Business Times - 15 Jun 2010

SME INC
Clicking their way to success

ClickTRUE sees so much potential in the pay-per-click business that it wants to expand into Indonesia and M'sia, reports FELDA CHAY

EVEN when the Internet craze became a worldwide phenomenon, few would have thought that one day they could earn their keep through the clicking business - that is, people clicking on online ads put up by companies hawking their wares. But ingenious companies like Singapore-based clickTRUE have made this a reality. The online marketing firm began using a pay-per-click model to woo potential online advertisers in its fiscal year 2007, and has seen sales grow from $1 million in its first year, to more than $3.5 million in FY2010.

Its client list has grown from 150 initially to 600, and includes big names from a range of sectors, such as DiGi from telecommunications, Nestle from food and beverage and CTC Holidays from travel. Besides online marketing, clickTRUE has expanded its service offerings, venturing into areas such as consulting to help advertisers enhance the visibility of their ads on search engines like Google and Yahoo, and social networking sites like Facebook.

Earlier this month, the company emerged as one of the top 10 search marketing agencies at the Marketing Magazine's Agency of the Year Awards 2010. It also made the top three in the 'Search Marketing Agency Local Heroes' award category, which identifies the best local search marketing agencies.

ClickTRUE sees so much potential in the pay-per-click business that it wants to expand into Indonesia and Malaysia this year. This expansion will mean doubling the company's current headcount of 20, says chief operating officer (COO) Jereme Wong.

Mr Wong said clickTRUE has not rushed foreign expansion because clickTRUE 'spent a lot of time building our foundation and technology'. This technology he talks about is what has allowed pay-per-click online marketing to remain relevant, even though people are increasingly able to block advertising they feel is irrelevant to them.

The argument put forward by pay-per-click proponents goes like this: In traditional media like newspapers and television, advertisers are charged a premium based on the numbers who watch a TV show or read a newspaper. This makes it hard for advertisers to know how many people show real interest in their ads - for instance, someone can easily walk away from the TV when the ads are on - and evaluate how effective their advertising campaign was.

The argument continues that with pay-per-click, advertisers know exactly how many people they are reaching. And more importantly, they only pay when people click on their ads. For consumers, this form of advertising fits into the information-on-demand landscape that is now thriving, as they are only shown ads that are relevant to them.

What clickTRUE does is help its clients reach out to potential customers online by placing ads in results pages churned out by search engines. Advertisers then pay clickTRUE based on the numbers who click on the ads.

Additionally, clickTRUE - the online marketing unit of SPH Magazines subsidiary Hardware Zone - provides consulting services to businesses on the effectiveness of online ads and websites. It does this by analysing data on how users get to the site, its ease of use and how visitors navigate the site - all of which can affect purchasing decisions. It obtains the necessary data from a Google tracking software called Google Analytics, which is available free to users here.

While the software is free - meaning companies can obtain traffic information without the help of clickTRUE - Mr Wong says the company provides the one thing most businesses are unlikely to have the necessary expertise on: Analysis of the data to understand users' habits and, in turn, boost sales.

'Clients understand the concept of buying traffic. But the next phase - understanding and analysing the traffic - is often missed,' says Mr Wong.

'Many of these tools are freely available, so if you have the time you can put it in the website and start getting data. But what is data without action?

'People often miss the point and think they can start looking at the data itself. The question I have for them is: Do you have the time to look at the data, and are you expert in analysing it?'

ClickTRUE has its own team of Google Analytics specialists, and was the first online marketing firm in South- east Asia to be authorised by Google, allowing it to be a Google Analytics consultant. By helping companies make sense of the nuts and bolts that affect people's decision making online and identify the characteristics of their target audience, these firms can then work on enhancing their websites' ease of use, and the visibility of their ads on search engines and social networking sites.

'A website is not just a corporate brochure,' says Mr Wong. 'It's a great sales tool. If you are an SME or a company that has a website and wants to sell your products or services, essentially the website is a marketing tool for you to evangelise. But more than that, you also want people to give you their phone number, give you their e-mail so you can contact them.'

This allows companies to 'funnel down to a more segmented audience and with that, you are able to focus your sales more precisely', he says. Potential aside, the online marketing business in Singapore and Asia as a whole is, by and large, in its infancy, as most advertisers in the region still prefer placing ads in traditional media.

The challenge for online marketing is that it takes a long time for clients to grasp the idea because they are so used to traditional marketing, says Mr Wong. 'Whether it is on ads outdoors, radio or print, traditional marketing has happened over time - for decades. It has already been there, done that, and people are very accustomed to it. But online marketing is something new. You talk about analytics, about jargon such as search marketing and pay-per-click marketing. People get lost. They don't follow.'

ClickTRUE organises at least one seminar every quarter, and takes part in events hosted by Google to educate advertisers on how to place ads online. 'You need to tell these people that online, in a way, is the de-facto medium that people are going to for information,' says Mr Wong. 'And monkey see, monkey do. If the uncle next door starts to use his computer and doing advertising, the uncle next door will want to find out more. It starts to rub off.'

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