Sometimes Google AdWords is the Least Effective Way to Reach your Target Customer

A chance conversation in New York City shows why other advertising media may be better for you - because each form of advertising slices the world in a different, unique way

Last May I was in New York City for Gary Bencivenga's now-legendary copywriting seminar, and taking the day off on a lovely Sunday afternoon. Just off Broadway and a few blocks from Central Park, I was drinking coffee in a donut shop when two guys struck up a conversation with me.

Turns out one of them was a senior sales executive for the Thomas Register. In case you're not familiar, the Thomas Register is a very old company that, pre-Internet, used to make a gigantic set of green books that you would see in a company library, purchasing or engineering office. These books, which probably weighed 100+ pounds, were the national 'Yellow pages' for every kind of manufacturing you can possibly think of.

And pre-Internet, if you wanted to buy machine tools, adhesives, pump controllers, conveyor belts or literally hundreds of thousands of other items, the Thomas Register was probably the easiest way to find all of those things.

But now you just do a Google search. Right?

And that's what this guy hears when he's selling space at ThomasNet.com (they don't even print those big books anymore) - his prospect says 'Hey, I don't need to advertise on your site, I'll just advertise on Google.'

Well nobody's in a better position than me to say that sometimes Google AdWords is NOT the best way for his prospect to reach a new customer! Sometimes it's a lousy way to reach your target customer. Let me give you some examples:

  • Last year I had a client who manufactures AC Adapters - you know, those big black plugs that provide power for your CD player or charge your cel phone. We tried mightily to make Google AdWords work, and couldn't. Why? Because this company sells custom lots of 500 units or more to manufacturers, but all the traffic for "AC Adapters" and related keywords is everyday consumers looking to buy one unit at a time. Our Google campaign was a total failure, despite our best efforts to dis-qualify the customer. The ads would say "minimum lots of 500," but Joe Consumer would click on the ad anyway, then leave. A manufacturing directory is a much better way to reach other manufacturers than Google in that situation.
  • Let's say you sell some kind of high-end equipment, software or consulting to high level exectutives - and lower-level people are a waste of time for you. (Very common scenario!) Is bidding on keywords a good way to target those executives? No, not really. Maybe only 1% of the people searching are executives, the rest just waste your clicks. Direct mail would be much, much better for that. A FEDEX envelope on the executive's desk is a rifle shot.
  • Keyword based advertising only works when people know they have a problem and can describe it to themselves and believe that somebody on the Internet has a solution. But many people have severe problems they don't even realize they have. If that's the case, search engine marketing isn't a very good way to reach them. You need to interrupt them instead. So again, direct mail, ads in magazines they read, TV, radio - all of those media might be better. Search engine marketing only gets you people who are proactively looking to solve their problem right now.
  • Sometimes search traffic gets you, ironically, the lowest quality, least-interested and least qualified prospects. People who regularly visit specific web sites are much more interested and much more qualified. Here's an example: Let's say you are doing fundraising for environmental activism. You could bid on the keyword "environment," but what you'd probably get is high school kids doing homework assignments and writing papers about the environment. Now it may be nice to reach those kids with your message, but you ain't gonna get any money out of them. And if you think about it, people who are already active and interested in that probably are not typing "environment" into a search engine. They already have sites they like to go to. You get much better traffic, and more donations, advertising on those sites. (That's why, in some categories, AdSense gets you better traffic than Google searches.)

    Every kind of advertising media slices the world in a different way. Bidding on keywords slices the world according to who's got an itch to scratch, right now. Direct mail slices the world according to what magazines people subscribe to, what mail order products they've purchased, what charities they've donated money to. Compiled mailing lists slice the world according to where they live, what income level they're in, what positions they hold in their jobs, what kind of home they live in.

    "Rock - Paper - Scissors"

    Print advertising slices the world according to topics people are interested in - if you advertise in Bass Fisherman magazine, you get guys who are rabidly interested in bass fishing. If you advertise on the radio at 7:30 in the morning, you get people who are on their way to work. The pros and cons of every form of advertising are sort of like that game "Rock - Paper - Scisssors" where each has its unique advantages and disadvantages.

    So I told the Thomas Register exec that he just needs to come out and say that yes, sometimes Google is hands down the easiest, cheapest way to get new customers. (His prospect will be rather surprised to hear him say that! Coming clean will boost his credibility.) But he can point out that also sometimes, as with those AC Adapters, Google may also be one of the worst ways to get a new customer.

    For most people, the truth is somewhere in the middle. For most people, Google is a great way to get a certain amount of high quality leads, but there are only so many available. It's like an oil well that pumps out just so much every day, and no more. Plus you never want to have all your eggs in one basket, that makes you very vulnerable. So you need to explore other avenues.

    In conversations I've had, people have been using any or all of the following ways to acquire new customers:

  • Buying space ads in e-zines
  • Endorsed email blasts from affiliates
  • Pop-under and popup ads on other sites
  • Postcard mailings
  • Direct Mail
  • Magalogs - catalogs that look like magazines
  • Spots in other peoples' catalogs
  • FEDEX envelopes to highly-targeted prospects from carefully selected mailing lists
  • Banner ads
  • Radio
  • TV
  • Telemarketing
  • Issuing a Press Release
  • Writing a Book
  • Being an "Expert" on a Talk Show
  • Exhibiting at Trade Shows
  • Flyers distributed house-to-house or business-to-business
  • Doing a custom teleseminar for another person's email list
  • Ads in magazines
  • Remnant space in local newspapers, purchased at a deep discount rates
  • Speaking at seminars
  • Card Decks - i.e. packet of postcards that comes in the mail
  • Writing magazine articles and e-zine articles
  • "Buyer advocate" sites like Thomas Register and Globalspec
  • Flyer inserts in newspapers, magazines or mail-order shipments (that's called "Insert media")
  • "Lumpy Mail" - sending people interesting objects, like one guy I know who mailed out a six foot canoe paddle

    When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So save this list for the next time you have one of those days when it seems impossible to find a new customer!

    Remember that every other advertiser out there has access to some customers, and many of them know they can make a little more money (and not lose any business) by giving you controlled access to their customers. And many times even though those other media may have a higher customer acquisition cost, the customers may be higher quality.

    Copyright 2005 Perry S. Marshall & Associates. All Rights Reserved.


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