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Dialing in on Channel Conflicts

Dialing in on Channel Conflicts Kevin Ryan

The single most annoying component of paid search marketing is self-competition. The single most annoying aspect of search for the consuming public is not being able to find what they are seeking. Multiple vendors selling the same product while bidding on the same keywords not only confuse shoppers, they drive up click costs thereby making a mockery of the free enterprise system.

Relevance and trademark law as it relates to search is a hot topic in the paid search space. We owe our constituents an enhanced, efficient search experience. Of course, not self-competing our collective marketing dollars down Thomas Krapper’s invention in the process would also be helpful.

Why are brands allowing their sales channels to compete with them in the bid for placement or pay-for-positioning arena? What strategies can you deploy with your sales channels to avoid conflicts or at least protect you intellectual property? At what point should lawmakers get involved and start calling out trademark infringement?

We can learn a lot from smart brands participating in paid search that not only are embracing the space but also manage conflicts effectively. Here’s an overview of the situation and how a few industry leaders approach conflicts in search.

Search Things First

Interactive agency Exile on 7th’s Media Buying Director, Scott Symonds, sums up the channel conflict situation well. “Generally speaking, we see manufacturers who hear about how effective search marketing is and want to initiate a campaign while forgetting that the more aggressively they bid, the more they are bumping their retailers out of positions. We have found this is usually a product of over-enthusiasm and under-sophistication of sales channels with newer companies and direct retailers.”

Consider the plight of the automobile shopper, namely yours truly. Since I’ve had it with the despicable irony of being able to see ocean oil rigs from my patio and paying the highest gas prices in the nation, I decided to do some research on hybrid electric cars. My Yahoo! search for Toyota Car turned up a laundry list of massive aggregators in the paid listings.

Of course, these sites, which are not Toyota, somehow offer me “wholesale pricing” or offer to put me in touch with a dealer who will get me a “no-haggle” price. Thanks – I just wanted to find the Toyota Website. Therein lies the source of frustration for Joe Consumer.

Searching for a marketing best practice in this paid search environment is like trying to find a needle in a stack of needles. I didn’t get to the official Toyota Website until I punched in the phrase, “I want the official Toyota Website”. Later, my fuel buying anger giving way to search frustration, I searched for a new Lexus instead. Wouldn’t you know it, up popped a paid link to said brand site when I used the search keyword “Lexus”.

Automotive isn’t the only area suffering from the channel competitive blues. Much in the same way, the travel industry has issues. My search for Hilton and Starwood Brand Hotels returned multiple paid search listings, some of which were brand sites. Most of the listings were similar to auto search results with travel booking sites like Hotels.Com.

Affiliate marketers have conflicting channel issues with search as well. Pacific Sunwear, for example, has a very elaborate affiliate program and no shortage of affiliates seeking to capitalize on PacSun brand equity in paid search.

Searching for a Best Practice

Some advertisers deliberately maintain a competitive presence in paid search. Lexus finds itself in the position of running ads on sites they bid for position against. For example, Lexus advertises on Edmunds.Com but competitively bids for positioning on Overture against them. “Lexus recognizes that car buyers visit such sites,” reports Nancy Inouye, interactive marketing manager for Lexus. “We view [paid search] as a proportionately small but necessary piece of our overall online media budget to protect our brand image and provide brand searchers with a direct connection to us.”

Big travel brands are in a similar position as automobile manufacturers with third-party sales channels. However, since booking and staying on some third-party sites preclude your ability to “rack up miles,” brands such as Starwood are leveraging the power of loyalty programs in addition to maintaining a focus on rate competitiveness. Another paid search advertiser, Hilton Hotels, has aggressive rate programs in place along with its strong loyalty initiative.

In the affiliate marketing world, Pacific Sunwear has the conflict problem all but licked. The online/offline retailer began as a surf shop in Newport Beach, California in the 1980s. Today, PacSun is a big name in the retail space selling in addition to private label goods, Quicksilver and Billabong branded items.

