This year in search is off to a great start with a smack in the butt from one of search marketing’s biggest names. Overture recently unveiled its new and improved approach to paid inclusion with far-reaching implications for search marketers, advertisers and agencies in the form of a one-stop inclusion offering and re-seller program.
At first glance, the new program may look like just another shot at making all of our worlds a bit more confusing. However, mixing the proper components (pay for placement + inclusion) calls for a delicate balance of ingredients, kind of like mixing the perfect dirty martini. Unlike the ice cold cocktail, this new program is set to stir up an industry already swirling with too many flavors to count.
This week, I offer you two things. One, an opening plan for Overture paid inclusion. Two, the secret Ryan family recipe for a perfect dirty martini that was smuggled into this country generations (at least one) ago.
What’s the Difference?
Last October, the announcement that LookSmart would no longer be providing paid listing content to MSN left advertisers wondering who would hold sway over MSN inclusion listing real estate. A few short weeks ago, rumors began circulating that Yahoo! was about to drop Google results in favor of populating search with proprietary results. But which listings would fill the void? You guessed it, Yahoo!-owned Inktomi listings.
Synopsis: The Overture /Inktomi/Yahoo!/AltaVista/Fast powerhouse is fixing to be the only inclusion show in town, at least until MSN unveils its search program later this year.
Paid inclusion is the middle child of search engine marketing (SEM). Inclusion found its home in data feeds for sites with large numbers of listings that could not be “crawled” by traditional search engine spiders. In the olden days (less than one year ago) one would submit a large feed of listings in some digital format (XML, spreadsheet) and paid fees based on the number of listings submitted. In the not so distant past, we went through some changes and the pay per listing world for the most part became pay per click.
In a pay-for-placement (P4P) environment, an advertiser bids on keywords and positions marked “sponsored” to help unsuspecting searchers avoid being duped into clicking on an advertisement. Inclusion offers an advertiser the option of entering the coveted listing area without the sponsor issues of paid links and the delicate unknowns of what it may take to be listed in algorithmic results.
Required Ingredients for Inclusion/Required Ingredients for Dirty Martini:
1. List of URLs and descriptions 1. Martini glass, mixing glass, strainer, ice
2. ROI requirements (CPC goal) 2. Vodka (Russian varietal), dry vermouth
3. Relevant category selections. 3. 3 skewered stuffed olives and olive brine
Preparing the Palate
While chilling our search martini glass in crushed ice, we must construct some sort of cost structure for the inclusion initiative. Unlike for pay-for-placement (P4P), there are no major fluctuations in spending due to click cost bidding. Category relevance is the driving force behind inclusion and once traffic levels are established, budgets will be a bit more predictable. Buying into paid inclusion also saves an advertiser the time-honored annoyance of waiting (weeks or months) for the inclusion crawl to reach you.
Costs are significantly lower for inclusion clicks as well. For instance, the top position (at press time) for the hotel keyword is $1.71 on Overture P4P. Click cost for the Travel-Lodging category is in the neighborhood of $.30. Dating keyword P4P traffic can be had for close to a buck per visitor but inclusion costs run about $.20 per click. This offering gives some much-needed relief for high traffic/competition categories but might not help you sell anymore almond-stuffed olives.
I’ve been told that category refinement and expansion to provide increased specificity in inclusion are on the way. Of course, too much category expansion might accidentally remove the all-too-critical obscure search (albeit few and far between) results, which returns listings otherwise not picked up by P4P.
When Should We Begin?
Before I answer that question, fill your mixing glass with small ice cubes and pour four ounces (four to eight, really) of your favorite vodka (gin, if you must) very slowly over the ice then add 1/2 ounce of dry vermouth to the glass.
While letting the mixture chill, run, don’t walk to your telephone or email server to get in touch with your favorite search engine marketer. You will find LookSmart inclusion traffic taking a nosedive this month as Inktomi listings are integrated into MSN results. Yahoo!'s search listing real estate will also be showing Intktomi listings in the space previously occupied by Google. Overture’s top line list of inclusion syndication carries some of the highest traffic points on the Web.
One last little twist in the mix lies in that you can measure individual keyword performance with inclusion. Ideally, an advertiser can measure search performance of keywords in inclusion and apply that knowledge to P4P, thereby spending Paul’s money while working Peter over. Applying knowledge gained from inclusion to P4P may or may not work since one is not measuring messaging and positioning impact olives to olives. This is the same reason I will never drop anchovy stuffed green goodness into my dirty martini even though many things that smell fishy, taste good.
And Now, the Dirty Part
The biggest issue I have with an otherwise genius play for the search conglomerate’s “new deal” relates to messaging architecture. Overture-sponsored listings go through a rigorous (if not always predictable) editorial review process which precludes an advertiser from using superlatives (best, finest) and their ilk in messaging because it sounds too much like advertising. OK, but why let that sort of behavior exist with inclusion?
