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Tag : life science search engine marketing

When Search Ads Don’t Work Pt.2

life science search engine marketing & optimization About a month and a half ago we wrote an article about times when search advertising isn’t worthwhile, focusing on the results of a study by eBay Research Labs. However, that study highlights just two specific instances when search advertising isn’t profitable; there are many more instances when search advertising would not be able to play an effective role in demand generation for life science marketers, and we discuss these here.

The most obvious example is when your product isn’t simply something that scientists aren’t looking for. This is most common with services and software, but sometimes occurs with other products as well, especially those which are non-essential to life science research. You can attempt to expand your targeting to include ancillary terms (for example, if you manufacture an accessory to a product then you might advertise for the terms related to the main product). However, this often leads to a low clickthrough rate, which both increases cost-per-click and decreases the frequency that your ads will be shown, which may lead to lackluster campaign performance. Additionally, if search volume for a given term is too low, most SEM platforms (AdWords, Bing Ads, etc.) simply won’t show any ads.

Another example is when the people doing the searching aren’t the people you need to sell to. For example, in the situation of suppliers of very high-end equipment, most of the search traffic may come from lab techs but the decision-makers may be director-level individuals. It may be that this ultimately doesn’t matter – it may still be worthwhile to advertise even if only 1 out of 100 clicks is relevant – but this can dramatically increase the cost per conversion, which is a much more meaningful metric by which to measure ROI.

Chemical / biochemical companies often face a unique problem with search marketing. Depending on the substances they sell, they need to take care to not be flagged as an “online pharmacy” by ad platforms, which can result in account suspension.

Additionally, for low-cost items it is often the case that search engine marketing isn’t profitable on the initial sale, especially for distributors and for manufacturers of lower-value products who often operate on fairly thin margins to begin with. In order for SEM to have a good return in these situations, it is imperative that life science suppliers continue to re-engage with customers in order to drive repeat sales.

As we said previously, search engine marketing is a fantastic tool and can work wonders for lead generation but we should not blindly expect results from it. Regardless of the situation, SEM should be carefully monitored and coupled with appropriate analytics and CRM such that results can be measured, informed decisions can be made, and campaigns can be improved over time.

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When Search Ads Don’t Work

life science search engine marketing & optimization

Regardless of who you are or what you’re looking for, one of the most common ways to look for products and services is the mighty internet. An unpublished BioBM study found that among life science researchers, 45% will turn to search engines first when looking for a product or service – roughly the same amount as will ask a colleague first – and almost all scientists will perform an internet search at some point in their buying journey. Given the near-ubiquitous prevalence of search as a tool to find products and services, search engine marketing just seems to make logical sense. If you have a product, and someone is looking for that product, then put up an ad, they’ll click on it, and bingo – for a few bucks you’ve targeted a highly relevant member of your target market who is even looking for product information right now! Simple, right? Not always…

There are, in fact, multiple scenarios in which search engine marketing can fail. One of those reasons, however, is a bit more difficult to detect and can actually cost you a lot of money.

eBay Research Labs recently published a study where they set out to determine if brand keyword search ads, in other words keywords that contain the brand name of the company, were worthwhile. Unsurprisingly, they found that such advertising was not effective; in these circumstances people were using Google as a navigational tool and when paid search was turned off, and therefore paid traffic dropped to zero, their organic traffic increased by roughly the same amount.

The much more interesting question that they asked was: “What would happen if we simply turned search advertising off altogether?” The answer to this may seem obvious. If someone searches for “used Gibson Les Paul” (an example they use in the paper) a number of guitar resellers appear in organic search prior to eBay. As this is also the case for many other product-specific terms, eBay’s search ads help direct traffic to eBay when they would otherwise be directed to other sellers / resellers, and thereby increasing eBay’s business. It seems to make logical sense.

eBay wasn’t satisfied with that assumption, however, so they took a sampling of United States geographies and turned off all search ads, leaving search ads in the rest of the country on as a control. What happened to their sales? Largely, nothing. Looking at the sales and advertising data in conjunction with customer data, they found that search advertising is only cost-effective on the least active customers; those whose last eBay purchase was not recent and who made few purchases in the past year. However, eBay is a very popular company and those infrequent purchasers constituted a small percentage of searchers. Therefore, when cost effectiveness was calculated, search advertising had an astonishing -75% ROI. In other words, for every dollar they spent in search advertising, they got back only 25 cents!