PacSun’s affiliate and search marketing program first caught my eye at the Ad:Tech San Francisco show in June. The company has a simple, smart approach to affiliate marketing with helpful tips and direct-to-the-point information. What really sets PacSun apart is a stern commitment to the affiliates in keeping competitive issues at bay.

“The key focus for us is maintaining lines of communication and building relationships with our affiliates,” according to Glenn Wilk, director of e-commerce & online marketing for Pacific Sunwear. “We really haven’t had any significant problems with conflicts.” However, Wilk added that keyword bid requests, which fall outside the affiliate guidelines, occur frequently. Not surprising since the brands Pacific Sunwear carries are among the most sought after in the highly lucrative youth category.

Kevin M. Ryan for Governor

Ebay recently requested that third parties not be allowed to bid on keywords containing their trademark. Google acquiesced. Why can’t Starwood do the same thing? Or, for that matter, Lexus? Where in the name of Earl’s Grey Ghost is Ralph Nader when you need him? Since his group was so quick to light a fire under the FTC’s rump, one would think he would be all over the trademark infringement issue since these multiple search listings are bound to confuse the heck out of consumers.

It’s time I took matters into my own hands and jump into the California gubernatorial race lunacy. As a search-marketing expert, I feel that I am overqualified for the position and I would greatly appreciate it if everyone would just start sending me money. My platform is similar to Arnold’s with the possible exception that I have actually accomplished something outside of film. In addition to search marketing, I know a great deal about motorcycles as well -- BMW, not Harley.

Also, having spent my entire career in indentured servitude for ad agencies, I am uniquely qualified to be a punching bag for the good people of the great state of California. The truth is, I have an extra 3,500 bucks (filing fee) lying around for the registration and my mom’s friends (65 signatures required) agreed to sign the petition. Thanks Mom! And thank you in advance for your support.

In the end, maybe the solution to channel conflicts in search would be for yours truly to get in there and handle the issue personally.

About the author: iMedia search columnist Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. He is currently Director Market Development of IPG’s Wahlstrom Interactive where he provides guidance in directional online marketing to Wahlstrom’s prestigious list of clients and sister agency brands.

Nanette Marcus: Would you recommend conversational marketing to your clients? Why or why not?

John Battelle: Absolutely. While traditional awareness and branding campaigns do well in blog- and community- driven environments, we've found that conversational creative -- campaigns that understand where they are, who they are talking to, and invite dialog -- do very well on Federated Media (FM) properties. Plus, audiences and authors alike respect the fact that the marketer is making the effort to understand the environment they are supporting.

Jackie Huba: For most companies, we would recommend it. Social media tools allow for employees to get more feedback from more customers more often than traditional feedback mechanisms, like yearly satisfaction surveys. This type of marketing also helps to create strong bonds of customer loyalty because customers have more opportunity to connect with employees one-to-one.

The only scenarios where I would not recommend this is if:
1) The company is very control-oriented and won't let critical content on exist on blogs, et cetera,


2) The company does not have the resources to actively write the blog or moderate the message boards, et cetera.

Tom Hespos: We would and we often do. The most compelling reason to recommend conversational marketing is that the broadcast model of communication is beginning to break down. Most people immediately recognize broadcast advertisements as such and most will immediately tune them out.

Yet, companies continue to spend money talking at people rather than conversing with them. What these companies need to realize is that there is an immense opportunity in adding a new conversational marketing strategy to their marketing plans.

If they take the time to listen and converse with people, the market will respond.

Mark Naples: I recommend conversational marketing, but only as an adjunct to well-executed stakeholder marketing. As a new segment of our industry, I regard what people now call conversational marketing from a somewhat jaundiced viewpoint.

Stakeholder marketing is how Washington-style public affairs campaigns have been managed for decades, with the idiom being that there are three dozen to 50 or so stakeholders in any vertical industry or influencer cohort that need to be inculcated toward your objectives.

Some practitioners call this idiom "No Surprise 35." If my client is willing to spend the time and effort needed to secure a critical mass from among these stakeholders, then conversational marketing makes sense. But, only then will I recommend it because only then can I assure them of some semblance of control. If you design and execute your stakeholder plan effectively, and you still don't feel as though you have the right kind of control, you'll never get it through conversational efforts, no matter how well-executed they are.

