Search Marketing beyond Google DIRECT DIRECT September 28, 2006 If Google and Yahoo! get almost 90% of the search traffic in this country—and by most measures, they do—why should you consider running pay-per-click (PPC) search ads on the smaller engines of the search world? The short answer is that a sales conversion from an ad click on one of these second-tier engines contributes just as much to your bottom line as one from the big search names. If you can find incremental traffic on these engines, or if you think you've already maxed out what Google, Yahoo! et al can do for your PPC campaigns, then you might want to investigate whether these secondary search choices are for you. They usually offer lower keyword costs and better ad positioning. Who Are the Players? Who are the second-tier engines? Basically, anything other than Google, Yahoo!, Windows Live Search and sometimes Ask.com. By some reckonings, that leaves about 646 search engines, but most of those are too small or specialized to be worth considering. Kanoodle, MIVA, Mamma, LookSmart, 7Search, Search123, Quigo and Industry Brains are a selected list of the engines most observers think of as the Triple A league of search. Testing, Testing Rose Sylvia is an independent search marketing consultant based in Texas and working primarily with small businesses. She's tested using second-tier engines for some of her clients, benchmarking results carefully against the same ads and keywords on Google and Yahoo!. And in at least some cases, she's been able to produce much better returns on investment. For one carefully controlled campaign for a home décor client, she found that every dollar she spent on LookSmart earned $15.04 in revenue, compared to $4.44 on Yahoo! and $3.52 on Google. The key to finding those kinds of returns is relentless testing and monitoring, Sylvia says. "In this case, I took a product that I knew the conversion rate for, and took all the best converting, high-traffic specific keywords and put them on the three engines." She then sat back and watched the clickthrough traffic like a hawk, looking for excessively high bounce rates, indicating that people were leaving the ad landing page almost immediately. "With secondary engines, you either get very little traffic but it's good, or you get a lot of traffic that's almost all bad," she says. "You can live with the first problem, although low traffic may not be worth your time. But with lots of bad traffic, you're throwing money away." In the home décor case, Sylvia found that the LookSmart bounce rates were comparable to those for the same campaign on Google—about 32%-- and a bit higher than on Yahoo! (She says she did have to ask LookSmart to block a couple of sites that were producing almost 100% bounce rates.) One question to ask before marketing on second-tier engines is whether they distribute ads to network of content pages as well as on search results. Ads on content pages tend not to convert as well as pure search ads. And past experience has taught that plenty of potential click fraud resides in the publisher networks of smaller search engines, although the more reputable have made efforts to weed out offenders. Nevertheless, Sylvia says she regularly has her clients turn off contextual advertising on small search engines, the better to compare performance to the major engines. Tailoring Keywords Once you've determined that a given secondary search engine can work for you, you may want to look at keywords that are different from those you bid on at the big search sites. Since bid prices at the second-tier engines are lower almost across the board, you may find it useful to buy the very broad general keywords that are out of your cost structure on Google or Yahoo! Whatever your strategy, monitor each keyword you advertise against on each search engine. Besides spotting potential click fraud early, you'll be keeping tabs on ad performance over the inevitable changes in traffic patterns, price levels or distribution networks that can have an outsized impact at these smaller search engines. And you'll be well positioned to detect any sweet spots of search activity that can help drive your conversions at lower cost and better ROI than on the big search powers. Tips for Search Success Some Tips for Testing the Second-Tier Search Waters: q The Web is full of comment; use it! Read what's been said in blogs and forums about the search engines you're considering, to see what opportunities others have found and what problems they've encountered. q Examine the user interface. Is it easy to set campaigns and budgets? What kind of reports can you get on your ad performance? q Consider a free trial offer. Some engines encourage advertisers to give them a try with starter ad credits. It's no replacement for a careful engine choice, but it does give you a risk-free way to do Sylvia's brand of apples-to-apples comparison with your current campaigns. q Keep your upfront budget commitment low. Sales pressure to get you to spend more than you intend is a bad sign; resist it. q Remember that your time is a limited resource. If a secondary engine converts well but produces low traffic, you might be better off investing that effort in optimizing your marketing on the big engines.
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