Leveraging Incremental Conversion Rates to Take Control of SEM Performance

Far too many paid search marketers take a “chuck it over the wall” approach when it comes to driving website traffic. They generate extensive keyword and negative lists, carefully craft and test compelling ad copy, and meticulously set up effective account structures including detailed audience targeting. However, once the click actually happens, they view their job as done with the searcher at that point “over the wall” to the web site itself and beyond the campaign manager’s sphere of influence.

Yet with many (hopefully most) of us now judged and compensated based on actual conversion volume and efficiency – not merely clicks and visitors – we absolutely must concern ourselves with every step along the path to conversion, understanding where visitors fall off, and exerting effort to plug those holes. This is exactly why developing an intimate knowledge of site-side analytics data is so critical to today’s search marketer. The days of “Well, I delivered the clicks – website owners are to blame for them not converting” have long since passed.

The great news is that all of the tools and data already exist and are readily available to search marketers to do deeper analysis and gain greater control of the visitor conversion process. As we build out our digital marketing programs directly upon and tightly integrated with business analytics, we can optimize our advertising campaigns directly to the metrics that show not simply final conversions but also engagement each and every step along the way. (It’s the very reason I fell in love with Omniture technology over seven years ago, and have been loving my job ever since!)

Bounce Rate

Aside from total conversion volume, cost-per-conversion, conversion rates, and overall profitability – hopefully the primary measurements of any search program – I believe Bounce Rate to be the next most important (yet undervalued) metric for any search marketer to measure and analyze. It is the primary indicator of whether or not your ads are over-promising and your actual website is under-delivering. It highlights misalignment between promotional message and site experience. You can have the most refined keyword list ever and exceptionally crafted ad text, but if following an ad click the searcher immediately decides your site is not where they want to be and leaves – you’re doing it wrong (and paying for it)!

The reasons for subpar Bounce Rate are varied. Certainly, a poor page in and of itself – very slow load times, confusing navigation, lack of clear call to action or navigation path – can drive Bounce Rate up. But it can also be a matter of misaligned promotional copy. If you are promoting a “limited offer” or “newly launched” products, you need to make sure those promotions are front-and-center on the landing page. If you are highlighting specific brands or products types, ensure you have pictures and details for those specific items “zero clicks away” as visitors reach your site. Don’t just give up on high Bounce Rate landing pages as “bad pages” – look at alignment and arrange your campaigns accordingly. (And for those instances when it actually is a “bad page”, don’t just change your destination URLs and move on quietly – tell someone about it so they can fix or retire that page!)

As many of you have heard, a few weeks ago my colleagues running SiteCatalyst announced a notable step forward for Adobe Digital Marketing Suite users, making this type of analysis easier than ever before. As of our May code release, SiteCatalyst version 15 now supports reporting on Bounce Rate for all eVars – which includes SearchCenter and other campaign tracking variables.

Incremental Conversion Rates

https://blog.adobe.com/media_f71550ce061c26dddbea03e8ce5dac434c8b8f9b.gifBounce rate by itself is great, but it is also only the first in a broader category of critical search analytics metrics: Incremental Conversion Rates. Far too frequently marketers only look at overall conversion rate – Conversions/Clicks. Yet hidden within that single ratio is a wealth of actionable information about how visitors to your site are flowing (or not) along the path to conversion. What is the Cart-to-Checkout ratio? How many people are getting to the second-to-last step in my conversion funnel and then bailing out? Of the people that don’t bounce immediately following a click to my website, how many ultimately purchase something or generate a lead? Understanding and directly addressing these incremental conversion rates transforms the effective search marketer from being a “chuck it over the wall” victim at the mercy of site owners, and into a more holistic business driver directly affecting the most important bottom-line success metrics.

My favorite example of this type of analysis is what I call “Failure to Close” rate. Whether you’re running a retail business, marketing for a travel/hospitality site, or responsible for visitor acquisition with the intention to generate leads – many web sites have multiple steps in their conversion process. It may be as simple as a two-step lead form, or as complex as a seven-step retail checkout experience. Regardless of length, each of these visitor flows has a “bottom of the funnel”, and it is there at the bottom of the funnel that visitors should be most likely to convert. Often by this second-to-last step they’ve already provided your business with a significant amount of information (name, email, address, phone number, credit card number, etc.). And yet even after going through all that effort, there is inevitably still a percentage of customers that aren’t hitting that final “Confirm Order” or “Submit Form” button. How big is your “Failure to Close” rate? Is it growing or shrinking? Do you know where these visitors are going instead of completing the conversion process?

No More “Chucking It Over The Wall

Each of these questions can (and should) be answered using site analytics, and not solely in complex analytics tools that can only be understood by advanced data analysts. Each of these data points is available directly in search marketing tools like Adobe SearchCenter+. As search marketers we each need to avoid contracting a case of “Itsnotmyjobitis” when it comes to analyzing on-site conversion rates and flows. If you’re judged on actual conversion metrics – Revenue, ROAS, Leads, CPA, Profit, ROI – shouldn’t you want to grab the reins and ensure more of those clicks you’re driving through your search marketing efforts – clicks you’ve already paid good money for – are leading to higher and higher conversions rates?

As digital marketers, let’s all commit to stopping the “chuck it over the wall” mentality that has plagued our ranks in the past, and instead jump over that wall ourselves, empowering each of us to more fully control our own performance marketing destiny. And if you need a boost to get up and over that wall, the good folks here at Adobe are more than happy to let you “stand on our shoulders” as you get your footing.