I recently spoke with Tanya Green, Paid Search Analyst at Apogee Search. She shared her insights about eCommerce paid search campaigns and even offered a few tips to help eCommerce sites get the most out of their online presence.
Tanya began with a brief explanation of the paid search process. Paid search ads appear above and to the right of natural search results on major search engines. Advertisers generate a list of keywords relevant to their website and then bid on those keywords. Advertisers only pay for the actual clicks they receive on their ads, hence the term often used “pay per click.”
ECommerce paid search campaigns measure success based on sales and revenue rather than leads generated. Most paid search campaigns are lead generation campaigns. This means that paid search strategists must design eCommerce campaigns using different tactics than the typical lead generation campaign.
SEO vs. Paid Search
Many newcomers to search engine marketing wonder whether SEO or paid search is right for them. Typically, it is best to utilize both natural search (SEO) and paid search campaigns to expand your exposure on the search engines. However, for eCommerce sites, paid search may be the most efficient option to immediately drive traffic, while natural search campaigns may take time to build SEO ranking.
Paid search can also produce valuable data on keywords that can help shape the natural search campaigns. This is important as SEO keywords are long-term time investments.
Tayna shared several tips for eCommerce sites:
Have tightly themed ad groups. This helps keep ads consistent and relevant to the webpage.
Use relevant keywords. Don’t bid on keywords that have nothing to do with your site. This can improve your quality score, which is used to determine how much an advertiser will have to pay to be ranked in a certain position. The higher the quality score, the lower the cost of a higher position.
Have calls to action in your ad copy. If you have a current promotion, market it in your ad copy.
Make your ad copy timely. If you have seasonal promotions or products that make good gifts for certain occasions, promote them at those times.
Send shoppers to the specific product page (landing page) that they searched for rather than the homepage. Ensure consumers can make their purchase on that page without having to click around too much.
Adjust bids according to the success rates of those keywords. Bid higher amounts for successful keywords and bid less for keywords that convert at lower rates.
Use negative keywords to eliminate unqualified traffic. If there are words that are related to your industry but will not bring you qualified traffic, set these as negative keywords so you do not pay for clicks that have no chance of turning into a sale.
Friday ended an era at Apogee Search – our resident Office Mom, Connie Smith, is hanging up her 1,000,000 hats. Those who know Connie know that she puts everyone before herself, literally. For this reason, all of Apogee paid homage to Connie on her last day.
Lunch was had, stories were told, cake was enjoyed, and presents were delivered. Apogeeans past and present were in attendance. In true SEM style, we could not let it end there. The paid search analysts created a going away blog using www.blogspot.com where anyone can post messages directly to The Best Apogee Mom Ever. In addition, the team also launched a Google Adwords campaign dedicated solely to Connie.
In general, the term “Connie Smith” generates a decent amount of traffic with almost 18,000 searches a month. Since our tribute is a personal campaign, we want to eliminate as much negative search traffic as possible. Basically, we do not want searchers that aren’t Apogee employees (former and current) to click on the ad.
Therefore, we made the campaign an exact match. This means that the ad only shows if “Connie Smith” is searched. Thus, the ad will not be shown for searches like “Connie Smith apples,” “Connie the Smith,” or “Connie Smiths.”
We also realize that the term “Connie Smith” can still potentially bring in a large amount of traffic when put in the scope of the entire U.S. For this reason, we geographically targeted the campaign to Austin, Texas only. Any searches coming from outside of the Austin area will not trigger the ad.
All in all, the farewell celebration for Connie was tearful, but the blog and paid search campaign live on.
The Pessimist’s View
Over the past couple months, it has been quite depressing for eCommerce marketers to read the news – layoffs, recession, consumers cutting back spending, etc. Unless you live under a rock, all marketers have heard that “Consumers Aren’t Shopping Online, Either,” and online retail traffic is down week-over-week. This may be true in large, but the world of eCommerce is not coming to an end.
