SEM Top 10: Dig into the Details

During the past 10 weeks, we’ve built a checklist of best practices for success in paid-search advertising. We’ve seen how a savvy marketer girds its search program with the fundamentals of direct marketing: establish the target economics that make sense for your business; understand how such essentials as list, offer, and creative play out in this medium; and keep trying new things, carefully measuring results each step of the way.

Ultimately, winning at search requires getting the details right. Once you’re up and running with the basics, reap more from your advertising budget by exploring the subtleties and mastering nuance. Among the details worthy of your attention:

Don’t restrict your attention to top phrases. Much has been written about the “long tail” of search marketing, but many marketers still have trouble seeing beyond their biggest — and often most expensive – terms. While a handful of phrases may account for the lion’s share of your profits, additional sales can result from the artful gathering of “crumbs”–low-traffic terms where competition is typically sparse.

The key is to understand how to gather crumbs efficiently. A skilled inhouse expert or agency should have a concrete technique for wringing aggregate value from terms where individual traffic is low and statistically relevant data lacking.

Study search queries to determine negatives. While building an exhaustive term list is core to successful search, knowing what to leave out is important too. Creating your list of words to exclude requires both common sense and analysis.

For example, a merchant of light bulbs may enter paid search with the knowledge that tulip bulbs should be excluded from his list, but in time he may also learn that certain wattages are simply not profitable and should no longer be bid.

Mine your inbound search terms and your site search logs to find negatives (and, of course, to grow your phrase list, too).

Track delay between click and conversion. “Day-parting” has become part of every search expert’s vocabulary. But just as important as staying abreast of new trends and techniques is bringing depth and accuracy to their application: Are you responding to the right data? If you’re day-parting, are you bidding based on the time of the click or the time of the order?

Assess the lifetime value of search-acquired buyers. Search is still a young medium, and marketers need to carefully scrutinize the customers they meet in this space. Depending on your industry, your search customers may appear to be more or less profitably acquired than those you meet through other programs. But as always, don’t overreact to the short read: Track subsequent purchases to understand how much you can spend on a paid-search customer. Make sure to assign unique catalog tracking codes to your search-acquired buyers.

Those are just a few of the details worth exploring; as you analyze your own business and the subtleties of your individual results, you’ll discover more. When looking for areas to explore, apply permutation to the fundamentals of paid search.

Here’s a quick recap of the pointers we’ve covered in this series:

Grow your phrase list. ( A comprehensive keyword list is key to pay-per-click marketing success. For 2,000 products, test 5,000- 20,000 unique phrases. Test product categories, product names, brands, problems solved by products, misspellings, alternate forms, and idioms.

Target your ad copy. ( Increase your click-through rate and ad efficiency by matching the ad copy to the phrase. The search phrase indicates what the user wants; use your limited copy to highlight relevant goods and services.

Track everything. ( Assign unique tracking codes to every ad. Report and analyze results by concept, phrase, copy, landing page, engines, bid, time and day. Integrate your paid search tracking with your site analytics system.

Bid for profit, not position. ( Calculate the cost of goods sold, marketing expense, and variable expense from sales to compute the profitability of each ad. For lead generation, divide ad cost by leads to compute cost per lead. Bid to maximize your success metric. Use statistics to determine significance. Bidding wars benefit the engines, not retailers.

Test…and test and test. ( Improve your campaigns through ongoing testing. Test shouts, not whispers, and document every test. Test additional phrases, new copy, and landing pages.

Monitor brand vs. nonbrand. ( If your brand is well known, break out sales and costs related to brand ads. Search on your brand indicates brand awareness and offline advertising. This is especially relevant to catalogers.

Tame your affiliates. ( When you let affiliates advertise against you on your brand name, you increase your cost without increasing your sales. Don’t let them. Midsize retailers have reported savings of more than $50,000 simply by implementing a change in affiliate requirements.

Supervise your ‘bots. ( Make sure a smart person supervises your bid robot, particularly coming into and out of key selling seasons. Retailers reported gaffes during holiday 2004 by leading bid platforms.

Make sure your feeds are valid and effective. ( Optimize feeds for each paid inclusion and shopping comparison site to increase sales and ad efficiency. Tune copy to increase traffic and conversion. Remove underperforming URLs.

May your search marketing bring you more sales, profitably acquired!

Alan Rimm-Kaufman is founder and Lawrence Becker is vice president, marketing and business development for The Rimm-Kaufman Group (, an online-marketing consultancy based in Charlottesville, VA.

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