According to recent eBay research, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) doesn’t necessarily deliver value for money. SEM is based on the traditional advertising model, but instead of placing an ad buyer’s ad alongside relevant editorial content, it appears next to search engine results. The goal is to increase the volume of Internet traffic visiting an advertiser’s site, but eBay reckons the value of these clicks is low: people would go to the searched sites without the ad. Earlier, in October 2012, consultancy firm Edelman Berland found that online advertising isn’t effective. One of the headlines in the study reads: “Print magazines and while watching a favorite TV show are the two most preferred places to look at an ad.”
The eBay study assessed the return on investment for established brands using SEM and found that users tend to use these adverts as navigational shortcuts, quicker clicks than clicking on search results. So although the ads cost advertisers real money they do not necessarily yield more sales. For known brands such as eBay the costs can be considerable and the yield nil. This could be very good news for print, says EFI. The manufacturer believes this is particularly the case in the sign and display market and in sectors specialised in variable data printing, although the Edelman Berland study suggests consumer focus is more on magazine ads.
Given the high volumes of users who use ads for navigation, eBay’s research suggests that companies should reconsider SEM strategies because they’re unlikely to increase sales. Advertisers in the US spent almost $32 billion in 2011 on online advertising and the eBay study suggests this money could yield better returns if spent on other forms of marketing. The obvious alternative is print, from banners and point of sale to customized brochures created with technologies such as EFI’s Fiery variable data print solutions. Print works alongside digital media, driving highly sophisticated campaigns that deliver solid and accountable results. The Edelman Berland study would suggest that window displays and billboards are less favoured than magazine ads, but they fare far better than anything digital.
Graphics technology has advanced to keep print competitive with digital alternatives. Digital printers are designed to be more eco friendly to deliver value for money and reduced environmental impact. EFI has been in the vanguard of this type of development for some time, steadily improving the energy efficiency of its products. The VUTEk GS5000r UV printer for instance requires no hot air drying as UV curable inks contain no evaporants. Other manufacturers like Agfa, Heidelberg and Man Roland, which have a broader portfolio of printer types, may tap into this new insight even more.
As for billboards and window displays, UV curing inks are considerably more energy efficient than solvent based inks, 95% of which must be evaporated through hot air drying systems to be dried. EFI says it uses LED technology to cure its UV inks, but it does not do this (yet) in all its UV curing printers. However, this market is continuously growing as LEDs do not generate heat and last pretty much for the lifetime of the machine. They also allow printers to use extremely light and delicate substrates, so they can offer customers a wider range of output options. This kind of flexibility adds to print’s credentials not only for ecological considerations but for getting good results on a marketing campaign.
This perhaps is the most important conclusion to draw from the eBay study. SEM and online advertising is a logical replacement for traditional direct mail advertising where returns of 2% were considered a good result. But print technologies have advanced so much that clever deployment of variable data and print quality assurance yield returns that are often considerably higher. Not surprisingly, variable data is one of the most important factors that makes direct mail advertising successful.