Anyone who has read Malcolm Gladwell's "Tipping Point" can probably recognize this. Malcolm cut his teeth in D.C., writing for The Washington Post. So, I should think he'd see this perhaps somewhat similarly.

Marcus: Can you give us a good example of conversational marketing?

Huba: One of the best conversational marketing programs is by Discovery Education, a division of Discovery Communications. (Note: we did help them with this program.) The division sells a product called unitedstreaming that teachers can use to download video clips to using in presentations and lesson plans. The division built a site called the "Discovery Educator Network" (DEN) that connects teachers around the country to use their product and other technology in the classroom.

The site contains blogs written by both Discovery employees and teachers, discussion boards, and a resource section where teachers can share PowerPoints and other helpful materials. Teachers who want to conduct local trainings can put their events on the event calendar. Discovery has seen usage and subscription renewals of the product go up after the DEN was started.

Battelle: Lenovo did it early (last Fall) with its "Black or Titanium" campaign. Dice did it with its "rant banner." Snap launched with a conversational campaign that invited authors and audiences to help them launch its new engine. Symantec, Microsoft and others have also done these kind of campaigns with us. For more, see our overview here.

Hespos: We've been working with AccuQuote for several months now, and they launched a campaign recently in which they asked their existing customers for feedback on their own customer service process in a thread on their blog. They let life insurance customers know about the thread by sending them an email. AccuQuote got a ton of comments, most of which were very constructive.

Here's the important part: they listened, and they then told their customers what they were doing with the feedback they got. They responded to every comment left in the thread, following up on individual customer cases. As a result, they wrote several dozen incremental policies, just by listening to their own customers.

We advise clients that the first step toward implementing an effective Conversational Marketing campaign is making a commitment to the conversation. If they're not prepared to do this, they shouldn't get involved in social media at all.

Look at it this way-- would you go to a cocktail party, mill around with the crowd and ignore anyone who tried to speak to you? No, you wouldn't. It would be rude. And that's a big reason why clients who can't commit to conversation should stay the heck away from blogs, community sites and social media.

Naples: Outside of our industry, I worked on some good ones in my D.C. days. There were many opponents to Affirmative Action in the early '90s. But, when the "Mend it Don't End it" campaign was in stride, nobody seemed to think it should disappear. What happened was that people began calling it "striving for diversity," and now it's expected in the workplace.

Within our industry, the conversational campaign that stands out is the one that PointRoll executed a few years back. They introduced FatBoy to much controversy, since the campaign seemed so insensitive. But, at the same time, they executed a smart byline effort with the users of their products being the ones singing its praises in the media. They knew their target so well, so they knew that the people who were using the tools, mostly young folks in the interactive arms of agencies, weren't going to be put off by the objectionable creative, they were going to laugh at it. The combination of these two created a buzz that helped move them from a fifth-ranked provider to the first ranked one.

Marcus: How about a bad example or something that could have been done better?

Naples: There are so many of these. It seems like every day that I get pitched for one or another. I don't want to call any of them out though. No need to make enemies.

Battelle: I can't think of one that comes to mind on FM sites, but there are certainly examples of this done with something of a tin ear. The Subway pitch comes to mind.

Huba: McDonald's has a corporate responsibility blog called "Open for Discussion". The company does deserve kudos for having a blog at all, but the blogger could be doing a better job at handling a recent issue that has surfaced. Environmental bloggers are criticizing the company for distributing 42 million Hummers as prizes in Happy Meals this summer in a marketing promotion with GM.

The McDonald's blogger has been very slow in approving comments on the blog that are critical on this issue. A recent post by the McDonald's blogger indicated that he is frustrated that more people are not commenting on the issue on his blog. He needs to realize that the dialogue is happening in the blogosphere and he should reach out and comment on the blogs that are being critical. The conversation doesn't always come to you; sometimes you have to go to where it's happening and jump in.

