What Every SEO Needs to Know About Branded Search ROI

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Tue, May 6 - 6:00 am EDT | 6 years ago by
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The following is a guest post from Gab Goldenberg of SEO ROI.  Gab is my go-to-guy for all things SEO.  You can learn more about Gab at the end of this post. 

What is the true cost of conversions gained through branded search? What is the true ROI?

It’s been repeated often enough that branded search terms convert exceptionally well. Eric Peterson is one proponent, and Avinash Kaushikis another. (Avinash works as a consultant to Google, which tells you something about his skill and the richness of the data he gets to play with!)

But most search marketing experts only look at the click costs of conversions from brand searches. Cross channel tracking needs to be used to measure the real total cost to a business of getting a conversion from a brand-name search. Cross channel tracking, for those who might not know, refers to tracking conversions across various marketing mediums, such as search, email, print ads, radio etc. Here’s how it can be used to measure the real cost of conversions from branded search.

The standard formula for cost-per-action (CPA) used in search marketing is simply augmented to include branding initiatives. CPA = (Total pay-per-click spend + Total cost of branding initiatives like TV, radio, print ads, publicity stunts, event sponsorships etc.) / number of conversions from branded search.

For example, let’s take IBM’s spending on its IntelliStation Power servers (the website, while being sleek, professional and well-branded, could be better optimized, guys). Here’s what the calculation for that might look like:

CPA = ($5,000,000 + 25,000,000) / 3,000 servers sold = $10,000 cost per server sold. At $6,000 – $9,000 a pop, the campaign would be at a loss, just based on advertising costs (let alone shipping, taxes etc.). Obviously the numbers matter, so by just guessing that IBM sold 4,000 servers, we find that the campaign would be seeing a CPA of $7,500 and at 5,000 units sold, we reach $6000 CPA and breakeven (ignoring taxes etc.).

What does this show? Besides my obvious prowess at elementary arithmetic, it highlights two main things:

  • Branded search conversions are much more expensive in practice than most analytics account for, because most analytics are solely looking at the cost of PPC (and maybe factoring in agency costs).
  • Web analytics brings branding into the world of direct marketing in that branding can be measured more accurately. The old “I know that half my advertising budget is wasted, but I don’t know what half” saying is no longer an excuse (as it might have been when PC ads first came out (bookmark that for your swipe files).

That said, let me take the opportunity to share some simple cross-channel tracking methods, partly gleaned from my own knowledge and partly from Avinash Kaushik’s Web Analytics an Hour a Day and Andrew Goodman’s Winning Results With Google AdWords. These address cross-channel tracking beyond search.

1) Feature Vanity domains or redirect URLs and vanity phone numbers in your offline branding ads. And domain registrar can get you a domain, your IT team can set up a redirect without too much trouble, while people like Mongoose Metrics can get you tracking phone numbers.

The way these work with your analytics is that each of them pings a particular page. Your analytics tracks that there was a visit to that page so that you know the source of the visitor.

IBM has been buying ads telling people how it increased conversions for Staples by 60%. The actual URL people end up at is: http://www-01.ibm.com/software/success/cssdb.nsf/CS/JSTS-765Q96?OpenDocument&Site=gicss67retl&cty=en_us

As you can imagine, that’s not what they showed on the ad. The ad actually had a shorter redirect URL like ibm.com/go/staples. Unfortunately, some of the branding ads still don’t have URLs on them.

2) Focus on memorable slogans that will result in searches, and be sure to integrate the slogans into your site so that you show up in the search results. For instance, Nike’s “Just Do It” attracts hundreds and possibly even thousands of daily searches. (Those numbers are for clicks on top-positioned ads; see my formula for translating that into daily search volume.) Jane Copland is living proof that people look these up.

3) If you offer phone support or phone purchasing, using separate trackable numbers for each keyword might be an option, but it likely won’t scale easily. An easier option shared in Andrew Goodman’s book is to have dynamic codes towards the bottom of the page. The codes change depending on the keyword referrer. When someone calls, the call centre staff ask for the code and feed that back into your analytics package.

Thus, using these ideas in concert, you can track the real costs and ROI of branded conversions.

Liked this? Subscribe to Gab’s RSS feed.  Gab Goldenberg writes the SEO ROI blog and sells search marketing consulting to leaders who appreciate the importance of search. His sites, domains and clients include Leather Watch .ca and The Business Card Creator.

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  • http://www.traffick.com Andrew Goodman

    Hi Susan,

    Good stuff.

    Just a quick comment on brand terms.

    Unquestionably, they convert extremely well.

    To be somewhat undiplomatic about the debate that goes on in our industry, it is actually *funny* that some people think that the ROI on branded terms in a paid search campaign is the actual ROI on those terms. And that the conclusion they might draw is to shut everything else off because it “isn’t worth it” by comparison… or to conclude that “PPC is expensive and not worth it… except on our brand terms.”

    Brand terms are great. But companies spend millions on building those brands. They spend on flyers and TV and radio and outdoor, and people go and search for stuff based on all that spend.

    The part of a PPC campaign that is not branded is of course more challenging, because it has not necessarily been subsidized in that way. Those non-brand clicks are going to require persuasion and more testing and tweaking. Brand related clicks, by comparison, may be akin to the mall shopper walking into the Sony store already knowing they want to buy one of a couple of models of cameras that day. A very high conversion rate. But by no means any proof that this conversion was as cheap as it looks.

  • http://seoroi.com Gab Goldenberg

    Andrew, sounds like you’ve had your share of thick-skulled inhouse PPC folks to deal with! “Why golly gee, brand terms convert exceptionally cheap! Let’s channel all our PPC there…”

    Besides that, my deep sympathies on the horrors of having to deal with high-roller clients with megabrands who send you nice fat cheques. Those things can get heavy, so don’t throw out your back ! ;)

  • http://www.pagezero.com Andrew

    So as no one misunderstands, I’m talking about other people’s clients. If we worked for them I’m sure we would get along. :)

    To quote the proprietor of Mamma’s Cafe on the isle of Santorini: “Love All, Serve All.” (a few other cafe owners might concur)

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  • http://seoroi.com Gab Goldenberg

    Susan, the above trackback from ROI Project is spam. They’re scraping my site.

  • http://www.brandcurve.com Susan Gunelius

    Thanks, Gab. I believe I deleted the comment you’re referring to. Must stop the scrapers! Sorry I didn’t catch it earlier.

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  • http://twitter.com/city_ville cityville

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