Remember when it was your letterbox that was stuffed with advertising, and not your search results?
While the door mat has been left to takeaway menus and insurance mailers, online advertising has been booming even through recession with businesses large and small pushing money into Google adwords.
And it is easy to see why. On the face of it Google adwords is easier to set-up & monitor, cheaper to run and most killer of all, allows you to target those people who are actually looking for your product or service. Compared to the lumbering giant of direct mail, Adwords is a deft assassin – using your marketing budget to pinpoint leads with a deadly accuracy.
Yet having recently been given access to a few small businesses’ adwords accounts, the data tells a very different story. So much so that I start to wonder that if in reality Google adwords is any better than direct mail at all.
And here is why.
The reality of Adwords.
Creating an effective adwords campaign is difficult, even for an adwords professional. Yet a large percentage of campaigns are being managed by small business owners with limited experience and limited time to dedicate to campaign set-up and monitoring.
This would be okay if Google’s adwords interface was good at flagging up potential problems and inefficiencies, but it isn’t. In fact it is quite the opposite. The adwords interface is brilliant at creating the illusion that everything is going great. Your adverts are displayed alongside their keyword groups grabbing click-throughs and top positions. However, many adwords users don’t understand the intricacies of broad and phrase keywording matching nor how to access the actual search data. When I have dug down to show business owners the actual searches they have spent budget on, most are shocked that they have spent so much on searches completely unrelated to their business and products.
The illusion of lower cost
Adwords is considered a low cost advertising option compared to direct mail. Afterall, there is no production costs, no postage, and no wastage. Yet in reality the costs can be much closer than you’d imagine. While adwords’ month-on-month spend can easily slip under the marketing spend radar but can easily add up over the year, direct mail requires a large periodic spend which attracts attention and can be much harder to swallow.
Yet based on the campaigns I have seen, adwords’ average cost-per-click of 50p – £1 is already comparable to a single direct mail engagement and as more businesses switch to adwords increased competition will only push click prices higher.
The disadvantages of precise targeting
While appearing only when someone is searching for your service or product has great advantages, there are also disadvantages which are widely ignored. By appearing in a list of other adverts and search results you are forced to compete directly with multiple suppliers – often based on price. Not only this, but with people spending more and more time online, the number of searches made without an intention to buy will only increase. I may only buy something new off the internet once a week, but during the hours upon hours I spend online researching topics and looking up information I must click tens if not hundreds of adword adverts including many of the same companies’ links more than once on different searches.
Direct mail is often criticised for being unfocused. However, unlike adwords, it can frequently instigate a sale which may never of otherwise occurred. It also presents the opportunity to fully engage a customer with your individual product and brand which reduces the chances of comparison with the competition and therefore the importance of competing purely on price.
Direct Mail is not necessarily better than adwords, they are just different.
I am not saying that direct mail is better than adwords – it is just that they are different. I have seen many businesses abandoning direct mail and jumping onto adwords believing it to be a cheaper and more targeted alternative. My argument is that for many businesses this is simply not true.
Rather than simply jumping straight from one popular form of marketing into another, business owners should think carefully about the many other marketing options available and what might work for their specific marketing goals.
Article by Justin Firth. Justin Firth is co-creator of Add Design – graphic design London, Essex and Suffolk. Justin also writes regularly on marketing trends, new technology and green thinking at justinfirth.com