Nine times out of ten, I would tell you that keyword search is the best choice for targeted, cost-effective online advertising. That's the rule of thumb. But a recent client campaign was a good example of why hard data rules in internet marketing.
One of our clients provides very accurate real-time captioning services. While her work impacts the deaf and hard of hearing community, her target audience is actually the administration of colleges and universities, as well as certain government agencies, who are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to offer captioning and other accessibility services to deaf and hard of hearing students and citizens.
She had a very modest budget, so our first response was to use keyword search. One of the things Makespace does really well is build sites that are conversion optimized—with simple, prominent forms and calls-to-action so that site visitors become business leads or customers. However, the traffic coming from her Adwords campaign was not converting into business leads for our client.
We took a second look at the site to make sure we hadn't missed any clear opportunities for greater conversion optimization. We recommended that she create some link-bait content around ADA and Section 503 compliance (her most compelling “reason to buy” her services). Then we looked at the Adwords campaign data.
Surprisingly, almost none of her campaign traffic was coming from keyword search. Nearly all the clicks were coming from Google's Display Network. This was odd enough that we looked a little deeper. The keywords related to her industry had low search volume levels to begin with, and a relatively high cost-per-click. She couldn't compete in keyword search with her much larger competitors.
But that wasn't where the real answer to her conversion problem lay. When we looked at where her clicks were coming from in more detail, we discovered that the placements delivering clicks were incredibly telling when it came to user intent. The clicks were coming from ad placements next to two different types of content: videos and articles aimed at the deaf community, and videos and articles about how to start a career in captioning.
While these visitors were obviously very interested in her services (after all, they clicked through), they were not her target audience and not potential converting business leads.
We briefly considered doing managed placements and laboriously filtering where the placements appeared in the Display Network, but then we had another idea. LinkedIn offered display ads very similar to Google text ads, and could be targeted by the industry of the user with a really high degree of accuracy. We turned off the Adwords campaign, created some compelling ADA/Section 502 ads, and targeted a LinkedIn ads campaign to only U.S. professionals at a management level or above, working in post-secondary education.
The results were startling. The LinkedIn campaign delivered comparable CPC to the Adwords campaign, with higher total impressions and lower CPM. But the real value was that unlike the Adwords campaign, these ads were reaching our client's target audience. Instead of throwing her ad dollars away on text ads that weren't going to ever translate into customers, she immediately started raising her visibility among her target customer base.
We learned a lot from this campaign. Most importantly, that heuristics (“rules of thumb”) are a great place to start your internet marketing strategy, but they're no replacement for digging into the data.