Hespos: Fake MySpace pages are a big drag. There are all these people out there connecting with one another in very human ways. They post messages back and forth, invite people into their social circles, engage in conversation-- basically they're living their social lives online. And then these brands come along and post pages for their mascots or their ad icons, and they think it's a success because people become "friends" with the icon. They say, "Ooh, look. A gazillion people 'friended' my ad icon. That proves that people identify with my brand." It's pathetic-- like those kids in high school who would compare how many people signed their yearbook as if it was some sort of validation that they were popular or something.

What these companies could be doing is empowering somebody at their organization to speak directly with the market. I know it's a scary concept because marketers think they have control over the marketing message. What they don't realize is that for communication to have credibility in this sphere, it needs to be a two-way dialogue between human beings, not a one-way message from a marketing department to a "target audience." When people within companies speak directly to the market, we recapture some of that "mom and pop-ness" we've lost over the years. Personally, I identify with brands that listen to me, demonstrate that my input is important and don't keep me at arm's length.

As far as things that could have been done better, I really identify with the idea behind Ford's Bold Moves campaign, but I think the execution could have been a lot better. They started a blog and I thought they were prepared to listen to the market and respond to reactions people had to what's on their blog. Instead, they simply comment on stories written about them in the mass media or on A-list blogs. They don't respond to the individual sports car enthusiast, for example, who shows up at their blog and wants to get involved in a discussion with someone at the company about why Ford can't seem to build a Corvette killer.

It's nice to acknowledge what's going on in the blogosphere, and that definitely is a step in the right direction. But I don't know that what Ford is doing is legitimately encouraging participatory dialogue. There are still a lot of people out there still being ignored.

Marcus: Some brands, big and small, are resistant to conversational marketing because it means that they lose partial control of the brand message. What advice would you give to these brands? Do you have any tactics or strategies that have worked for you?

Hespos: There are a few. We look for clients that can come to terms with the following without completely blowing a gasket:

  1. You've never been in control of the message because people are thinking human beings and they talk to one another.

  2. Conversations about your brand, product, category and customer service experience are going on every day without your input.

  3. It's best to participate in these conversations while you still have the opportunity to change people's minds.
We try to avoid pitching conversational marketing to companies that believe they control the brand message. The forward-thinking companies out there acknowledge that they've never been in control of the brand, and that sad fact has been merely demonstrated by the rise of the internet, not ushered in by it.

Naples: I would point to my response to your first question and admonish them to always retain as much control as possible over their messaging and brand alliances. This is far more science than it is art, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either selling you something, doesn't know what they're doing or is lazy.

Huba: Brands have already lost control now that anyone can blog or podcast messages about them to a worldwide audience. Citizen marketers are publishing and broadcasting about brands they love and brand they hate today. And as more and more people, especially Millenials, adopt social media tools, the amount of multimedia word of mouth on the web is only going to increase. Smart companies are embracing and reaching out to these vocal constituents and establishing a dialogue with them.

Battelle: If you can't have an honest, passionate conversation about your brand and how it makes folks lives better, well, what's the point? The best brands are always built by word of mouth, right?

Google now gets more than 60 percent of U.S. search queries, and Yahoo gets about 20 percent; thus, the majority of searches originate on major engines. The top three (Google, Yahoo and Microsoft) are called first-tier engines because they deliver high traffic levels, good conversion rates and the best reporting tools.

Second-tier engines include the smaller niche, vertical and local search engines and directories that are not so well known or popular. These engines typically have less traffic than the majors but offer less competition for keywords and cheaper keyword prices. While second-tiers may get less traffic, even 1 percent of search market share can equal $100 million in revenue.

There are a number of pros and cons to advertising on second-tier search engines. Selecting the right second-tier for your search campaign is key to success, so it's important to investigate every angle, including the engine's user base and income level, reporting tools, campaign management tools and click fraud protection policy. Possible candidates should be tested for ROI before committing large sums of money.

Advantages of second-tier engines
The top benefits of second-tier search engines are as follows:

  • Lower per-click costs

  • Less competition for competitive keywords

  • Highly targeted audiences

  • Quick and easy ad copy testing

  • High touch customer support

  • Additional source of traffic and conversions

While the main advantage is cost, you can also get some great contextual and behavioral offerings for a fraction of what you might pay on first-tier engines. For example, if your target audience is NASCAR fans, you might try advertising on Kanoodle, where your ads appear on a network of search engines and other popular sites like CNET's Search.com and the InfoSpace properties, including Mamma, WebCrawler and Dogpile.

