Holiday Search Help for the Giving-Impaired

(Searchline) Don’t think of as a shopping search engine. It’s a gift engine, and that’s a very different animal. Most comparison search engines exist to put the same or similar products from different vendors side by side and find the best buys.

But FindGift aims to provide unique product ideas in a format that’s conveniently organized for research, selection and giving. It’s also very different, as it turns out, because FindGift is built on a performance-based model that doesn’t charge merchants for listing their items—only when a customer clicks on them.

“Most of the search engines out there are keyword-based, designed to help people find things they already know they want,” says president Bob Zakrzewski, who cofounded the site with his wife in the late ‘90s. “ helps people find things when they’re not sure what they want. Much of retail sales is driven by gifts, but when it comes to gift-giving, one of the major anxiety points people have is coming up with good gift ideas.”

Rather than selling any merchandise itself, draws traffic from search, qualifies it, and then funnels that traffic to its merchant partners on a cost-per-click basis.

For users, the value-add comes in the site’s Gift Wizard, which helps them narrow their search for the right gift by asking a few pertinent questions about the giver and the recipient. Users fill in as many or as few details as they wish about the sex, age, and relationship of the recipient—everything from wife or mother to teacher or babysitter—as well as the occasion for the gift, the sentiment to be expressed and the price range desired. produces a set of product pages that suit those filters, using product categories filled by its team of human editors and ranking results in order of popularity based on past click behavior.

The product pages contain thumbnail descriptions of each gift suggestion, together with a price and the name of the vendor. Users can click on the thumbnail and go to a dedicated product page for that item with a fuller description. If they click in one of a number of places for more information or to buy the item, they are taken to the vendor’s Web site, and the merchant is charged for the click.

“We use a two-click system,” Zakrzewski says. “The users click on the picture and are taken to a page that gives them more detail, together with other ‘People who liked this also liked this’ related recommendations. The charge doesn’t happen until they click through that second page. So now you’ve got someone who’s in the market, looking to buy a gift for a specific person; they’ve been interested enough to click on the product picture and then read the description and clicked through that, too. By the time that shopper gets to our retailing partner, we’ve done a pretty good job of prequalifying that visitor and deliver a very high-level traffic.”

Clicks are charged at a flat rate ranging from $0.11-$0.20 a click. Merchants fund their campaigns with an initial deposit against which clicks are charged, and the larger the deposit—anywhere from $100 up to $2,000—the lower the cost of the clicks. “One way we differ from shopping portals is that we offer volume discounts,” Zakrzewski says. “As retailers put down larger deposits, it makes our business model more efficient, so we pass that cost saving along to them.”

The site now takes product feeds from more than 1000 merchants and currently holds some 33,000 products in its system. The merchants range from the very small and very specialized (think TolsToys, which offers Russian nesting dolls) to the very largest, such as PetSmart, RedEnvelope, Hammacher Schlemmer, Kohl’s,, and The Body Shop.

“Our pricing structure allows us to partner with smaller companies than a lot of the shopping portals can handle,” Zakrzewski says. “In gift-giving, that means everything, because you want those creative, crafty kind of items. But we want as balance between the brand names and the smaller providers.”

Human editors make sure that the product suggestions make sense as gifts and that the photos and descriptions are useful, attractive and specific (not “flowers,” for example, but “24 blue roses”). Most important, they sort the gift ideas into the appropriate categories for age, occasion, sentiment, and other criteria.

The FindGift site also includes an open gift registry that lets users set up their wish lists for gifts from any of the merchant partners. In fact, the company began its Internet life back in 1997 as RegistryOnline, offering a consolidated open Web registry service that just happened to include a few gift suggestions along the way. “We got so much good feedback on those gift ideas that we retooled and relaunched as the next year,” Zakrzewski says.

And holiday shopping time is the busiest season for FindGift’s registry operation. “We have a lot of parents who set up registries for their kids,” he says. “The grandparents live far away, and they may not know what the child has or needs. And it’s so hard keeping up with what’s the hottest toy. The parents can just enter the child’s clothing sizes and relatives order off that.” The registry also serves as a viral tool for promoting, because once users set up a registry, they send the word out to their families and friends. also offers users the chance to register and set up a “saved gifts” area that lets them store items they find on the site but may not be ready to buy. They can also input personal notes or memos and look at a history of past gift purchases to remind themselves of whether it was pecans or cashews that Uncle Harry liked so much last year. Users can also set e-mail alerts for birthdays, anniversaries and other dates.

FindGift obviously needs to reach for tools beyond its registries to bring new visitors to its site. The company’s use of search marketing, both natural optimization and paid listings on Google, Yahoo!, and Windows Live search engines, has grown exponentially over the years. It buys sponsored listings on both terms specific to its gift offerings and on very general terms relating to its overall service.

“If you look under ‘gifts’ or ‘gift ideas on Google or Yahoo!, you’ll see us pretty high up” in pay-per-click ads, Zakrzewski says. “Those are anchor terms, and they do quite well for us, even though they’re more generic and cost more. Those are the people who are in search of an idea, not a gift store or a particular item. They’re looking for a service like ours. And if we can get them to our site, they’re usually quite productive.”

Gift-related keywords are pretty competitive at any time of the year and especially at the holidays, so FindGifts has had to become fairly expert at examining click traffic to detect small pockets of search-term opportunity. “We’ve gotten fairly good at collecting these vast amounts of data that come through the PPC engines and sorting through them for interesting trends and new themes to build campaigns around,” Zakrzewski says.

Any examples of novel terms or themes? No way. “Those little nuggets are like gold against our competition,” Zakrzewski says. “We can’t give them away.”

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