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Mean SEM Needs to Focus on Conversions, Not Traffic

August 6th, 2011

mean semSo when I was once offering Boston and Israel SEO consultant-services before taking my current day-job at The Cline Group, I went to meet with a new online-gambling company in the Tel Aviv area that was interested in hiring me. The owner and the CEO both summarized their desires as such: “We would want you to get as much traffic to our website as possible from anywhere.” I knew, right then, that they had no idea what they were talking about regarding how to get the best mean-SEM results. It’s all about getting the “average” — which, as mathematicians know, is the colloquial term for “mean” — rate of conversion as high as possible.

Here is a basic example of the theory. Say a website gets 100,000 unique visitors per day and that one percent convert (whether through buying something, clicking on an advertisement, or some other desired goal). That would mean 1,000 conversions per day. Now, say that a website gets 30,000 unique visitors per day and that five percent convert. That would mean 1,500 conversions per day. If you were running the business, which result would you prefer? (And do I even need to answer that?)

The goal is to maximize the conversion rate — not to maximize traffic. Since the aforementioned online-gambling company had unreasonable and incorrect goals, I chose not to work for them. However, I must admit, it also had to do with the fact that they offered to pay a laughably-low fee for my services and instead said that they would share future revenue with me. I did not think that they understood that the market for gambling, forex, and pornography — generally, and unfortunately, the most-profitable sectors in online business — is saturated and that few, if any, new entrants will ever even come close the existing big names. (As an example of the fierce competition, see the Google external-keyword prices in the finance sector that one may want to target after choosing to download PPC software.)

Here is the reason: I have no interest in online gambling. (And neither should anyone else in such a tough economy — why waste money in such an addictive pursuit? But I digress.) But say that, through some combination of deceptive marketing while using search-optimization software or black-hat SEO, I find myself on the home page of the aforementioned online-gambling firm. I will click away within a second. Now, multiply my visit times a thousand or a million for any website in any sector. Every person who visits the website without any likelihood of converting is a waste of marketing resources, a drain on the server capacity of the web host, and countless other items. Really, why bother?

And that is why I laugh at many online-marketing efforts by people or companies who do not know what they are doing. From time to time, I answer LinkedIn Questions through my profile on Internet marketing and search marketing because I am passionate about the topic to the point of, well, obsession. Here is just one example of a brief LinkedIn Answer I gave on PPC strategy:

If you sell baseball gloves, it is a bad idea to target the keyword “baseball” because your ad will appear — and get clicks — when people search for baseball tickets, baseball news, baseball scores, and so on. In other words, people who are searching for “baseball” but not “baseball gloves” will be far less likely to convert when they click. In other words, you want to target keywords that target your product or service as exactly as possible. Otherwise, you will waste money on clicks that do not convert. In a different example, a company that sells solar panels will waste money by targeting people searching for “solar system” if they target the general keyword “solar.” Cut “solar” and keep specific terms like “solar panels” and “solar energy.”

Most Internet marketers, unlike myself, have not studied in MBA programs, and as such they do not realize that the return on investment (ROI) needs to be taken into account. If your website sells, say, vacation packages to Cuba, and you are targeting organic or paid keywords including “Cuban history,” “Cuban cigars,” and “Cuban politics,” then almost all of the clicks to your websites are going to be wasted — especially when they are paid clicks through PPC campaigns. Moreover, people who are indeed interested in Cuban travel will be less likely to make a purchase because they will realize that you used deceptive marketing-practices to get them to your website. People are rightly cynical and skeptical today because so much of online marketing is, bluntly put, bullshit. Comprende?

I often speak with fellow online-marketers who brag, “I get 1,000 hits a day to my website!” And my reaction in my head, as unprofessional as it probably sounds, is, “Whoop-de-freaking-do. How many of them actually bought something?” I could use social-media software to spam Facebook and Twitter and achieve the same result (at least in the short term), or I could target unrelated keywords, but I do not — because it is unethical and inefficient.

Increasing Your Mean SEM (Average SEM) Results

So, by now, I hope that I have beaten the point home that it is crucial to target only those people who will be specifically interested in whatever a website is selling. Still, it is also important to measure the results. As my company knows through its individualized, holisitic approach to marketing, different tactics are more effective for different companies. However, it is still crucial to know what is working and what is not. Here is an excerpt of an example of how to track Internet-marketing effectiveness from another LinkedIn Answer of mine (if you want, see my profile there for more):

First, you want each different campaign — social media, PPC, and so on — to go to a different target page. If you sell cameras, then different campaigns that target lenses, bags, and such should each go to a different page (likely a page that is oriented towards each item). You want to segment each item by campaign and target as much as possible. If you have a social media and PPC campaign that both target camera lenses, then you want to use a different target page in the social media and PPC campaigns. In a nutshell, a different target page should exist for each and every conceivable way that a person will come to the site. (I hope that makes sense.)

And this next part is key. Once you are able to track how people ARRIVED at the target page from each individual campaign and source, you want to track how many people CONVERTED into making a sale, clicking an ad, filling out a form, or some other desired goal. And the best — some would say only — way to do this is to create another page and URL after each target page.

The link to the full answer provides the greater context. But in a nutshell, the entire strategy should be obvious: target, measure, and adjust any Internet-marketing campaign to achieve the greatest number of conversions as possible. If you are interviewing a so-called online-marketing expert who only brags about the traffic he will deliver in general, laugh in his face and walk away. Of course, I am biased — but I am only biased towards what works.

My colleague at The Cline Group, company president Josh Cline, recently wrote an insightful blog-post on this topic entitled “You’re on the First Page of Google. Now What?” Not that I am biased, but I highly recommend that anyone who looks to market online read his article. It goes more in-depth into what I discuss here.

Samuel J. Scott, a former journalist in Boston turned Internet marketer in Israel, is the founder and publisher of My SEO Software and Director of Digital Marketing and Communications and SEO Team Leader at The Cline Group. You can follow him at Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. His views here and elsewhere do not necessarily reflect those of his company and clients.