SEO work for the entire site. Effective search engine marketing is a job that’s never truly completed.  There are always new keywords to be discovered, bids to be managed, ad copy to be edited, web pages to be optimized, links to be gathered, results to be tracked and various other tasks to be performed.  What’s important, though, is that Internet marketing via the search engines is a cost effective means of advertising for our clients.

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