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Online Search and Advertising (Part 5 of 9)

October 28, 2008

“Online search, is the primary tool most people rely on to do everyday research”. Indeed. U.S searches nearly doubled from December 2004 to November 2006, rising from 3.3 billion to 6.2 billion searches across 60 measured search engines.

Beyond “everyday research,” more than 90% of people find or launch websites through search, even when they know the URL. At one public school we know, the teachers’ lounge directory lists the school website as “Google Our School Name.” Typing in a few keywords or phrases, browsing a results page, and clicking on a link saves time and is more accurate. Because search engines index websites, results pages often contain links to different sections or individual listings within them, like product pages, making it easier and faster for searchers to go where they want and get the information that answers particular questions. For others requiring learning, research, and evaluating information, searching is more like a journey.

Consumers Search for Personally Relevant Information

Search interests are as diverse as online searchers. Just as many of us read the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, the New Yorker, and USA Today, we’re just as likely to indulge our pleasures, follow sports, or shop through catalogs. It’s the same for search. In fact, a majority (55%) of searchers strike a work/life balance; half their searching is “important to them” and half is “trivial”. Searchers like having fun and doing their business, just as we all do offline.

People search widely—any topic is fair game—but most searches in a typical day or week relate to pop culture (music, movies, TV, celebrities, games); seasonal activities; holiday; or current events. The big search engines list popular keyword searches, providing keyholes through which marketers and general users can glimpse searchers’ myriad interests. On June 18, 2006, Yahoo! Buzz Index listed World Cup, U.S. Open, Britney Spears, Shakira, WWE, Paris Hilton, FIFA, Angelina Jolie, RuneScape, and Lindsay Lohan as the 10 most popular search terms. Six months later, on January 16, 2007, Britney and Lindsay had stayed but the others had been displaced by other hot celebrities (e.g., Fergie, Beyonce, Victoria Beckham) or more timely sports (e.g., NFL)). AskIQ, Google Zeitgeist, AOL Hot Searches, Lycos 50, and MSN Search Insider are some of the many lenses advertisers use for insight into searcher trends.

Search is a Quest

Because consumers search for personally relevant information, searchers usually have a high level of interest in what they are searching for, yet they also want to find and act on the best results quickly. Consumers have evolved strategies for achieving these goals, which influence search marketing.

How do motivated consumers search? Searchers use a type of trial and error that we call “berrypicking.” That’s very unlike searching in the preinternet days when limited, carefully planned and constructed searches yielded one set of results that included copied pages from reference books and/or restricted electronic databases like Dialog or Lexis/Nexis. Going around the berry patch, distinguishing ripe fruit from green, then picking and collecting some more accurately describes today’s searcher behavior.

In berrypicking:

  • Typical search queries evolve; they are not static.
  • Searchers commonly gather information in bits and pieces instead of in one grand best retrieved set.
  • Searchers use a wide variety of search techniques.
  • Searchers use a wide variety of sources.
  • Paid Search Advertising Spending

Paid search dominates marketer spending on online advertising. In 2005, the most recent year for which complete data is available, search attracted $5.1 billion, or 41%, of the total $12.5 billion spent on internet advertising. Display advertising, the next highest category at $2.4 billion, claimed just a 19% share of dollars. Revenue for the first half of 2006 shows a consistent spending allocation picture, but at a higher spending level.

Paid search advertising offers measurability and control historically unavailable offline, which offers the promise of greater accountability to the marketing function. Server log analysis reveals every detail of searching, the keywords used, the ads and results displayed, the clicks made, and the actions taken. Advertisers see their results second by second. BusinessWeek asserts: “[Computers’] knack for numbers has helped turn the internet into an advertising sensation. No medium before has been able to provide advertisers with such detailed information on how many people see an ad—and how many respond to it with a click.” Beyond measurement, search marketing growth is joined by a number of additional drivers, namely:

More search terms. Searchers use more words in their search queries. Advertisers, as a result, purchase more keywords.

E-commerce. Where there’s e-commerce, there’s search and search advertising to support it. Forrester projects U.S. e-commerce sales to nearly double, reaching $329 billion in 2010 from $175 billion in 2005. That means more brands and more places to buy them must be found.

Customer aggregation. A handful of search engines reach most online searchers.

Targeting. Search engines offer multiple ways to target customers. To the traditional keyword targeting, search engines offer geographic targeting capabilities that localize ads. New daypart, demographic, and behavioral targeting capabilities are available.

Niche sites. Sports, travel, and finance sites, for example, concentrate desirable customers into well-stocked “trout ponds,” granting advertisers fly-fishing precision.

