If you’ve got a budget for website promotion, I know about a hundred companies that want your business. Be it PPC, banner ads, link placements, paid blogging, search engine optimization, or any of a dozen other industry buzz words, they all have different strategies for driving traffic. With so many choices, it can be hard to know which ones are valuable. Answer the following questions, however, and you’ll have a good idea whether a service deserves your money.

How is the price of the service determined?
There are many different cost metrics thrown around in online marketing: CPC, CPA, CPM, flat rate, etc. Ultimately, the only important metric is how much the service costs versus how much value it delivers (i.e., ROI). However, different cost metrics elicit different quality concerns. With CPA, you have to be more cautious about the quality of conversions, with CPC, the conversion rate, and with CPM, the clickthrough rate. Always be on guard that the provider might be illegitimately inflating your costs.

How likely is the traffic to convert?
The question here is whether the visitors’ demographics and intent match your site’s conversion goal. What is the age range of the visitors? What are their interests? If you’re selling something, how much disposable income do they have and where are they at in the buying cycle? This will require testing to verify, but you can often get a good idea of traffic quality by asking where that traffic is coming from before it reaches your site.

How much volume can the service drive?
It’s possible for a channel to deliver a great ROI, but only at a low volume. If a channel doesn’t produce enough traffic and/or conversions, it may not be worth the trouble to manage in the first place.

How well does the service scale?
Business needs have an tendency to change. The best online marketing services can scale in cost and volume to meet those needs. Often, scalability is the key to retaining a service over the long term.

Does the service use affiliates?
Depending on the nature of your conversions and the cost metric involved, affiliates may be useful. For example, when e-commerce transactions are required, affiliates are generally safe. However, if your conversions are, say, form submissions, fraud becomes a chief concern. In situations like this, affiliate-based services are best used cautiously or avoided all together.

Is the traffic incentivized in any way?
As with affiliates, incentivized traffic may or may not be useful depending on the nature of your conversion and the cost metric involved. Generally speaking, though, you want visitors who are interested in your offer, not visitors who just clicked through to get a flat screen TV.

Does the service offer online utilities?
Speaking from experience, nothing is more frustrating than managing a service that doesn’t offer online reporting and management utilities. Services that lack online utilities are suspect, either because they aren’t willing to give you transparency and control, or because they lack the technical savvy to create them.

Does the service include a campaign manager?
Although management and reporting utilities are the ideal, when large-scale adjustments need to be made, a dedicated human being can help reduce your management overhead. Obviously, you should prefer campaign managers that are good at achieving your goals.

How easily can the service be terminated?
When it comes to online marketing services, a contract is almost always involved. Depending on your faith in the service, you’ll want to be sure that the contract can be terminated to minimize losses if the ROI turns sour.

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