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Craft a compelling offer for paid search marketing

The best way to motivate a click online is to make a compelling offer and provide an urgent call to action.  This is not news to Internet marketers.  But when it comes to search engine advertising, like Google AdWords, you need to think about your offer and call to action a bit differently.  The secret is coming up with an offer that attracts qualified prospects, to maintain conversion rates—instead of bringing in tire-kickers who are only interested in getting a quick deal, and won’t actually buy.

Two important considerations undergird this point:

  1. You only have 95 characters, spread over 4 lines of type, to play with.
  2. Since you are paying for each click, your ROI depends more on quality than on quantity.

In direct marketing offer theory, this is called managing the “offer equation,” which says that response quality is inversely related to response quantity.  In other words, the sweeter the offer, the higher the response, and the less likely the respondents are to become profitable customers.   Conversely, a lower response brings in a more committed prospect, one who is likely to prove more valuable over time—just costlier to acquire.

So the ideal in search engine advertising is to identify an attractive offer that also qualifies.  And, it needs to be very simple, so it can be communicated with minimal investment of your precious 95 characters.

Here are some excellent offers that serve both purposes–simplicity and quality control:

  • Free shipping.  A great way to differentiate yourself in a highly competitive environment.  Free shipping is very appealing to prospective buyers, but because it is only redeemed on purchase, it’s successful in the equation management game.
  • Free trial.  Another classic equation management tactic.  Only people who are serious about your product will be likely to take it on trial.  But you still get the power of the word “free.”  In the tech world, a free software download has been a proven winner of this type.
  • Free gift with purchase.  Another way to motivate conversion, versus mere click-through, and easy to explain.  But it does take up a bit more real estate than free shipping or free trial.
  • Free information.  Always a popular and productive offer in business markets, where buyers need detailed information as part of their purchase process.  Examples include a free case study, research report, or white paper.  Qualifies beautifully.

To be avoided are generous offers that motivate high response but poor quality.  A free mug or t-shirt, with no strings attached, for example.   Unless you can otherwise qualify the target with a highly selective keyword or phrase.

Have you come up with a compelling offer to motivate quality responses in B-to-B search engine advertising?  Let’s share ideas.


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Ruth Stevens

Ruth Stevens

Ruth P. Stevens is a member consultant of Consultants Collective. She advises clients on customer acquisition and retention, for both consumer and business-to-business clients. Ruth serves on the boards of directors of the HIMMS Media Group, and the Business Information Industry Association. She is a trustee of Princeton-In-Asia, past chair of the Business-to-Business Council of the DMA, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain’s BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She serves as a mentor to fledgling companies at the ERA business accelerator in New York City. Ruth is a guest blogger at AdAge,, and Target Marketing Magazine. Her newest book is B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results. She is also the author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, Trade Show and Event Marketing, and co-author of the white paper series “B-to-B Database Marketing.” Ruth is a sought-after speaker and trainer, and has presented to audiences and business schools in Asia, Australia, and Latin America. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM. She studied marketing management at Harvard Business School, and holds an MBA from Columbia University. Learn more at

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