It is important to define your campaign objectives clearly on second-tiers, setting budget restrictions and a timeframe for determining campaign success.

Most second-tiers give you the option of pausing a campaign to take advantage of working hours or click volumes, which can be advantageous for smaller businesses. You can log into your PPC account in the morning, check the previous day's activities, turn on the accounts when you expect the bulk of inquiries and then pause the account when volumes taper off.

Disadvantages of second-tier engines
The top disadvantages of second-tier search engines are:

  • Less traffic volume

  • Lower conversion rates

  • Lower traffic quality

  • Higher click fraud potential

  • Less powerful reporting tools

  • Aggressive sales reps

The most frequent complaints are low traffic volume, low conversions and low-quality traffic. However, you can compensate for reduced traffic volume with a lower cost-per-conversion if traffic converts well, which happens when you test and select your best performers.

While a major concern on second-tiers has been click fraud, many now provide click fraud protection. For example, ABCSearch, 7Search, eZanga and many others offer anti-fraud technology with AdWatcher and Traffic Advisors.

Note that the disadvantages above do not apply to all second-tiers. Some provide robust reporting applications (e.g., Miva), while others provide great traffic and conversions (e.g., Business.com).

It is important to know what a second-tier's unique selling points are, and the best way to find out is to ask a sales rep. Stay away if they don't provide this information.

With so many second-tiers to choose from, it's important to select those that provide the best performance. Your task is to research, test and find the winners that deliver qualified leads and conversions. Ask questions like:

  • What target audience do you serve?

  • How do you define a click?

  • Do you monitor and reimburse for click fraud?

  • Do you give a signup bonus?

  • Do you require a minimum deposit; if so, how much?

  • Do you require a minimum spend; if so, how much?

  • How many unique visitors do you get monthly?

  • What are your visitor demographics?

  • Do you have a content network; if so, can I opt out?

  • Do you have pay-per-call, video or other ad options?

  • How robust are your bid management and reporting tools?

  • Do you have testimonials from people I can contact?

  • How easy is it to reach an account manager?

After satisfying the above questions, use the tips below when planning and managing your campaigns.

  • Campaign goals. State your campaign goals clearly. For example, you may want to focus your ads on selling products or services, promoting an event, gaining registrations or boosting exposure for your blog.

  • Superior ad copy. Create relevant, emotional headlines to get top performance.

  • Precise landing pages. Next to the ad itself, your landing page is crucial for success. Know where you want visitors to land and drive them to a very specific landing page that delivers on the promise of the ad.

  • Demographics. Research the second-tier engine's audience and income levels.

  • Budgeting. Limit your spend and determine ROI.

  • Testing. Allocate a testing budget. Check conversions and ROI before making substantive commitments on second-tiers. The amount of your test budget will depend on company size, PPC budget, number of keywords and keyword competitiveness, etc. If your product or service is not too competitive, you might be able to test for $100 or less.

  • Campaign management. Use campaign management and reporting tools to track your conversions and optimize your keywords, ad groups and campaigns. Check availability and flexibility of tracking tools on second-tiers.

  • Click fraud. Research click fraud protection and reimbursement policies.

Note: The above questions and tips also apply to contextual and vertical search but are not repeated on the following pages.

Most search engines provide advertising on content networks, whereby your ad is displayed alongside content on partner sites for click-through to your landing page. Some second-tiers offer excellent content networks. For example, Business.com has a content network that includes Forbes, BusinessWeek, Hoovers, Financial Times and Entrepreneur -- excellent exposure for a business and finance target audience.

Another good example is MIVA, with a content network that includes both text ads and inline ads on a network of sites including CNET, InfoSpace and Search.com. This might work well if you are selling electronics, software or technical products and services.

There are many details to be aware of when it comes to content networks on second-tiers, so you must study the interface and know the rules. For instance, PPC campaigns are usually automatically opted into the content network on second-tier engines. So if you don't want contextual search, you must opt out.