Keyword Pricing

Keyword prices are market driven, resulting from supply and demand, competitor bidding, and user clicks. Are prices rising or falling? The answer, like so much in this transactional, auction-based world, is “It depends.” It depends on methodology: which keywords are tracked (not all services track the same types); their rank in the lists of sponsored links on different search engines; keyword performance; industry activity; seasonality; and time periods analyzed. No matter the method used, all agree that holiday shopping—Christmas and Mother’s Day (“online flowers” rose 67%), for example—causes price spikes as retail advertisers aim to capture that business.

Search Engine Marketing Techniques

Search engine marketers use several established strategies to reach their brand marketing goals. Search marketers divide their techniques into paid search advertising and organic search engine optimization, or SEO.

Paid advertising comprises three types, paid search ads, contextually targeted search ads, and paid inclusion.

Paid search ads. The Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) defines these ads as “Text ads targeted to keyword search results on search engines, through programs such as Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search’s Precision Match, also sometimes referred to as paid placement, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and cost-per-click (CPC) advertising.” Paid search ad advertisers bid on keywords whose prices, in part, govern the appearance of the ad on a search results page and its position. When consumers type in “Caribbean beach vacation,” ads keyed to those words typically appear on the right side of a search results page or across the top, above other listings.

Contextually targeted search ads. These ads, SEMPO writes, are “targeted to the subject of writings on web pages, such as news articles and blogs, using programs such as Google’s AdSense and Yahoo! Search’s Content Match programs.” You’ve seen them on pages you read. Quite often, web publishers group the ads under headings, such as “Ads by Google.” Additionally, search engines may assemble specific sites, usually vertical, specialty, or niche sites from their “long tail” into a mini-network in order to target specific types of visitors for advertised brands. Here, too, advertisers’ keyword bidding influences appearance and position.

Paid inclusion.

SEMPO describes the practice of paying a fee (fee structures vary) to search engines and similar types of sites (e.g., directories, shopping comparison sites) so that a given website or its web pages may be included in the service’s directory, although not necessarily in exchange for a particular position in search listings. Paid inclusion listings can, and often are, optimized so that they appear in favorable positions in the natural results. Advertisers assign keywords to paid inclusion listings so that their appearance is triggered by the search terms. Note, paid inclusion doesn’t guarantee a listing, only inclusion in the index. At the time of writing, Yahoo! is the only major search engine offering paid inclusion, along with a number of secondary engines.

Organic search engine optimization is the practice of improving how well a site or page gets listed in search engines and placed in the results for particular search topics. Organic search engine optimization uses a range of techniques,

Paid Placement Campaign Elements

Pay-per-click advertising campaigns are straightforward in principle, but their underlying strategies are often quite sophisticated. Paid placement campaigns typically include these steps:

(1) target customers through keyword selections,

(2) create the ad,

(3) set bid price and budget to achieve marketing objectives,

(4) evaluate,

(5) optimize in the future.

We cover the first three areas now, and then turn our attention toward search engine optimization and paid inclusion. Following those discussions, we turn to the last element because it applies generally to all forms of search engine marketing.

In search engine advertising, ads are primarily targeted by keywords, and may be secondarily targeted by geography, daypart, demography, or behavior.

The best keyword-locating methods data mined site visitor search terms and clicks. Roughly 60% agreed that detecting customer language paid off handsomely. Analyzing log files to spot keywords and frequently used words that were associated with high conversion rates found them. The roll call of techniques with a middling ROI, cited from 50% to 60%, appear removed from the customer: client customer service or sales staff feedback, negative matching, client marketer feedback, scraping or analyzing competitor websites, and tools search engines furnish. The worst-performing technique, focus groups, signed in at 44%. Yet it had a split personality. An equal number considered focus groups a great ROI method. The difference may be due to the quality of the focus group research for eliciting powerful terms, interpretation of ROI, or other factors like product category.

Seven Tips for Optimizing Pay-per-Click Copy

  1. Heading or title is the most important element of your PPC ad copy. The more potential customers relate to your heading, the more likely they will be to click on your ad.
  2. Use relevant keywords in the title.
  3. List prices in the title if they are the lowest or near the lowest.
  4. “Free” add-on offers work well in the ad title.
  5. Make sure the display URL is the shortest possible URL. Display URLs are basically free brand exposure for your domain name. Even when no one clicks on your ads, you are still receiving exposure.
  6. Create a sense of urgency in your ads if it can be done without hype. Rather than using words like “amazing” or “unbelievable,” try “limited-time offer” or “available for overnight shipping.”
  7. When space is available, always add a credibility indicator. Examples of these include “30-day money-back guarantee” or “five-star rated merchant.”

