evan saksEvan Saks’ hands were tied. As a regional head of advertising for a national franchise, he wasn’t allowed to build a better website. So he created a single landing page instead. A deft combination of that one page, a live chat application, and a new keyword management and discovery tool made conversion rates skyrocket — and resulted in 10X ROI.

We caught up with Evan to ask him how he did it.

Q: Pretty impressive results, Evan. How did you do it?

A: Well it’s a little complicated and a little unusual. 1-800-MATTRESS is a franchise organization. We serve certain segments of the country: New England, Philadelphia and Florida. The parent company asserted exclusive Web domain rights. They put up Mattress.com. It’s a terrible, terrible site, one of the leakiest buckets on the Web. I had to start taking Mattress.com out of our advertising because customers were having such a bad experience. We were getting so many complaints, we reached a point where we said, “We’re just better off getting people on the phone and pretending we don’t have a website.”

For years we struggled with this. We hired our own consultant. We got into fights, even went the legal route. We tried everything but they wouldn’t take our suggestions. Fast-forward to September/October of last year: economic meltdown. They were getting hammered. They made a very stupid decision to open a lot of stores in New York City, getting away from the direct model. Suddenly these stores were becoming a huge anchor around their neck. Around Halloween of last year they just simply stopped all their online marketing.  No more Google AdWords, no more active SEO. They just simply stopped and let the site generate what it was going to generate.

At that point we started to see our business sag. The orders we used to get from Mattress.com generating orders into our territory, or more importantly, the people going online and getting frustrated with the website would then call us and we’d sell them something over the phone. We saw a loss of business in both those areas.

Q: Can you quantify that drop?

A: I can give you a ballpark. The Web at that point represented about 12 percent of our business. We lost a couple of points, it went down to like 10 percent, about a 15 to 18 percent drop in sales.

Q: But at that point wasn’t business sagging for other reasons, such as the economy?

A: We track pretty carefully, and certainly the economy had some bearing. Radio lead sources were off 30 and 40 percent. But the Internet had been pretty stable until the activity around Halloween.

So in December and January we put our heads together and asked, “What can we do to try and bring more customers in?” We’re not allowed to have our own transactional website. We were allowed to do landing pages so long as they were just one page deep. So at the end of January we launched our own landing page, just in our geographies. We took people there searching for terms in our categories, and on that page we put a chat application.

When we had agents logged in, anything you could do over the phone you could do on this page. It was a pretty comfortable way to conduct business. Within about two months this landing page almost doubled the volume of business we were getting from Mattress.com. We kind of stumbled into it just trying to find a way to have an interactive presence independent of our franchise.

We started using Wordstream [to research and manage search advertising keywords and -phrases] in the beginning of April. From then on we had everything tied together. We saw dramatic improvement in the traffic, we saw dramatic improvement in the cost-per-click, and most important, we opened an entirely new sales channel that didn’t exist before, with Wordstream as the engine that was really powering the traffic.

Q: What search engines were you advertising on?

A: Exclusively Google. Unfortunately, Yahoo wouldn’t take our business because of the chat application.

Q: How many keywords and phrases are we talking for the campaign?

A: The total was 15,315. I thought it was going to be all about geo-targeting, “mattress Miami beach.” It turned out it wasn’t about that at all. The key groupings run as follows:

Our brand name and variations thereof: 1-800-Mattress; dial-a-mattress; Mattress.com. All the variations, all the punctuations, with and without hyphens, spaces, dots in the dot-coms.

The next grouping was manufacturers and manufacturer terms. Each have sub-branding and model name nomenclature. Within each of their lines there are six to 12 specific models. And each retailer has a different name for the same product. At one store it may be the “Marshview,” but at another store it’s the “Bayview.” So I have all the competitors listed, plus I have their model names.

Then there are the general category terms: king size, queen size, bunk beds. I do have geo-targeted terms in there, and specific materials, such as “latex” and “memory foam,” which are very popular.

Wordstream recognizes its own groups and finds its own terms, some of which wouldn’t have dawned on me, for example “compare.” Lots of people out there want to compare a Sealy Posturpedic to a Serta PerfectSleeper. It turns out those were very high value terms and combinations. We got a very good clickthrough rate, and I was able to write very simple ad copy. The other one it found was “ratings”; editor’s ratings, or “rate this mattress.” And a few other terms, like “Made in USA,” which we hadn’t found. Beyond that, and this is the thing I really, really love: the misspellings. In our category, people just don’t care. People just don’t have the capacity to remember all this brand nomenclature.

Q: Literacy is so overrated.

A: Certainly in the land of Google it is. People type anything into a search bar. That’s precious stuff for the long tail.

Q: Can we quantify this success?

A: At its peak, 22 percent of business was coming through this channel — a channel that didn’t exist just a couple of months earlier. The Web site was always about 12 percent pretty consistently. With this effort it was near double. We were getting back more than 10:1 on our advertising spend. I don’t need to tell you that in broadcast media and in print media we weren’t even close to 10:1. We had stuff that was paying back at 3:1, 4:1. We found this Google stuff and it took a little bit of experimentation.

In February our click-through rate was about 1.5. After April, we got to 1.6, 1.79, up to 2.19 in July. So we were definitely seeing increases in the clickthrough rate that corresponded with increases in the spend, but decreases in the cost-per-click. So we had CPC $1.66 to $1.73. As we got into May and June and our keyword universe was expanding, CPC went significantly lower.

Postscript: Sadly, Saks’ efforts weren’t enough to save 1-800-Mattress which had long since filed for bankruptcy. The company was taken over by a competitor this week. Saks has already begun consulting on search advertising and digital marketing for a variety of clients. His expertise in keyword discovery has already resulted in one new client launching an entirely new line of business to correspond with frequently-conducted Web searches.