Advantages of contextual search
Top advantages are lower click costs, less competition and targeted audiences. The cost advantage is greater because keywords on content networks cost less than those on search engines. While you might get fewer conversions, the campaign will likely yield a good ROI.

People spend more time on content sites than search engines. The exposure of your product and website in online content has high value, especially on popular sites. Visitors reading the content online already have a high degree of interest in the topic; thus, if your ad is relevant and catchy, users will likely click through to your site or bookmark it for later consideration.

You can get better visibility at lower cost with contextual search. Content ads are not as competitive as search engine ads because there is more click inventory on publisher sites than on search engine results pages (SERPs). You get less clutter, as content ads are usually displayed in groups of three or four, so your ads will stand out more than in the SERPs.

Disadvantages of contextual search
Content ads provide less traffic and lower conversions than search engine ads. Additionally, the click fraud potential is higher. If your contextual campaign is on second-tiers, the reporting and campaign management tools are not as robust as those provided by first-tier engines.

Conversion rates are lower for contextual search because sometimes ads appear on irrelevant pages and get bad clicks. Additionally, the ads may not distract attention from the site content. Issues of timing and readiness to buy are also a factor. Because contextual ads are displayed on publisher sites through the search network distribution system, they don't display as quickly as ads displayed directly in search results. That lowers conversion rates.

Prospects reaching your site from a search engine ad are likely ready to buy because they are actively searching keywords, looking for the products and services queried. However, prospects viewing your contextual ad are likely reading about a related topic. They might click through or bookmark, but are not likely to make a purchase.

Branding is a top marketing objective. It makes sense to use content ads for branding rather than direct response because of the audience's mindset. Users are not actively searching for your product or service but encounter your ad while reading related content. Therefore, contextual ads require different creative, keyword lists, landing pages, bidding strategies and ROI goals than ads on search engines because you are reaching more passive users at an earlier stage in the buying cycle.

Keyword selection is highly specialized. Rather than target keywords describing your brand, product or service, your list should include words that appear most frequently on the pages where you want your ads to appear.

Copy in your ads must stand out and distract with a clear call to action. Use special offers and promotions. Create a sense of urgency with time-sensitive appeals. Test and retest copy. Use your ads to leverage the interest built up through the content on the page.

Test search engine and contextual campaigns separately to adjust different campaign elements depending on performance. Develop competing contextual ads for different search engines to identify winners. Don't test before or during holiday shopping seasons, as results would be skewed.

Contextual advertising can expose your brand or product/service to thousands of prospects you might not otherwise reach, but careful crafting and testing is required for success.

Vertical search engines (VSEs) are specialized engines and directories providing search results from content databases related to a specific industry, geographic area or topical subject. Vertical search includes local search, topical search (e.g., travel, soccer, hobbies, etc.) and B2B industrial search. The information below refers to topical and B2B industrial search more than local search. For detailed information on local search, see "Strike business gold in local search."

As content on Google and Yahoo increases exponentially, it becomes more challenging to find relevant results in major search engines. In 2006, Outsell reported a 31.9 percent failure rate among business users when researching topics on general search engines. Since then, vertical search engines have increased in number and popularity. This makes VSEs an excellent venue for additional sources of traffic and conversions.

Advantages of vertical search
Vertical search can give you more leads for less money. As top ROI and positioning becomes harder to achieve on general search engines due to keyword competition, marketers get better rates on VSEs -- an excellent way to get brand exposure for attracting new clients.

If your product requires direct response, users searching on vertical engines are closer to making a purchase decision. VSEs frequently advertise on major search engines, bringing additional traffic and potential customers to your site.

Vertical search engines provide more advertising options than you'll find on general search engines. This includes banner ads, email blasts, sponsored placements, blog posts and industry newsletter ads.

Customer service is excellent on VSEs, and many provide help centers that take you through the online advertising process.

Users can reach highly targeted audiences in smaller databases that provide first-hand knowledge and information within the industry or niche.

