If you're looking for an edge (and who isn't) check out Website Magazine's interview of Jeremy Leonard, the SVP of Strategy and Operations at digital media agency MediaWhiz and a real whiz when it comes to conversion optimization.
Numerous well-known names fill the MediaWhiz client roster including Nielsen, Home Depot, Discover and many others - and Leonard's experience with these brands and their challenges shines through in the interview below, providing Website Magazine readers with compelling insights into high-level lead generation and conversion optimization, some guidance on the debate over form length, and how traffic quality and mobile devices are forcing advertisers to shift their approach quickly.
JL: MediaWhiz is an integrated digital media agency that works with brands to help them more profitably engage, acquire and retain customers. Clients include a broad range of leading advertisers such as Unilever, Nielsen, CarpetONE, The Lasik Vision Center, Home Depot, Discover and First PREMIER Bank.
Historically an online performance marketing agency we have evolved into a digital customer acquisition agency focused on direct response and lead generation. We have practice areas in affiliate marketing, search, creative display advertising, email, data acquisition and social media.
JL: Great question with several compelling answers:
Everyone should be concerned with conversion optimization for a very simple reason: consumer traffic to your website isn’t free. Even if your site traffic is coming from SEO or Facebook “Likes,” you spend time and money to generate that traffic. Marketers should naturally demand a return on that investment. That ROI should be in the form of consumers completing a specific call-to-action. In the world of lead generation, that call-to-action will be in the form of a qualified lead or sale.
Some advertisers may look at lead generation specifically and think, “Well, I’m only paying a publisher for a lead – why would I need to go to the trouble of making a site optimize properly? I don’t pay for anyone who doesn’t convert.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. Performance-based lead generators have hundreds of advertising offers that they can run to their display inventory, drop to their email lists or make SEM bids. The offer represented by your website is no better than if the publisher can’t generate a fair return on its media investment.
Poorly converting sites will result in a high number of clicks but a low number of leads; this instantly tells the publisher that the problem is not with its traffic but with your site. Your offer will be taken out of rotation, and you will be lucky if anyone sends traffic to your site again.
JL: First and foremost is having an inconspicuous call-to-action on your site. This is a lead-generation site, not a research site or comparison-shopping site. You want consumers to do something! Tell them exactly what you want them to do and exactly what they will get in return. Don’t be shy.
Second, is a lack of focus. Lead-generation sites expect a direct response from the consumer. Don’t provide the consumer multiple points of leakage on a lead-gen site where they can wander away – that is what homepages are for. Keep the consumer focused with just enough information to convince them to make the decision put forth by your call-to-action.
Finally there is the mistake of asking for too much information upfront. Every marketer wants to know a consumer’s household income or number of cars in the garage, but these requests will result in high bounce rates and general site abandonment. Build a relationship with a consumer over time through re-marketing and additional value adds in your CRM program. Marketers can always use third-party data appending services to tell them things about their consumers that they don’t want to ask.
JL: The “short-form” vs. “long-form” debate has existed since advertising began. Hammurabi’s code from Babylon was long-form. Moses’ 10 Commandments were short-form. They both served their purpose.
The first guidance I would give anyone making the decision regarding whether to use short-form vs. long-form in relation to conversions is to not make the decision. You will never understand your consumers as well as they know themselves.
My recommendation is to develop two separate buy flows, then put them in Google Optimizer and start testing.
Short-form, of course, requires immediate remarketing through a call center, SMS texting or an auto-responder email to complete the process. Although this does require additional effort on the part of the marketer, you will gain great insights by running these campaigns in parallel. One of the most powerful insights you will gain are the conversion rates at different points in the decision making process. For instance, if you have 30 percent of your consumers completing the short-form, then 80 percent of those same consumer’s being “closed” through immediate remarketing, your conversion rate is 24 percent.
If your long form has a conversion rate of 22 percent it would seem initially that the short form is the way to go. However, due to cost reasons associated with closing the short form, you may well be willing to give up the 2 percent differential to avoid the remarketing costs.
Finally, think about your product – does a consumer “need” it or do they “want” it. The more a consumer “needs” your product (a loan or a job) the more they will be willing to walk through a long form. The more a consumer “wants” your product (an insurance quote, a coupon) the less willing they will be to walk through a long form.
JL: From our experience, we see 20 – 30 percent of lead-gen traffic via mobile devices. If you aren’t set up to capture that traffic, you are throwing money away. So how do you go about capturing mobile leads? Here are a few ways:
1. A “warm transfer” program. This involves a short form (name, email, cell phone) and a button that has a call-to-action along the lines of “Call me Now.” When the user presses the button, a third-party vendor, such as RingRevenue, posts the lead form to a call center and initiates a call from the call center operator to the consumer. At that point, the operator will complete the lead-generation script and post the full lead.
2. An SMS or email auto-responder. If using a call center isn’t in the plan, then you can change the call-to-action on the button to something like “Send me more Info Now.” At that point, the advertiser can either send an SMS message with a link directly to the phone or send an email to the user.
3. Personally, I am not a big believer in QR codes unless the payoff for the consumer is significant. QR codes are like a long joke – the longer the joke, the better the punch line needs to be. If, as an advertiser, you can provide a big punch line, then use QR codes. Otherwise, stay away from them.
4. Finally, create mobile content that people want to share. Whether someone posts from their phone to Facebook, tweets it or simply emails it to a group, provide an incentive to the consumer to share.
JL: Simply put, good leads don’t come from bad traffic.