Organic Search Engine Optimization

Search engine marketers value natural, or organic, listings (the words are interchangeable) for four reasons: (1) lower cost compared to pay-per-click, (2) higher click-through rates, (3) consumers use organic listings to judge paid listings, and (4) organic listings outconvert paid ones.
Lower Cost Compared to Pay-per-Click

Combining organic and paid search can generate advertising cost efficiencies. Organic listings resulting from search engine optimization are essentially free, meaning there’s no cost-per-click (CPC) charged. The additional traffic generated from natural listings effectively lowers the CPC cost of paid search ads. That’s a budget stretcher and potential campaign productivity booster,
Higher Click Rates Generate Additional Traffic

People click more often on natural listings. Search engine marketer iProspect and partners studied where the users of four search engines—Google, Yahoo!, AOL, and MSN—clicked. Researchers showed individuals sample results pages for a “used car” search, and instructed them to click on the most relevant result. Consumers clicked text ads and organic listings, but in a 60/40 split favored organic listings.
Optimizing Organic Search

* Choose the right keywords and phrases that are well-targeted and offer significant traffic potential.
* Focus individual pages on specific keywords.
* For sites that sell products or services, include a few lines of copy at the top of each offer page.
* Title tags should be keyword rich, with the most important at the beginning.
* Give your pages relevant names.
* Submit your site to DMOZ.org and as many specialized directories as you can find.This creates relevant inbound links and helps spiders find your site.
* Encourage reciprocal linking.

Listing Position Influences Performance
Searchers scan and skim search results pages, favoring the top positions and lending them an advantage. In a  eye-tracking study, 82% of fixation points for searchers were the top organic results and top sponsors ads. These two top positions also took up 78% of readers’ first scanning activity and 56% of first click activity as well. Based on these results and on our discussion of ad rank and performance for paid ads, we can reasonably assume that more highly positioned organic ads get more clicks. Even if not clicked, ads at or near the top may work in additional ways: as ad impressions generating branding awareness, and as the evaluation standard when searchers assess relevance and credibility of pay-per-click ads

Paid Inclusion
Paid inclusion ensures that specific listings are included in search engine indexes. Advertisers pay search engines to index named URLs and they purchase keywords that trigger display in natural search result listings. When searchers type keywords into the search box, advertiser listings may appear in organic results, but there’s no guarantee of the top positions. Most often, paid inclusion is used to extend audience reach and generate leads.
Search engines build their indexes by spidering or crawling websites and including pages they deem relevant. It can take time for your pages to appear in the search engine listings, and the pages that do appear may be hit-or-miss. Some pages, such as those assembled from databases, escape indexing because they are constructed “on the fly” and appear on demand in response to specific search queries.
Strategies for Effective Paid Placement Advertising
· Use Paid Inclusion to Increase Visibility and Conversions
· Increase Leads
· Build Traffic through Paid Placement
· Increasing Targeted Site Visitors through Contextual Paid Search Ads
· Building Awareness by Leveraging Search Tied to Television Programming
· Drive Traffic to Website for Brand Learning

Summary
· Search behavior has become the second most popular use of the internet after email. Online advertisers are learning that search activity is an excellent way to find prospects and customers. But they are also learning that search behavior helps develop a more relevant match of advertising content with search content. This relevant matching often leads to more engagement, further information searching, and purchase intent.
· The growth in search behavior has introduced a new selection and pricing model for buying advertising space—auction pricing and performance monitoring. It is critical, however, to pay close attention to data collected on clicks and click-throughs to ensure true value for money spent. Advertisers developing a comprehensive precampaign through postcampaign measurement strategy are in the best position to understand their advertising’s effectiveness and brand performance.
· Search engine marketing has proven itself for traffic building, lead generation, and branding. The winning combination for search strategy appears to be a combination of search engine optimization and paid listings, which balance relevance and reach. Offline print and broadcast stimulate consumer searches. Their roles should be evaluated and planned as part of the search engine marketing program.
· Managing keywords and keyphrases, identifying and tracking the best performers are critical to successful search marketing. Successful online advertisers conduct research with consumers to learn the most common words they use for their searches in (or near) your category. Using consumer language has often resulted in a 60% or higher ROI.
· Advertisers should consider using highly specialized search engines beyond the big three—Google, Yahoo!, and MSN—because research shows that those searchers who are on more intense missions do spend more time at the specialized sites.
· Highly engaging ads, especially those having excellent titles, are critical when using search text ads, because we have learned that most search activity is time challenged. Searchers, being goal directed, “find and go” much like fast-food consumers who use the drive-through for “eat and go.” Because searchers scan search results pages and ads, advertisers should continually test the language in the ads to make sure that they are always relevant. Moreover, it is important to make sure that the text ad or listing takes consumers to appropriate landing pages that meet their expectations and start to engage them in a compelling brand experience.

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