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How to Find the Online Advertising Program That's Best for Your Business

You’re a savvy business owner, and you know that becoming more visible on the Internet is vital to your company’s success. But the number of online advertising buzzwords is completely overwhelming. You’re supremely skilled in your own trade, but how are you supposed to figure out the best strategy for online advertising when your Internet skills don’t extend much past e-mail, Google, and Facebook? We hear you. The world of online advertising is vast and confusing. That’s why we’ve put together a buying guide to help you choose the best online advertising program for your small business. We broke it down by the most common marketing concerns.

First, the Options

Before you can choose a strategy, you need to know what your options are. These are the most popular online advertising categories. Keep in mind that the most effective advertising campaigns will combine two or more of these:

  • SEO: Search engine optimization means designing a website that is deemed valuable and relevant by search engines, and then getting other websites to link to it. Optimized websites are more likely to rank higher in search engine results, and a higher ranking typically means you reach more potential customers. Prospect Genius’s Core program is centered on SEO.
  • PPC (pay-per-click): This is a paid advertising strategy wherein business owners pay search engines to promote their ads, which link to their website.
  • Local directory listings: Local directories are the Internet version of the yellow pages. Most will allow you to add your business information to their directory for free. As a result, one marketing strategy is to leverage all the possible local directories to drive traffic to your own website. Prospective customers visit these directories when searching for specific types of businesses, and hopefully they find and contact you.
  • Pay-per-lead: Pay-per-lead is a type of paid advertising provided by many directory listing sites. Most commonly, the directory sites make money by charging you for better positioning on the page, inclusion of bolded text, highlighted information, more screen real estate, etc. If a prospective customer contacts you, you are then charged for that call or e-mail.

Need for Speed

If you need to promote services quickly—whether it’s because you need an immediate boost in sales or you have a seasonal offering that’s only available for a short time—here are your best options:

  1. Pay-per-lead: Business owners can turn a pay-per-lead campaign on and off instantly, so it’s well suited for smaller time frames. Plus, this is the best solution for getting a large volume of leads in a short amount of time because the structure requires prospective customers to have higher purchasing intent, since they are actively making phone calls or sending e-mails. With a higher purchasing intent comes a higher conversion rate.
  2. PPC: Similar to pay-per-lead, PPC (pay-per-click) is an advertising campaign that can be turned on and off in an instant. Each visitor comes at a much higher price than SEO, but the ability to start and stop can be highly valuable in certain circumstances.

Limited Advertising Budget

In 2014, every business owner should be carving out room in their budget for an online advertising program. But the reality is that small businesses tend to have a little less wiggle room. So if you’re trying to keep your belt tight, here are some of the more budget-friendly options that will still get you results:

  1. SEO: Because SEO is an organic, systematic approach to online advertising, the overhead costs are fairly low. The majority of the costs are associated with the labor involved in building the website and promoting it on countless platforms across the Internet. Although SEO does require some patience to gain traction and momentum, the number of leads that comes in after a few months makes it all worth it.
  2. Directory listings: While directories are mostly free to use, your visibility is limited to just the directories on which you’ve listed your business. It’s a very low-cost advertising strategy, but it hinges on prospective customers coming to your directory of choice. However, if you do enough of them, the number of links directed at your website will increase and help your site rank better in the search engines.

Craving More Ownership

Do you feel like you’ve been burned by online advertisers before? There are a lot of disingenuous advertising companies out there, unfortunately, and they give the rest of us a bad rap. But we very much understand the desire to have ownership over your online advertising program as a result of a poor experience, so here are some options for you:

  1. SEO: Not every detail of SEO has to be dictated by the advertiser. If you want to hold on to your business’s existing website but still want the benefits of a professional SEO campaign, ask your advertiser about programs that keep your existing website in the middle of the campaign. As an example, Prospect Genius  offers a Bring Your Own Site (B.Y.O.S.) option for its Core program. This allows you to invest in your current site while our content specialists promote it as if it were one of our own design.
  2. PPC: While you can’t control the cost per click or the parameters set by the search engines, you can control your spending limit and the length of your campaign. If you do this independently, you can control which keywords are used. Even if you outsource this job to an advertiser, you have very little residual risk of long-term damage if they turn out to be dishonest. This makes switching from one advertiser to the next relatively easy and painless.
  3. Directory listings: The categories on local directories are typically preset and you’re only given a certain amount of space for your information, but you can create your own listings without necessarily even needing a website or advertiser. Be careful, though: Some directories are labeled “bad neighborhoods,” and they can actually hurt your rankings. Beyond the manpower required to type in all of your information hundreds of times, knowing which directories are helpful, which are hurtful, and which just don’t matter is where companies like Prospect Genius can really be worth the investment.

Proportionate Cost per Lead

If you feel like some forms of online advertising are costing too much per lead, then it’s time to do some math. On the surface, PPC and pay-per-lead seem like smart investments because you’re only paying for the leads that you actually get. But how much do those leads really cost? Let’s say you spend $50 per lead on a directory site. If you get 9 calls per month, that’s $450 you’re paying out of pocket. If you only book jobs from 33% of those leads, it actually costs you $150 per job booked. And if you’re only booking jobs that net you $100 profit, you are actually upside down by $50 per job! The same goes for PPC, but you’ll get an even lower ROI because the conversion rate for clicks is significantly lower than the conversion rate for calls/e-mails. For PPC, getting 1 call from every 20 clicks is a very good ratio; then when you consider that something like only 33% of those calls result in jobs booked, you could be looking at a real cost of $300 per job (when you’re paying a seemingly low $5-per-click rate). When you pay for each lead, you will only ever make a fixed margin on each. There’s no opportunity for you to drive your per-lead cost down and your margins up. On the other hand, if you pay a monthly fee of $300 for SEO (like our Core program) and wait patiently for a few months, you could wind up getting 20+ calls per month and saving lots of money. It’s just like buying a house versus renting one: It stinks to have to pay $40,000 up front on that down payment, but then you have the ability to earn a profit on that investment over time. If you rent, avoid the initial pain of the down payment, but you’ll pay more over time.

Getting Decent Results, but Want More?

Many business owners encounter a plateau in their online advertising. They’re getting a solid volume of leads per month, but they want more. This often has no reflection on the quality of services that their online advertising company is providing; rather, it just means that the particular service they’re using has been maxed out. If this is something you’re dealing with, do some investigating. Find out if your advertiser offers other services that may complement the one you’re currently using. For instance, if you’re currently using SEO and finding that your volume of monthly leads has stagnated, then you might be interested in trying out a short PPC campaign to give your sales a boost. Conversely, if you’ve been relying on paid advertising to bring links to your website or calls to your metered phone, you can try adding directory listings to the mix or even optimizing your site for search engines. Covering all of your bases and adding algorithmic value wherever you can is never a bad idea.

Effective, Fast, Cheap: Pick Two

Unfortunately, when choosing an online advertising program, you can’t have it all. If you want something that’s fast and effective, it won’t be cheap. If you want something cheap and fast, it won’t be very effective in the long run. That’s why you have to think long and hard about your company’s marketing goals before diving headfirst into a campaign. Do your research, and know that the specialists at Prospect Genius can guide you through the decision-making process should you need any help.