Is search engine marketing too expensive?

By Michael FosterFebruary 23, 2015

Depending on whom you talk to, search engine marketing is either the greatest thing since sliced bread or an overpriced relic of the past. For years, search was considered the most important tool for generating leads — and for many, that remains an uncontested fact. However, some are getting frustrated with higher prices and disappointing results, leading to more controversy on the topic.

In theory, search advertising is perfect lead marketing. People discover your ad at the top of a Web page that they only access after telling it they are interested in a particular topic. So if you’re an insurance marketer only selling to people in Duluth, your result will appear only when someone types “insurance in Duluth.” If that isn’t a clear signal of consideration near the point of purchase, nothing is.

The power of search, some say, has yielded its own demise. Because people are searching so near the point of purchase and keywords can be very specific to a small, key market, people have been willing to pay more and more to show up for those keywords. Add to this the fact that Google has a de facto monopoly, since Yahoo and Bing are a tiny portion of the market, and you have a bidding war that causes prices to spiral out of control.

Some are so frustrated with this that they’ve just plain given up.

Alternatives do exist, of course. The oldest is search engine optimization. Instead of paying to place up top, you put in the effort to improve your content so that it shows up at the top of the organic results. Since many people ignore the paid ads and since a lot of businesses hate the idea of buying media, many think this is a superior strategy. At the same time, SEO can be expensive and labor intensive since it involves hiring editors, writers and marketers.

A newer alternative has shown up in the form of retargeting display. These are old-fashioned banner ads, although they’re different sizes on mobile and video is becoming a bigger retargeting channel. The idea is that you track where people go on the Web and use that data to serve ads more efficiently to people who are implicitly closer to purchase. This is the realm of programmatic advertising, and a lot of naysayers who dismiss SEM as too expensive see this as a viable alternative. At the same time, concerns about fraud and overcharging lead critics to challenge retargeting as not yet ready for prime time.

At this year’s LeadsCon, we will discuss the current state of search engine marketing for lead generation campaigns. Marlin Gilbert, vice president of InsideVault, will lead a discussion between speakers from three brands who know search engine marketing well.

Diana Boyles is senior director of Consumer Marketing at HomeAdvisor, a brand that has grown tremendously over the years with a much in-demand service that attracts millions of searches in the US every month: home improvement and repair. With thousands of potential keywords and a highly regional market, HomeAdvisor has had to learn how to incorporate a large umbrella of search terms into its search strategy.

Ethan Ewing and Coy Gupta, presidents of and Paychex, respectively, will also be joining to discuss how they have cornered their niche in personal finance. has been working for years to help people manage their finances and consolidate debt, a massive and competitive sector of the lead-gen world. Paychex has also had their work cut out for them in the small and medium-sized business HR, payroll and tax management space. Many SMBs are extremely sensitive and have a long product consideration cycle, meaning Paychex has had to optimize its search efforts with its sales and service operations. That’s no easy feat, but Paychex has capitalized on this to grow tremendously.

Together, these marketers will discuss how to control search costs and use SEM to create tremendous results for any business. They will be speaking at this year’s LeadsCon in Las Vegas Wednesday at 11 a.m.

Click here to register for LeadsCon Las Vegas 2015.

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