Don Lange, senior vice-president, partner, Cornerstone Group of Companies, spoke to Pipeline recently about the launch of his firm’s search engine marketing business unit, designed to help marketers maximize their pay per clicks advertising in the Canadian marketplace. Lange also discussed the set of guidelines he believes will help marketers better reach their Canadian customers, which includes the advice to always include Canadian vernacular and spellings in search terms and phrases; always understand that Canada is made up and made strong because of many diverse cultures and ethnic groups; always sell products and services (or raise funds) that Canadians really want, need or care deeply about; and always make sure your search ads are polite and don’t boast.
Cornerstone, which manages and maintains 800 databases for companies including Transcontinental, also owns a company specializing in fund-raising and donations.
Pipeline: What is search marketing exactly?
Don Lange: We don’t focus on search engine optimization. We focus just on the advertising side, the pay per clicks. We also focus on the Canadian marketplace. Most of work is done through Google, because Google is the only company that can segment Canada geographically. The one exception is Yahoo can segment out Quebec as long as you’re delivering French ads but if you’re delivering English ads then basically it’s North America. What we do for our clients is basically the whole process. We help them build key words and phrases, we help build their ads. If they have existing Web sites we will consult with them on how to optimize response and how to land them on the right pages to increase response. If they don’t have a Web site, if they want their search campaign to be more of a standalone campaign, which more and more clients are doing, we will build landing pages for them, build forms and build databases or a means to capture. What we’re trying to do for most of our clients now who are traditional direct marketers is test the media search for them. The way we look at it is search is a true direct response media. It’s totally measurable and every single client I talk to gets it immediately because they’re all direct marketers; they’re fundraisers, publishers, catalogues, and they’ve always approached media as something they can measure.
Pipeline: What is the process you use to help clients develop keywords?
DL: First of all we’ll either work with the client or their webmaster to determine what kind of words are resulting in direct hits to their page. We subscribe to a number of different keyword tools. We also do a lot of research and meet with our clients to find out what is making them click. We also sort of progress keywords so we bring keywords from single words to more extensive phrases around the word because what we’re finding with the keyword process is that single keywords seem to get a lot of tire-kickers. It’s when you get a lot of keywords that are three to five words long that are more of a statement or a question, like ‘How do I find something,’ or ‘How do I do something,’ that it seems to be catching people a little further along in the sales process and the conversion rates are better on the longer phrases. So as we see words that are getting a lot of impressions or clicks but maybe not a lot of conversions (sales or whatever the metric is) what we’ll do is take those words and try to expand them.
Pipeline: Why is there a need for such a service that is exclusively Canadian?
DL: It’s important because there are a lot of vernaculars and Canadian terms and I think any search campaign has to look at geographical strengths first. If you’re an international company you should still set up ad groups within different countries that address the demographics of the country, the social issues. What I found when I first started looking into this business was there were a few companies that did search engine marketing in Canada but all their clients were in the U.S. because that’s where the business was. I acknowledge we’re not going to be as big as those guys but I just didn’t think anybody was taking care of the Canadian client and all of our clients are Canadian or they do business in Canada.
Pipeline: What has been the challenge for marketers in targeting a Canadian audience?
DL: It’s a growing challenge. At one time you got a word on Google and you were pretty well near the top. It’s getting so competitive now that the way search engine marketing works and the way search engines work is your ad has to be relevant and it has to be clicked on in order to stay on top. You really have to make sure your ad and your words are not only relevant to your product but relevant to what’s happening now. Words and phrases should be topical; they should have a bearing on what’s happening in a region or country or province.
Pipeline: You have established six rules of conducting search campaigns in Canada. Are these guidelines for marketers or guidelines you observe?
DL: It’s more guidelines we observe than anything else just because we do want to establish ourselves as a Canadian solution. It does express a point, which is that there are so many things people don’t understand about the Canadian marketplace and everyone says you’re so close (to the U.S.); well, go to New York and order an all-dressed pizza and see what happens.
Pipeline: I can think of a lot of successful Canadian ads that break these rules as well, though. Knowing that how did you arrive at these?
DL: You have to establish your rules yourself and follow them. Most of our clients are database-driven, which means they depend a lot on a one-to-one relationship with their customer. They all have customers and a means to communicate with them, whether it’s a magazine or a newsletter or renewal process; that continuous relationship. It’s not a passive, ‘I’m going to go into a beer store and pick up x beer one week and Z beer another.’ Companies that have databases-driven relationships need to be more responsible. There’s also (the issue that) we have young staff coming up and I want them to know where we stand as well.