Among all the negativity there are many articles that offer hope to search marketers. For example, today MediaPost released an article claiming “Search Adds Impact To Marketing Campaigns in Weak Economy.” MediaPost further explains, “four out of five online sessions begin at a search engine,” and “41% of people use search to navigate toward Web sites.” Furthermore, as the online advertising market continues to receive grim forecasts, search will remain the “bright spot.” The reasoning? Consumers are using search engines more now than ever to research products and prices online. Overall searches are up 25% year-over-year, so now it’s up to marketers to capitalize on the traffic, make sense of it, and act accordingly.
In addition to the fact that search will survive this downturn, the outcome of the recent presidential election offers hope across the board. An article in AdAge states that the “Obama win could spur holiday sales,” as “8% of respondents said they are likely to increase holiday spending, thanks to the historic election of Sen. Obama to the White House. By contrast, only 5% said they would have increased spending if Sen. John McCain had been elected.”
During tough times we’re forced to take a hard look at our search campaigns and optimize them as much as possible. Below are some ways to boost sales through the 2008 holiday season:
Run a free shipping promotion –72% of respondents in a comScore study said that if an eCommerce site took away free shipping, they would use another site. That’s huge!
Utilize cause marketing (and promote it online!) – Consumers are willing to pay more for a brand if it supports a cause, recession or not.
Test ad copy and landing pages – Experiment with placing different promotions or call to actions in ad copy or landing pages and use those that yield the highest conversion rates. For landing page tests try using Google Website Optimizer (GWO).
Apply knowledge from search campaigns to the overall marketing plan – Do you find that sales are coming in during specific dayparts or from concentrated geographic areas? The accountability of search allows marketers to pinpoint success areas. Use it to concentrate traditional media efforts and eliminate waste.
Stay informed – Utilize research to leverage marketing efforts. This Holiday Shopping Intentions presentation by Google provides insight as to when consumers will be researching online and when they will actually be purchasing this year. Paid search ads can be adjusted to speak to searcher’s stages in the buying cycle whether they are facilitating research, promoting the ease of your buying process or speaking to last minute shoppers.
Online search reinforces in-store sales. An article in MediaPost claims that “the impact of online product research is greater on store sales than Web sales.” If possible, place a dynamically generated coupon on your Web site to better discern how online campaigns are generating in-store sales.
The last weekend of October, the LIVESTRONG® Challenge was held in Austin, TX as the culmination of the 2008 events. This is a remarkable annual event “…uniting people to pick a fight with cancer” through participation in a 5K walk/run or a multi-distance bike ride. As an Apogee Search client, the Lance Armstrong Foundation has been leveraging paid search for this year’s series of LIVESTRONG Challenge events and has achieved successful results.
According to a Pew Internet study, “almost half (49%) of all Internet users now use search engines on a typical day.” This helps confirm that increasingly, people are using search engines as their first place of information. This makes search engine marketing a great avenue for increasing exposure for local events whether it be a fundraiser, conference, concert or anything else. The problem is that event promotions often don’t have months to build up SEO ranking. However, paid search can quickly begin capturing visitors to your site.
If you are considering running a paid search campaign as part of your event promotion, here are some tips to remember:
Create an informative and engaging landing page. Be sure to answer the who, what, where, when, and why questions instantly when someone arrives on your site. And if there’s registration for your event, make it as easy as possible for people to complete the form.
Emphasize verbs and dates in the ad copy. Use phrases to stress the immediate call to action, “Register to Vote Today”, or to invite searchers to participate in the cause, “Help Fight Cancer.” Include the dates of the event to create a sense of urgency.
Speak to those who may realistically attend by geo-targeting your message. Use attendee data from previous years to make informed decisions on how broad to target. If attendees come almost exclusively from Austin, target the Austin metro only. For the LIVESTRONG Challenge, residents of Dallas or Houston may commute to participate, so target all of Texas to increase registrations in these areas. In both cases if you target the entire United States, you will probably exhaust your budget on people who may love your cause but aren’t going to fly across the country to participate.
Don’t expand your keyword list too much. Since you are already geo-targeting your paid search campaign, there is no need to also create long-tailed keywords or you will end up with almost no traffic to your campaign. Bid on words that make sense for your event, and try bidding on some general keywords. For example, for a 10K, try the keywords run, walk, or 10k. Just make sure you are watching your budget.
Decide how long to run your campaign for. Once again, data from previous years is extremely beneficial. Do the bulk of your attendees begin registering six months or one month in advance? Coordinate your paid search efforts to coincide with this pattern.
