The fact that search engine marketing can be thoroughly quantified makes it highly appealing to advertisers. But two major questions remain—what should the client measure, and how?
The two approaches to Web analytics, page tagging and logfiling, each have strengths and weaknesses. Neither is well understood outside the SEM industry. As a result, guiding clients to the best analytics solution is an extremely valuable service, one that SEM firms should emphasize. To make good decisions, SEM’s must evaluate options from the client’s point of view. The four key considerations are-
The client’s current needs;
Current needs. If, for example, the client’s Web site is a simple and static online brochure, page tagging is overkill. True, counting hits—easily accomplished with logfiling—is less meaningful than counting page views through page tagging. But over time, hits provide a reasonable assessment of page popularity and traffic trends. On the other hand, if the client has a robust e-commerce site and/or extensive paid search programs, he needs the sophistication and precision of page tagging.
Future needs. When clients first engage an SEM firm, their existing site and paid search programs may be insufficient to support their new marketing objectives. Even if logfiling is adequate today, will it suffice in a year or two? If the answer is “no”, or even “maybe not”, building the site and search programs around page tagging analysis from the beginning ensures clarity and continuity of metrics later on.
Budget. Logfiling is almost always done in-house and requires minimal if any custom programming. While page tagging has become less expensive (a fact clients may not be aware of), it still requires a third-party service and ongoing consultative assistance. Since page tagging represents ongoing, direct revenue for the SEM, it is tempting to steer clients that way. But consider the consequences: if the client’s budget and attention are consumed by analytics, less remains for program development. In the end, the client may conclude that costs are misallocated and progress is too slow.
Internal resources. In some cases, clients with modest SEM needs lack the data storage capacity, IT support, and/or marketing resources to collect and analyze logfiling data. Similarly, large enterprises with ample budgets may be unwilling or unable to commit the IT staff to even the most basic analytics tasks. In either case, page tagging is the logical choice.
For SEM firms to build long-term relationships, they must think like collaborators and not merely technicians. Page tagging tools, with all their technical sophistication, are certainly attractive, but not universally applicable. SEM providers perform best when influenced less by the tools and more by the overall needs of the client.
Aaron Wittersheim is president of Whoast Inc. , a Chicago-based search marketing firm. For more information, visit http://www.whoast.com