Disadvantages of vertical search
Despite the advantages listed above, many VSEs fall short in attracting users. Why? Research from E-consultancy-Convera (2008) shows 38 percent of respondents don't always find a good vertical in their field, and 32 percent said vertical results were not comprehensive enough.

While 93 percent of respondents said they were "very" or "quite likely" to use a vertical in their field, the majority (91 percent) said they simply rely on major search engines. Only 7 percent admitted using a vertical engine several times a day. Interestingly, only 7 percent of respondents rated vertical results as "excellent" versus 27.5 percent that gave top marks to general search. It would appear vertical search needs to improve results as most respondents rated VSEs as "good" or "average."

As long as general search is good enough and online habits die hard, it is difficult to move most users beyond Google.

It is important to research the engine to ensure it actually targets your industry or niche. Ask about the size of the index (i.e., the number of product and service classifications). It is also important to test the site for ease of use. If you find it hard to use, chances are potential customers will, too.

Index size is a good indicator of success, as the larger the classification system, the more companies, products and services will be listed. User numbers are also higher with larger index sizes, making it more likely your ads will be seen.

You can find appropriate vertical engines for advertising your business in DMOZ, the Yahoo! Directory or NYPL.org. Once you develop a list of engines for your target audience, you can discuss your advertising options with an ad sales representative.

VSEs provide a variety of ad options, including PPC ads on the engine or the content network, cost-per-impression (fixed rate based on x-number of page views), cost-per-action (pay for conversions) and fixed fee (flat rate for specified actions). You can test the different options yourself or take the advice of a reputable VSE rep who can advise which options are best for your business.

There are many good paid search advertising opportunities on second-tier engines, content networks and vertical search engines. However, one must weigh the advantages and disadvantages in finding the best sources of alternate search traffic. Once you do your homework, the use of these ad vehicles can increase your marketing ROI with more visibility, lower keyword prices, less competition and more traffic and conversions.

Claudia Bruemmer is a freelance writer-editor and internet marketing consultant.

Understand each other's point of view from the start

What's your approach and what's our approach to marketing? Where do we differ and why? Where do we agree and why? I wish we had more of these conversations. Many of the agency and client kickoff meetings I've attended are very straightforward with what has been done in the past and what the goals are for the future. Maybe some of that work has been done in the agency evaluation stage, but those conversations generally involve execs at the highest level. It's absolutely fantastic when I see both sides of the table on the front lines ready, able, and willing to speak to marketing style and point of view. 

One of the reasons why this is so important in our industry versus other industries is that digital marketing is a young business that is still working out the kinks. Standards and best practices are few and far between. If you ask a group of industry vets what their POV is on a certain hot topic, you will get a variety of answers especially if their backgrounds come from different sides of the industry.

Of course, that initial knowledge transfer meeting has to happen. However,  I'd like to see that conversation evolve to a much deeper level where both sides air their stylistic similarities and differences. Once you understand the why and the how of the person sitting across from you, the what makes much more sense. This can be a very scary prospect for industry folks who haven't yet perfected their craft or are capable of articulating their aesthetic. Explaining your approach can leave you open for criticism and you could even turn off the listener if they don't agree with your point of view.

And that's why this doesn't happen enough.  Even though many clients would be more than willing to have this conversation, if there's even the slightest possibility that the client side isn't interested in this dialogue, then agencies might not risk rocking the boat. But imagine the upside -- it would force both sides to get a better handle on what they actually believe to be the essence of great marketing and raise the conversation to a higher level. Plus, by going through this exercise, both sides would have a better understanding of the motivations and goals of the other which is unbelievably helpful in any partnership.

Agencies need to be treated like experts and live up to that level of trust

Just five years ago, online marketing was primarily email, search, and banners. But today, with mobile, social, online video, apps, RTB, etc., this industry is innovating at such a fast pace that even experts who spend their entire day focused on digital marketing are having trouble keeping up to speed. When you also factor in that most client contacts only spend a portion of their time focused on digital, the need for advertisers to rely on outside expertise is more important now than ever before.