An event driven paid search campaign can be a great source for additional traffic and with these tips, can also be an efficient promotion method.
One assumption in online marketing as of late has been that richer forms of online media are a valuable tool to generate leads and expose consumers to your brand. There is no denying that forms of advertising that appeal to multiple senses (audio/visual versus simple text-based or even banner ads) have an advantageous effect in marketing. Assuming unlimited resources, there is no cost to the consumer for being exposed to these media–other than the time commitment and the inability to skim the content, like you would with a text-based or banner ad. However, this assumption is quickly becoming challenged, as we see Internet Service Providers (ISPs) changing their models from unlimited bandwidth to limited or rated service models.
In the news recently, AT&T has joined Comcast and Time Warner in putting bandwidth caps on its users. This is ostensibly to ease network load, and mostly fair to the end-user at the upper end of the 20- to 150-gigabyte caps being tested in Reno, Nevada. For users that break this cap, a charge of $1 per gigabyte is then appended to their bill. This opens up a future for American ISPs to incorporate a per-gigabyte model, such as seen in Europe and some US universities.
Because bandwidth is fast becoming a commodity to the average broadband user, how a consumer will perceive certain forms of advertising may quickly change. Any form of online advertising that uses a large amount of bandwidth may be much more resented than today. Today, if anything, the more obtrusive forms of media-intensive advertising online are simply an annoyance. Should this trend in major ISPs continue, it could have a negative effect on a brand and its sales. Consumers are intuitively less likely to purchase something if they feel the brand is already costing them something, without an actual purchase.
Anticipating this change is an important step in doing something about the problem. Until bandwidth caps lower or rated service becomes widespread in the United States, there is most likely no reason to abandon current media-heavy forms of advertising. However, advertising is an investment, and with any form of investment, diversification is the key to protecting the resources you put into it. Here are some tips to reduce bandwidth in advertising. Other than keeping the cost to advertise low to the consumer, it will also speed up loading time, improving the functionality of the pages on which you are advertising:
Use compression where you can. Most browsers support gzip encoding.
Social media optimization is a good way of incorporating a number of media while still letting the user come to you. By transferring some efforts away from flash or other video advertisements to this outlet, you may find more promising leads and bigger fans among your consumer base.
Never underestimate the power of a well-placed text ad. As semantic computing improves, services such as Google AdSense become better and better, grouping your messaging with individuals who are interested in its subject matter.
News in the micro-blogging world says that Twitter accounts with branded user names are being eaten up with minimal to no activity. This points to the probability that these accounts are being taken captive by outsiders. This is known as “Twitter squatting”, where savvy Internet users attempt to capitalize on something valuable, but ostensibly free. There is little risk for them, and a good chance of making money using this tactic.
Twitter squatting is a new take on the old practice of domain squatting. This is typified by the battle between the Pop-Punk group NOFX and their inability to secure NOFX.com from a squatter (they eloquently explain the problem here). This is truly an annoying problem, but rarely a source of worry for the vigilant and forward-thinking marketer.
In the spirit of making sure this doesn’t happen to you, here is a list of best practices you can use to avoid this for the Twitter of today, tomorrow, or ten years from now:
Surf the net and stay hip to what’s new.Social media being one example. Early adopters had the advantage of low-cost, broad-reaching messaging and the opportunity to take part in thought leadership in this space. All of these are good things, so why not keep an eye out for places to innovate? It appears that micro-blogging platforms such as Twitter are getting poised for this.
Get it while it’s free. This is a corollary to getting into what’s new. There’s nothing wrong with finding as many free sites as possible and registering your brand’s user name. You can do some drilling for leads yourself with these tools, or ramp up your activity once a resource becomes a legitimate venue for brand messaging.
Don’t be afraid to carry a big stick. Many popular services are started by small groups with limited resources. They’ll be happier to acquiesce to legal threats than ask you to substantiate anything that sounds legitimate. This means that even asking a lawyer for an hour of his time to write a letter to this resource may be a good investment in marketing dollars if that means stopping another source from pretending to represent your brand and spreading misinformation or using it as a venue for defamation.
