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Sponsored Links: A Key Retailer Strategy

Dawn Anfuso
Sponsored Links: A Key Retailer Strategy Dawn Anfuso

Parents looking for where to buy the Bratz Tokyo-A-Go-Go Dance N' Skate Club for Christmas for their kids are being steered to stores via sponsored search sites.

Research from WebTrends, a business unit of NetIQ Corporation, reveals that four top retailers rely on sponsored search more than organic search to push their holiday wares.

WebTrends analyzed Wal-Mart, Target, Sears and Amazon.com using its WebPosition Gold product to determine the visibility these retailer's Web sites have in organic and paid search results on Google, MSN, Ask Jeeves, Teoma and Yahoo! Search terms used related to five toys included in USA Today’s ‘Hot Dozen’ toys list: “Cabbage Patch Kids,” “Bratz Tokyo-A-Go-Go Dance N’ Skate Club,” “E-L-M-O,” “Balloon Lagoon” and “Ms. Pac-Man TV Games.”

Results indicate that as a group the retailers are more than twice as visible in sponsored search results (73.87 percent) as they are in organic search results (35.87 percent). Amazon was found to be the most visible among all sites in organic search engine listings for the targeted keywords with an organic Visibility Percentage of 34.67 percent, followed by Wal-Mart at 14 percent, Target at 7.33 percent and Sears at 3.87 percent.

Visibility Percentage is a reflection of a site’s positions within the first three pages of search results for its targeted keywords and search engines. For example, a site that has #1 organic search positions for all of its targeted keywords in all search engines examined would have an organic Visibility Percentage of 100 percent.

When WebPosition analysis included sponsored search listings, visibility increased across all retailers with Amazon rising to 52 percent, followed by Wal-Mart at 39.73 percent, Sears at 16 percent and Target at 13.6 percent. The data suggests that retailers are using sponsored search listings to achieve high positions for these products, often in the absence of high organic search positions.

“It’s well known that unless your site appears within the first three pages of search results for a given term, only a small percentage of Web searchers will find you,” says Fredrick Marckini, CEO and founder, search engine marketing firm, iProspect. “While organic listings are certainly the goal for many companies, sponsored search listings guarantee visibility with a position equivalent to what they are willing to pay. This is why it’s critical for marketers to understand the ROI driven by specific paid and organic search terms, and to work to increase their organic positions over time.”

According to The iProspect Search Engine User Attitudes Survey -- March 2004, Web searchers find non-paid listings to be more relevant than paid listings on commercial searches, with 60.5 percent deeming organic results as more relevant versus 39.5 percent favoring paid listings across all search engines.

“While this study is a snapshot of SEO and SEM performance for a handful of products, the finding of major retailers relying on paid search to augment their organic search listings holds true with what other studies have found,” says Jason Palmer, vice president of product management and product marketing, WebTrends. “Since competition for paid keywords will only increase, it’s critical for sites to utilize rankings and recommendations such as those provided by WebPosition to increase their organic visibility.”


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