Yet, agencies can't expect everyone to take whatever they say at face value, especially when part of a client contact's responsibility is to be risk adverse and question everything. Part of the job at an agency is not just presenting ideas, but selling them in as well. And I don't mean "selling" them in terms of "BS-ing" anyone -- you have to learn how your client best digests your recommendations and provide them in that format.

Agencies -- if you feel that your client counterpart is hesitant to immediately accept what you're saying, don't take it personally. It's probably just cautiousness stemming from their aforementioned need to be risk adverse. However, some of it also stems from the fact that many agencies seem like black boxes to advertisers. A lot of processes and knowledge is shielded from clients as things agencies might feel clients don't need to know or are too busy to take the time to understand. Unfortunately, when there's mystery involved, it can be very natural to be dubious even when there's nothing to be suspicious about. An advanced dialogue helps build trust through transparency.

To evolve the agency and client conversation, I'd like to see more leaps of faith on the client side. On the flip side, agencies, if the client does put that trust in our hands, we have to live up to our end of the bargain. We need to know our clients' businesses as well as they know their businesses and we need to bring them advanced, well conceptualized ideas that are aligned with their brand and goals. We also need to present the information with the right timing (don't bring a Q1 idea in the middle of Q3) and in a way that is very palatable for them and portable enough to pass around to their teams.

Measurement and holistic digital advertising

As a media technologist and analytics practitioner, I support web measurement and data insights as much as the next guy. There's certainly a ton of directional evidence that can be used to best plan and buy digital campaigns. But, (and here comes the "but") I'm constantly floored with how much emphasis this industry puts into the absolute numbers.  There are just so many discrepancies and footnotes with how data is collected and viewed that I could fill 10 columns on iMediaConnection. For example, consumers now use an average of 10.4 different information sources before making a purchase -- and use multiple devices (I've heard between four and seven) to access digital content. Most of these touch points are untrackable, or if they are trackable, they can't be perfectly integrated into the overall measurement strategy.

The analogy I use most often in this discussion is the U.S. Economic Index. The Economic Index is a set of ten key variables that the government (and most economists) uses to judge the health of the American economy that include things such as the unemployment rate, building permit registration, consumer confidence, etc. But no economist in their right mind would narrowly focus on a single variable and declare any confident conclusion.

Recently, comScore's Josh Chasin remarked that everyone on Madison Avenue knows "that digital is the most measurable medium," and then made the observation that the corollary is, "that sometimes digital ends up being the medium with the most measures." At some point in our industry's past, we forgot that the metrics were there to help us build informed insights. Instead, we have spent our time trying to affect the metrics. Not to say that conversions aren't important -- they are, especially for direct response dollars in a strictly, online-only business, but you have to know what you're actually looking at to make any concrete conclusions.

Advertisers, you should know that your agency is going to tell you how they feel but are going to do what you say. It's very hard for an agency manager to try to reset this complex topic with their own colleagues, let alone with clients who have been working in a metrics and conversion focused world for years. It's not anyone's fault -- the entire industry has pushed this direction for years, and to change this mindset is going to take a lot of work on both sides.

I think most experienced agency execs would rightly say that you need to pick and choose your battles, but a unified measurement approach is one of the most important needs facing our industry. A lot of folks are simply winging it and are focused on getting your metrics up without necessarily forwarding the true campaign goals. It starts on the front lines with agencies and clients having this dialogue. When agencies don't feel like they can have this dialogue, the entire industry is held back.

Advertisers, in many cases the metrics you're tracking might actually be perfectly suited for your campaign.  But a good place to start would be to ask your agency what they really feel about the metrics they're presenting to you every month and provide them a safe forum to bring up some of these more debatable ideas on measurement like attribution. You might have to prod them a bit. They have to feel that they won't get their knuckles wrapped if you disagree with what they present. I'm not saying all of the numbers need to be thrown out -- just make sure that both of you aren't completely evaluating campaign success on arbitrary metrics going up or down. Evolve the conversation and you will get rewarded for it.

Kevin Ryan founded the strategic consulting firm Motivity Marketing in April 2007. Ryan is known throughout the world as an interactive marketing thought leader, particularly in the search marketing arena. Today's Motivity is a group of...

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