With this in mind, get hunting, start registering, and defend your brand!
Yahoo! Sponsored Search advertisers can now geo-target ads at the country, city or ZIP code level, according to an announcement yesterday on the Yahoo! Search Marketing Blog.
Yahoo! joins Ask.com as the only major search engine to offer specific ZIP code-based targeting to advertisers. Google AdWords currently allows advertisers to use ZIP codes as a basis for ad targeting (for example, “ads will show 20 miles around 78759″) and also allows advertisers to draw custom target areas to show their ads, but it does not offer exact ZIP code targeting.
Geo-targeting by ZIP code allows advertisers the opportunity for more relevant clicks on their ads, which means more conversions.”Keep in mind the more you target, the fewer users your ads may reach. Generally, you’re trading relevancy for volume,” as stated on the Yahoo! Search Marketing Blog. Yahoo! recommends that advertisers select a minimum of 10 ZIP codes to broaden the scope of their ads in order to avoid a situation in which your ad is too targeted and receives limited clicks.
Screenshot of Yahoo!’s new geo-targeting feature.
This new feature is still in beta and perfect accuracy is not guaranteed, as with any geo-targeted marketing. Advertisers are free to opt-out of this feature that “is designed to help you hit the bullseye with your ads every time!” but Yahoo! explains that accuracy of geo-targeting “may vary depending on the level of targeting selected, as well as other factors.”
Bloomberg.com reported that Google’s third quarter was extremely profitable. Google’s net income rose to $1.35 billion or $4.24 a share which is up from $1.07 billion or $3.38 a share from last year.
Google is crediting the popularity of paid search ads for their recent increase in revenue. Advertisers are moving away from more traditional methods of advertising on TV and print media, and focusing their efforts on search ads.
Because Google receives most of its revenue through search ads, they are planning to start implementing ads with images and videos available for advertisers in the near future. This is the result of a deal Google landed earlier this month with CBS Corp. on its wildly popular YouTube site. Google will split the ad revenue with the network.
Google and the Economy
“We are realistic about the poor state of the global economy, but it is Google, so we’ll manage accordingly,” Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette stated in an interview with Bloomberg. “We had a good third quarter, with strong traffic and revenue growth.”
In the U.S., 63% of all searches were conducted through Google for the month of August, which is almost double the market share of Yahoo! and MSN Corp. combined. Sales outside of the U.S. are responsible for 51% of Google’s revenue, which is up 3% since last year.
Though Google is continuing to experience massive growth, it is seeing a slowdown in spending from certain customers due to the current unstable and worrisome economy. Both US auto and home-finance companies have cut back their online ad spending, claimed Pinchette. Google has also reportedly cut back spending by decelerating its hiring rate and spending conservatively on travel and events.
“We don’t know exactly what the future holds. We’ve taken a conservative approach,” Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google stated in an interview with Bloomberg. “We view this as an opportunity to refine our company and sharpen it.”
Although not many advertisers are enrolled, as I suspect most companies are waiting for some results to be published to determine ROI, there is an interesting selection of ads so far (as noted in the link above).
We have several clients that have invested in How-To type videos, so I’m excited for this opportunity to use those for YouTube’s PPC. Also wondering if Google would be able to draw parallels between a video on a company’s site and a YouTube PPC campaign, and perhaps give a little boost in Universal Search?
Since the amount of traffic between YouTube and Yahoo! appears to be similar in recent months, the questions as I see it are: How fast would YouTube users know about the search ads, and how likely would they be to click thru to a site or actually purchase based on these video ads? Maybe we’ll be rolling the ROI for this type of initiative into a branding instead of ROI model. I guess time will tell.
On Monday, ComputerWorld reported that Google is partnering up with click-fraud detection firm Click Forensics in order to aid in the detection and reporting of search ad click fraud.
Also, Google has stated that it will now accept submissions from Factr, a product of Click Forensics that was created with the help of Yahoo, that gathers and submits click-quality reports. Through this reporting process, Google is hoping to help advertisers receive refunds for click frauds.
As a side note, Yahoo has previously paired with Click Forensics back in March, and was the first engine to allow a 3rd party to obtain additional feedback for the purposes of improving advertiser satisfaction and ROI