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.”
Las Vegas, Nevada-based Poolandspa.com 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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
“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.”