Keeping eyes on the prize


26 Jun 2006

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If you’re a small to medium-sized enterprise thinking about or on the precipice of launching an advertising/marketing campaign you will need to have given some thought to online advertising.

It is a medium that can reward your time and investment, particularly if you are thinking of exporting your product or service.

As traditional outlets for advertising decline, online advertising is slowly building momentum in this country. Best estimates suggest that the market here is worth €30-€50m. Worldwide trends are even more impressive. Simon Ferguson of Sales Online asserts that the top 100 companies are “deeply committed” to advertising online.

Back in the Nineties the internet was regarded as a great social equaliser. While that hasn’t really happened, it has become a leveller for business where SMEs can compete with global companies on an even playing field.

But if your products are set for export is there a different approach to a campaign in the local market, ask experts. Robert Pryce of Blue Cube maintains that the fact that a company is based in Ireland shouldn’t be an inhibitor to selling internationally. He says there are different techniques, for example search engine optimisation (SEO), which make a site appear high on what he termed ‘organic’ listings. “If done properly, a small site could get to the top of the listings on a worldwide campaign.”

Pryce suggests other avenues to ensure a website gets top rankings, particularly effective content that reflects the product that’s being sold and good quality pictures. He urges people do to their research, make sure the demand is there and then set up a website.

Ferguson says there are a number of strategies from an export market perspective that SMEs could follow. “SEM (search engine marketing) — Get out and buy the top words for your category. Talk to a specialist online sales company; we’ll take your target audience and create demand and hit the websites that your target audience would visit.

“Analyse the data from the website and see what elements of the campaign worked and didn’t work. You should come out of that with two to three ‘killer’ websites for your products.”

Justin Cullen, managing director of Net Behaviour, said an SME could adopt a practice of using vertical portals that allows them to communicate to a specific industry within which you have a potential customer base. For example, if you are in the mobile gaming business and your potential customers are mobile phone operators and promotions/marketing companies, there are a number of global standard websites that you could advertise your proposition on that will reach those communities effectively. This uses much the same strategy as placing press ads in global/pan-regional trade journals.

Cullen said the principle of export-slanted online advertising contained the same principles as local campaigns. When marketing to international markets, however, the propensity to waste marketing investment increases, which is why knowing your market is crucial. “In Ireland, the most amount of consumers any brand needs to communicate with will never be more than three million. That’s manageable. Once you step into the international arenas the numbers get scary and the marketing investment required to make an impact even scarier! Targeting, targeting, targeting is the only mantra.”

Cullen said the overall level of spend on online marketing would account for approximately 1.5pc of the total spend on advertising in this market. “In 2006, the total online media spend would be about €60m, made up of display ads on websites, classified placements on sites such as Myhome.ie, LoadzaJobs.ie and search marketing. I would forecast that over the next three to five years this could potentially quadruple to a market value close to €200m. In the UK, online accounts for in excess of 13pc of total advertising expenditure at €1.3bn in 2005 with continued growth forecasted.”

Click-through pointer
Do not assess the success or failure of the campaign based on click-through — it’s often the case that the site with the most click-through has the worst conversions, ie people who went to the website, registered and actually bought the products.
Some 95pc of conversions come from people who don’t click the banner ad. It can often be the case that the website with the lowest click-through has more sales.

Google it just a little bit
John O’Herlihy, European director of online sales and operations, Google, believes that we are in the early stages of online advertising. “It is growing rapidly as more companies realise that the ‘eyeballs’ are now online. It does not replace traditional advertising but rather acts in parallel.”
While Google won’t give away any of its secrets regarding optimising your website for hits he does mention “a good starting point for any site is to ensure it is simply designed and has relevant, well-written content”.

Search engine optimisation

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a set of methods aimed at improving the ranking of a website in search engine listings. The term SEO also refers to an industry of consultants who carry out optimisation projects on behalf of clients’ sites.

Not all sites have the same goals for search optimisation. Some sites are seeking any and all traffic and may be optimised to rank highly for common search phrases. A broad search optimisation strategy can work for a site that has broad interest, such as a periodical or directory.

In contrast, many businesses try to optimise their sites for large numbers of highly specific keywords that indicate readiness to buy. All-embracing search optimisation can thwart marketing strategy by generating a large volume of low-quality inquiries that cost money to handle yet result in little business. Focusing on desirable traffic generates better quality sales leads, resulting in more sales. SEO can be very effective when used as part of an effective niche marketing campaign.

By Neil Dillon