While there is certainly plenty of “bad” traffic out there, more frequently there is “inappropriate” traffic. For instance, it wouldn’t make sense to send a lead-gen campaign for a luxury car to sub-prime finance consumers. It is simply a bad match.
The more often an advertiser can tell his media partners something about the demographics and psychographics about his consumers, the better chance that the media partner can find “appropriate” traffic.
Once the right traffic is coming in, an advertiser still needs to focus carefully on affiliate ID numbers or sub-ID numbers, which convert to sales. Traffic that comes from SEM will almost always convert at a higher rate than email traffic because the consumer is in a buying frame of mind. Focus on the high-converting traffic and be willing to pay more for it. Be prepared to simultaneously cut your price for the low-performing traffic. Drive all of your traffic toward a pre-determined cost-per-action – whether that action is a sale, a request for information or a download.
Once you have “appropriate” traffic that is prices right you can begin to optimize a site for conversions; sites are inherently optimized around consumers that have a propensity to convert. Once “appropriate” traffic is coming to the site, only then can a site be optimized through many of the standard steps of A/B testing and multivariate testing.
JL: One of the most difficult (but important) KPI is determining the Life Time Value (LTV) of a client. Knowing this single piece of information is critical in establishing budgets for client-acquisition and client-retention efforts. Acquisition and retention budgets then determine your media spend. LTV is unique to each enterprise and, typically, differs across the enterprise by product or service line.
Within actual lead gen, a marketer must track incoming leads by media vertical (SEM, SEO, email, display, social) and then track the downstream conversions of the leads by media type. Without that information, the marketer won’t know how to properly allocate his budget.
Within each media vertical, if it is possible to track incoming traffic by affiliate ID, the marketer will know who is sending them appropriate, high-converting traffic and who is not. Pricing should be set accordingly.
Finally, keep an eye on your analytics account and continue to test and optimize. This isn’t a KPI, but an ongoing exercise in excellence. Try new things, but don’t be afraid to admit when those new things didn’t work.
Marketing, especially on the Internet, is largely about
generating leads and creating long-term relationships with consumers. For
affiliate marketers, gathering leads also means ensuring that you will be able
to maintain contact with the users to which you are advertising rather than just
sending them off to merchants and losing them afterwards.
One of the biggest (and costliest) problems that affiliate
marketers face is sending traffic to merchants for a small fee, but never getting
crucial information about them such as names or email addresses that can be used
to establish long-term relationships.
The process of generating leads doesn’t take a lot of extra
work on the part of the marketer, and it can present great opportunities in the
future for moving traffic and generating revenue. All it takes is collecting
and validating the information, and there are a variety of great platforms
available to help you do it.
Gathering lead information from customers can be a huge boon to an affliate marketer. While getting paid for driving traffic is necessary for an affiliate, it is not the end of the road. In some cases, conversions aren't made immediately after a customer clicks an affiliate's link to a merchant's site, but it happens later, so there is a good chance that marketers are driving conversions for merchants and not actually getting paid for it. Lead generation allows affiliates to "claim" these customers for themsevles before sending them to merchants.
Exactly what “leads” are, and what makes them important, is
largely based on what your specific needs are and the best way for you to
maintain a relationship with these consumers. Usually, this manifests itself in
list-building where you collect pertinent information about consumers that can
be used to contact them in the future.
The most common route for marketers to take is to build an
email list by gathering the names and email addresses of the customers, which
gives affiliates an easy way to keep in touch with these consumers by sharing
information with them that will build your credibility as an authority in your
marketing area(s). Some ways to do this include sharing unbiased product
reviews, industry newsletters that you’ve compiled or links to information like
whitepapers or infographics. This will help you build up trust with your
customers, meaning they will be more likely to acknowledge and take action the
next time you recommend a merchant or product, which will ultimately increase
your overall conversion rates.
One way to collect this lead information is to drive your
visitors to a “squeeze page” on your site (see image below), which you can do by including a link
on your page, in forum signatures, in YouTube videos or anywhere else you’re
distributing content or information on the Web. Trickier affiliate marketers
can even link customers to these squeeze pages before or concurrently with a
merchant’s product page when consumers click a link to go to a product.
You still have to convince them to sign up with you, though,
which can best be done by incentivizing the process. Offer consumers free
content, such as videos or reports, or free products, like a new blog theme
you’ve developed, to entice them to sign up to be included on your list. The
key here is to make sure that the incentives are quality and worth the
Of course, if you’re giving away cool free stuff, it’s
entirely possible that some users may sign up using phony information. It’s a
sad but true fact of life.
However, sending emails to invalid addresses is more than
just kind of annoying, it will also negatively affect your “sender reputation”
with major email providers such as Yahoo!, AOL, Hotmail, Gmail and others. Sending
out mass emails to addresses that don’t exist make you look like a spammer, and
as your reputation gets lower, more of your emails get filtered out of user
Since most properly formatted emails with domains configured
to receive mail will be accepted by your vendor, it is important to have a way
to make sure that the information you get from users is real, and the best way
to do that is by using a link-validation platform. These platforms will verify
email addresses to assure you that they’re deliverable, which will help you
keep up (and improve) your reputation with email providers and optimize your
email marketing campaign.
Lead the Way
So, what are you waiting for? It’s as good a time as any to
start increasing the monetization of your affiliate marketing strategies by
generating leads for yourself that can result in long-term customer
relationships. No longer will you simply have to be content with getting paid
for some of the traffic that you generate for merchants, because now you can
also help drive these customers towards other products that you market and
increase your productivity in the process.