The Google Online Marketing Challenge is shaping up to be one of the season’s most anticipated spectator sports for the internet marketing community. Not only is it a great educational opportunity for the next generation of online marketing professionals, but it will help small and medium sized businesses learn more about utilizing Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising as part of their regular marketing mix. Google will undoubtedly come out ahead in the long run as a result of increased awareness and trials of its primary revenue generating operation. It’s a classic win-win-win.
I have already been approached by some friends and relatives in business school that are new to Adwords and PPC consulting that are looking for advice on how to pick the best small-to-medium sized business to partner with. This may be one of the more important decisions they will make, since their level of interaction with their “clients” will largely determine how successful the student “consultants” can be.
That being said, I would consider the following when choosing a business to partner with:
- Flexibility: Choose a company that is open to making changes to their website quickly. Some small-to-medium companies don’t have the resources in-house to make rapid changes. This will be important when you have to ask them to add tracking code to the site and/or update various components of their landing pages and conversion pages to improve performance.
- Short Purchase Cycle: You will want a company that has a quick turnaround time for conversion events. Think spontaneous purchases or conversions. Don’t go after car dealers, mortgage companies, real estate brokers or insurance companies since those types of transactions can take weeks or months to complete and you will only have 3 weeks. Find something easy. Look for sites that have a lot of opportunities for visitors to turn into customers (e-commerce sites, sites that offer free downloads, sites that try to generate leads for the company). This will give you a lot of conversion data from which you can quickly make decisions about how to optimize your campaign for better-performing keywords, ad text and CPC bids.
- Online and Offline Metrics: If you want to go after the holy grail of internet marketing, take the conversion tracking one step farther and try to find a business where you can track customers that go offline to make a purchase. The majority of businesses sell their products or services offline. They don’t have shopping carts on their websites that allow them to easily track conversions automatically. The challenge for many businesses is to determine which part(s) of their marketing programs are actually generating a positive return on investment (ROI). Paid search is a very quantifiable marketing tool but if you can’t measure its contribution to an actual sale, you can’t determine if it is more or less effective than any other marketing channel.
- Low-to-Moderate Competition: Certain industries are more exposed to internet marketing than others. For example, your local small business might be competing against much larger, more sophisticated national or international organizations with dedicated search engine marketing teams. Choose wisely. Look for companies that operate within a less competitive environment where you can stand out a little more. Travel, insurance, automotive and healthcare are good examples of highly competitive industries. Not to mention that industries (and keywords) with more competition will generally have higher minimum Cost-Per-Clicks, meaning you won’t be able to afford large enough quantities of clicks to make any statistically significant findings.
- Strong Demand: Choose a company or industry that receives enough searches to allow you to collect a significant data sample within the allotted time frame. “Llama farmers in Ann Arbor, MI” might not generate enough impressions and clicks to give you any clear insights about whether your strategies and tactics are working or not.
You may have some trouble finding a willing company that meets all of these criteria, but the more of them you can satisfy, the better chance you will have of generating some valid results within the 3-week contest window.