Is Search Advertising miraculous, or just cost-effective?

I’d love to tell you that search advertising (such as Google’s AdWords) can perform miracles, but – despite what some people very cleverly imply – it’s not true. In fact, search advertising has more in common with traditional types of publicity than you might think. It’s worth understanding why.

People talking up search advertising point out that more than any type of advertising which has previously been available, this new channel targets your audience with pinpoint precision. As you can seemingly advertise solely to genuine prospects, and as you only pay when someone clicks on your advert, the logical conclusion is that there’s no wastage at all! Brilliant!

If you know there are 10 new prospects out there in the market for you every month, and you could find them all for the price of 10 clicks, that would indeed be great. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen. Search advertising just puts your ad in front of a particularly well-targeted audience: people who are looking for relevant products through a search engine like Google. After that, it’s down to you.

Compare search advertising to taking a stand at a trade exhibition. Firstly, you hope the show organiser (or the search engine) does a good job at attracting an audience which includes as many of your prospects as it can. Then you set out your stand (or your search engine advert) and hope the audience notices it. Finally, you hope that the proportion of people coming on your stand (or clicking on your advert) contains as many genuine prospects as possible.

But only certain prospects will come to the trade show (or use the search engine) in the first place. Only a proportion who do attend (or use the search engine) will see your stand (or advert). And finally, of those who do see you and respond, only a few will turn out to be relevant to you.

Now, with the trade show, you pay a fixed amount to put yourself in front of the audience. If nobody turns up, you still get charged. With search advertising, the payment is related to the success of the venture, which is much more attractive. It’s the equivalent of paying just for the people who come on your stand. That’s a big advantage. However, you still have to pay for everyone who comes on the stand, not just the small proportion who eventually become customers.

So if people say to us: “We like the idea of Google AdWords, as we’re only going to be paying for people who are interested enough to click through to our website”, we reply that it’s true. But don’t be tempted to think that everyone who clicks through to your website is a genuine prospect, any more than everyone who comes onto your exhibition stand is going to be. To find those 10 prospects, you might have to invite 500 people onto your stand. Or pay for 500 people to click through to your website.

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