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There’s no question that the paid search landscape is competitive. Consider the prime real estate, for example, called the “sponsored links” area at the top and right side of any Google search results page. With more than 70% of the search share, Google has a hot commodity in its paid search listings. The visibility afforded by ranking high in the sponsored links section certainly benefits credit unions aiming to drive prospective members to their Web sites. That’s why so many credit union marketers turn to the Google AdWords pay-per-click advertising program. With heavy competition for top slots in Google and other search engines, and the increasing pressure to prove marketing expenditures, it’s more important than ever that your paid search program follow best practices and be optimized for peak performance. Strategizing your keyword list is the critical first step in establishing a successful paid search program. Determine the terms your target audience will search with to find you and consider the core product offerings you’ll prioritize-loans, checking accounts, investment offerings or other key services for your credit union. Knowing the goals of your program and what offers you’ll promote are key components in this stage. Take advantage of free keyword tools, like Google’s Keyword Tool and new Search-based Keyword Tool, to identify terms you might have missed, including long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords, which are more than two to three words, are less competitive and therefore cheaper. Use indicators such as popularity, relevancy, competition, offerings and search behavior to narrow your list. Divide your keywords into small segments, or ad groups, based on subject. The more specific your ad groups, the more relevant they seem to Google when the engine is determining your quality score. Higher quality scores lead to a lower cost-per-click. Craft creative ads. In Google, you have 25 characters for your ad title and two description lines at 35 characters each to convey a strong message and compel the user to click through. Be sure that your ad text is differentiated from your competitors’. You must also have a clear call to action-giving direction to the user and promoting your offer. For any given ad group in your campaign, you’ll want to write several different versions of ads with varying offers and leading to different landing pages. For example, one ad group might have four keywords rotating through six different versions of ads for those terms. (Google will automatically rotate the display of these ads, eventually serving the ones that are performing better more often.) In this economy, credit union members are not looking for fluff in these ads. Leave marketing jargon out, and instead include information about your rates, locations or reliability. To educate an audience that doesn’t know the difference between a credit union and a bank, demonstrate your organization’s key benefits. Geo-targeting. If your credit union is like most, your target audience lives or works within a specific geographic area. Each search engine’s paid search program offers a different level of granularity when it comes to how you define your targeted geography. Google’s geo-targeting feature is so fine-tuned that you can set your ads to appear within specific zip codes. This can be particularly handy for a new branch opening, and tailor your ad copy to include local references as well as hard facts about your services. Testing various versions of your ad copy is critical to a campaign that makes the most of every marketing dollar. What else can you test? Your landing pages. Often sending searchers from your ad to your Web site’s home page is disorienting and results in high bounce rates. So, send your searcher right where he or she needs to go. If your ad copy touts great rates, send him to the ‘rates’ page of your Web site. When outlining which landing pages your ad visitors will arrive on, use the opportunity to ensure it’s current and key words are appropriate. Does the call to action in your ad point to an obvious action on the page? Carefully tracking your program not only allows you to make modifications but also helps inform your future program strategies. Optimize your ads so that you’re appearing in the top three positions of the sponsored links. You can decide based on each keyword’s cost-per-click whether the term is worth the required budget. If your term seems costly, add additional negative keywords to your campaign to ensure that only the most relevant searches display your ad. You can also change the match type. If you’re still not convinced a term is worthwhile, pause it. Data related to that term is retained, but you won’t be spending any budget on it. By tying your AdWords account to Google Analytics, you can also assess how much time paid search visitors are spending on your site. Prioritize the keywords that keep searchers sticking around. Also, set up conversion tracking within Google to see if those clicking your ads are taking desired actions on your site, such as downloading a PDF offer or signing up for your e-newsletter. There’s always room for improvement in paid search programs. Track and measure your results, and you’ll find that they’re a highly cost-effective way to attract Web site visitors and drive conversions.

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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