Most life science companies, however, as with most companies in general, do not have the kind of brand recognition that eBay does. You probably don’t have to remind scientists that Sigma sells chemicals or that Illumina sells sequencers, but these are the exceptions rather than the rules. So what’s the takeaway for smaller companies? First, while search engine marketing is a fantastic tool and can work wonders for sales or lead generation, we shouldn’t simply expect it to do so. Secondly, testing and analytics are extremely important – not just for search marketing but any advertising campaign and most marketing endeavors. While it may be more difficult to draw accurate conclusions from smaller sample sizes, most of the experiments that eBay ran to test their hypotheses could be done by any company.

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Search Engine Marketing Tips

Life science search engine marketingThere are many reasons why any life science tools company should be using search engine marketing (SEM), yet many do not. Scientists are frequently on search engines to look for publications, protocols, product info, scientific knowledge, and more. In a field so highly dependent on information, and on such a wide variety of information from so many different sources, you can bet that scientists are on search engines a lot. Search engine marketing can not only provide a large audience to market to, but since you select which search terms you want your ads to appear on, it can provide a highly targeted audience as well. Best of all, and my favorite thing about any cost-per-click (CPC) based marketing – you only pay for results.

Please note that the following advice pertains mostly to major search engines (such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing), as they will have the full set of features that these tips assume the search engine to have. There are certainly other search engine tools that have reasonably good features and very competitive cost-per-click rates, but although some of the advice will likely be applicable to smaller and / or more focused platforms as well, we will leave those for a separate discussion.

Understand how SEM works

If you and your life science company are new to search engine marketing, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the basics. It’s easy to have a poor ROI if you don’t know what you’re doing. Each search engine will likely have a wealth of literature for you to read and watch, likely enough for you to gain quite a good proficiency with each system if you bother to take the time. For example, you could spend weeks reading all the information that the Google AdWords help center provides. Perhaps one of the most important lessons to learn before you initiate an SEM campaign is how the bidding process works and how CPC is determined. Again using Google AdWords as an example, they have a helpful intro video explaining the process (albeit a bit simplified from how it actually works).

Use the tools that each SEM platform provides

Google AdWords, for example, will provide you with all sorts of lovely info. It will give an index of competition for any given keywords, provide estimates on how many searches are performed for any given term, both globally and within a given region, and estimate the cost-per-click that you would need to bid. It will even provide suggestions on additional search terms, and give historical search estimates month-by-month. This information can help you tremendously in determining what search terms are best to target.

Be an opportunist

In part because life science tools companies do so little search engine marketing compared to the breadth of terms used in the field (and perhaps in part due to many life science marketers general inexperience with SEM), there are a lot of opportunities out there that can drive down your cost-per-click, drive up your ROI, and result in more sales. To start doing this, think like a scientist. What could they be searching for that may not be a product, but may be related to your product. For example, if you are selling DNA extraction kits, perhaps you could target not only users who are searching for DNA extraction kits, but DNA extraction protocols, phenol / chloroform extraction, DNA purification, etc. There are many terms that would indicate that someone is performing DNA extraction. Alternative methods, related upstream or downstream procedures, and even names of competitors products are all good search terms to consider. Find those terms with a low CPC and take advantage of them.

Monitor, update, repeat

Major search engines will try to maximize their income by displaying the ads that make them the most money. This, simply stated, is based on cost per click multiplied by the click-through rate (CTR). Click-through-rate is the rate at which your ad is clicked on by searchers for any given term. If your ad gets clicked on a lot, the search engine gets more money, and you get more visitors. Everyone goes home happy. Search engines will reward ads that have a higher CTR with lower CPC, higher ad placement, or both. An eye-tracking study found that the top-placed ad to the right of Google search results is viewed five times as frequently as the ad that is fifth on the list, so ad placement is an important thing that should not be undervalued. By monitoring your results and tweaking our ads as necessary, you can drive up your CTR, lower your CPC, and improve your ad placement.

One last thing deserves mention. We are often asked by life science companies how much is the correct amount for them to dedicate to search engine marketing. This question doesn’t have a numeric answer. The answer is: as much as you can while getting the desired ROI (and without breaking your budget). Note that this will not be an “infinite” amount of money; you will be limited by the number of searchers. However, so long as you are achieving the desired return-on-investment from your SEM campaign, you should continue to reinvest in it to continue to drive sales growth.

Search engine marketing is a valuable, highly scalable, and readily accessible tool that can generate lots of traffic for your site and, more importantly, lots of sales for your company. Properly utilized with a well-designed site including the appropriate landing pages, your life science tools company can realize a high ROI from your SEM investment and grow both your sales and your company.

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