The complexities and myriad options of search marketing prevent most catalogers from taking full advantage of the tool. Those who have discovered the power of search marketing, however, are highly enthusiastic. “Partnering with all major players is a monumental challenge to anyone listing several thousand products or terms,” concedes Lonny R. Paul, director of e-commerce for Miami-based computer marketer TigerDirect.com. “But by utilizing careful controls and real-time analysis, the power of search media can be realized painlessly.”
Yaphank, NY-based Long Island Hot Tubs is a case in point. CEO Dan Harrison says that almost 80% of traffic to its Website, www.poolandspa.com, comes from search engines. Poolandspa.com analyzes the effectiveness of its search engine campaign based on post-click objectives. These objectives can be singular or blended: online orders, catalog requests, registrations for a newsletter, requests for information, launch of a chat window, or use of a store locator, to name just a few.
“We basically do an ROI down to the keyword,” Harrison says. Such detailed analysis has clearly paid off for Harrison: His company’s first-quarter sales increased 359%, he says, thanks in large part to its search optimization efforts.
Pay for play
Several years ago, none of the major search engines included paid listings in their search results — all the results were organic. Now, of course, all the major engines offer paid listings, either directly or through syndication. Paid search traffic falls into several categories, each with its own pricing methods, distribution network, and quality profile.
This diversity of inventory makes it difficult to plan and execute a paid search campaign. For example, there are at least five ways to purchase search traffic that originates from MSN. Most search engine marketing campaigns will include a mix of several, or even all, of the following kinds of search traffic:
- Paid placement auction networks
Overture and Google are the big players in paid placement, due to their network syndication relationships. When you buy keywords on Overture, listing results are syndicated on Yahoo!, MSN, and other sites. Google AdWords results are displayed on AOL, Ask Jeeves, and Google itself. Other search engines in this category include FindWhat, Sprinks, and Ah-Ha, as well as international engines like eSpotting.
Essentially, the auction networks create a marketplace where you control the price you’re willing to pay, down to the keyword or phrase. Top marketers control and fine-tune their campaigns to meet specific goals, such as cost per order (CPO), cost per action (CPA), and return on advertising spending (ROAS).
Each marketplace has its own rules, nuances, and best practices. For example, because of differences in copy length and the way ads are displayed and given placement, creative that works well in Overture may be a complete failure in Google.
Some of the networks also offer more flexibility. This flexibility is one reason Jeff Berge, marketing associate for Denver-based handbags and luggage marketer eBags, sings the praises of Google. “Google has dedicated a lot of resources to innovation and increasing its partner base. It’s a win-win partnership,” he says. “Google enables us to test creative on keywords, test landing pages, run split tests. Then it automatically serves up the ad with the best click-through rate.”
- Paid directory inclusion
Looksmart.com and Business.com are both paid directory inclusion providers. With Looksmart, the paid inclusion inventory is sold not on a position basis but rather on a relevancy basis. Instead of bidding for placement, you pay a flat rate, based on your industry category; when a customer clicks through to your site, Looksmart determines whether your listing’s content is appropriate. There are no auctions to monitor, and you won’t lose a top spot to a higher-bidding competitor — but tracking the results of your campaign is still critical. With Business.com, your listings are pay-for-placement based on position.
Both Looksmart and Business.com syndicate their results across other major search and editorial venues. Per-click paid inclusion costs range from $0.15 to well over $1.00, depending on the vendor and your keyword or industry. Yahoo! also has an annual directory inclusion program for a small fee.
- Paid index inclusion
There are two types of paid index inclusion: per-URL submission for inclusion and XML paid inclusion (also called XML trusted feed). Both types of inclusion are available from Inktomi (Yahoo!), AltaVista/FAST (Overture), Teoma (Ask Jeeves), and SingingFish.
Per-URL paid inclusion is an annual, fixed-price program most appropriate for sites with only a few URLs that need to be included in the search engines. Annual costs per URL range from $15 to $80 depending on the engine. With per-URL inclusion you don’t have control over exactly which elements of your pages make it into the engine, but freshness is improved, as the spider visits your site regularly.
Larger sites can take advantage of XML paid inclusion, which converts the site’s data stream into a format (Extensible Markup Language) that’s fed directly into the search engine databases. That means a spider doesn’t have to crawl your site to collect data; you have more control over the information in the search engine databases. The cost of XML paid inclusion varies based on the engine and your industry, but it tends to range from $0.15 to more than $0.25 per click.
Ideally, human editors will review your XML data feed for accuracy before sending it to the search engines. Often, the original XML document has titles and descriptions that can better serve searchers and marketers by being clarified and optimized while still representing the site accurately.
- Shopping search
Dealtime, Pricegrabber, MySimon, BizRate, and Nextag are shopping portals where visitors look for information and pricing on products. Yahoo! also has a Yahoo! Stores area that attracts shoppers. Each of these vendors has its own data format as well as its own pricing methods for listings. Feeds into shopping search portals are similar to XML paid inclusion files but often include additional fields such as price, image, and inventory level.
Froogle, Google’s shopping portal, will accept data feeds from merchants at no cost to the merchant. Correctly setting up the free Google feeds — or paid feeds, for that matter — may not be a skill every merchant’s team has mastered, but documentation is available, and professional services firms can assist in the submission and management of feeds.
- Direct portal purchases
Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, AskJeeves, and other major portals offer keyword search packages. When talking to portals, you are likely to find both cost-per-thousand (CPM) and cost-per-click (CPC) deals.
Into the mix
Given all these options, what’s a cataloger to do? Go back to your search engine marketing strategy and test, test, test. Focus on ROI or profit objectives — these are the core of your dynamic search strategy. Feed your results back into the campaign execution. Don’t ever, under any circumstances, buy keywords and listings and forget about them.
For search engine marketing to really deliver on all your objectives, there is no permanent “right mix” of engines, positions, prices, and creative. Use your data about successful campaign segments and listings to improve efficiency and manage the ever-changing competitive search advertising landscape. Depending on the scope of your campaign, you may want to consider hiring an internal search marketing professional and using automated campaign management systems. Conversely, you might want to outsource the management of your search optimization program to a third-party agency.
Typically the more the marketer is spending on search marketing, and the more critical the search traffic is to the success of the company, the more important it is to enlist the help of a professional. You may find it difficult to find an internal staff member with sufficient expertise in paid search. A professional, using the right campaign management solution, can also make sure a campaign is on budget and on target to meet other ROI goals.
Dave Pasternack is president and Kevin Lee is CEO of www.did-it.com, a Rockville Centre, NY-based company specializing in search engine campaign management.
Optimizing a Website for organic/natural unpaid results — promoting higher visibility and increased traffic — demands the expertise of a technology specialist. Be sure that any consultant or firm you engage to do “organic SEO” understands best practices and what methods of site enhancement and linking strategies are acceptable to the various search engines. This will help you to avoid being penalized for the actions of your SEO vendor by losing position or worse.
“Paid search keywords drive a small percentage of total online revenue,” says Dale Kendall, senior director of e-commerce for Merrimack, NH-based computer reseller PC Connection. “General search traffic drives significantly more. Combined, all search traffic forms one of our largest sources of online revenue. Other key sources of traffic are comparison shopping sites, affiliate programs, and manufacturer sites.”