The inclusion program doesn’t have the opaque moral barometer that exists with sponsored listings as of yet. If we allow “adsy” slogans within inclusion listings, we are begging Ralph Nader to stop by and send a few more letters to the FTC thereby burying all that inclusion gold.
Suffice it to say, if we get the special interest groups (with far too much time on their hands) involved it is going to ruin our little paid search party. Maybe we can just fill their glasses and hope for the best as we explain the situation. With cold martini stem in hand, let a few big splashes of brine from the olive jar spill into your glass. You are now ready to put it all together.
Stirred, Not Shaken
The biggest impact for advertisers is the lack of a “secret sauce” component. Like fodder for stuffed olives (blue cheese, almonds, onions) many search engine optimization firms make their living via purporting to have a keen understanding of how search algorithms work and therefore justify fee structures. Although inclusion results are still based upon category relevance as opposed to keyword positioning, you don’t need any black magic to make it work, just smart marketing.
At this point, most search providers have addressed the need to have specialized contact interfaces for agencies but haven’t addressed the basic need factor of profitability. Catapulting Overture’s efforts forward in this area is a newly released revenue-share program, which surpasses previous revenue-sharing opportunities as they are unencumbered by the old system’s inherent quagmires.
These are definitely thoughts to ponder as you slide no more or less than three olives on your toothpick of choice and strain the ice-cold liquor mixture into the stemmed glass. The mixture is delicate, and shaking pollutes the experience, so ease the two liquids together and give it a gentle stir with your olive tree.
Even Better Than the Real Thing, Baby
You now have liquid perfection before you—multiple fluids at different temperatures and consistencies swirling about in distilled, multi-climate harmony; a symphony for the senses. Much in the same way, I hope to look upon a search result page one day with all listings working in accord to provide sites with profitable platforms, users the most relevant results, and advertisers an affordable means to greet them.
My hope for the Overture offering is that it will initiate an advanced progression into a world of accurate, relevant paid listings sans mysterious black magic. Until now, agencies had little or no incentive to graduate beyond P4P into the natural results world and the program will offer them a viable means of doing so while forcing voodoo optimization firms to commence filling their britches. In other words, it may just change the SEM world for the better.
With the right ingredients and a good dirty martini, inclusion can be an efficient means of scoring on the Web, possibly like working the match angles currently available in search and in the rest of the Web world, but that’s another story and the subject of next week’s column. In the meantime, sit back, relax, and enjoy the perfect dirty martini.
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 of Market Development at IPG’s Wahlstrom Interactive where he provides guidance in directional online marketing to Wahlstrom’s prestigious list of clients and sister agency brands. The subsequent stress load forces him to drink unhealthy amounts of Russian Vodka on occasion.
Kevin serves with the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization, the American Association of Advertising Agencies Interactive and New Media Committee; speaking at their industry events along with iMedia Summits, Ad:Tech, Search Engine Strategies, and various regional non-profit online marketing educational organizations. Kevin is also a friend of the AdBusters foundation.
Don’t drink and drive. Don’t drink at work. Don’t drink and search.
2. Social media options
eMarketer reports that, as of December 2008, social networks have surpassed email's reach. Now marketers need to ask themselves where and how their consumers are using these forums. Once armed with this information, it is up to them to make it easy for users to find their brand and share information with peers.
Once interesting content has been created, enhance it with social media buttons that enable users to become evangelists and republish the content. By allowing users to Digg, bookmark, tag, and share content, brands will gain additional credibility and drastically increase their reach. Creating unique and targeted RSS feeds also keeps consumers in the loop about company updates and new content.
These sharing tactics accomplish two things. The first is that they keep a brand and messaging in front of consumers who have expressed interest in a company. Second, they allow users to choose the channels they would like to use to interact with a brand. The great and nerve-racking aspect of social media is that users maintain control and have the choice of whether they are going to pay attention. But once they exercise the choice to follow updates, advertisers know they have found a qualified brand fan.
3. Branching out from text content
Content no longer applies to just text. Videos, podcasts, blogs, and user-generated content (especially reviews) are a few examples of content types that are strong traffic and conversion drivers. Bazaarvoice research shows that 89 percent of online consumers read reviews before making a purchase, and 90 percent of those consumers trust the reviews they read. Staggering statistics like this prove that marketers need to branch out from old-school static text and incorporate interactive features to create quality user interactions. When posting multimedia content, be sure to place it in relevant locations on a website and syndicate it through channels that will help consumers find it. An important thing to remember is that content -- whatever its form -- needs to be an asset that adds value to the online conversation -- not a distraction or blatant sales pitch.
4. Focus on quality and quantity
To drive users to a website, it is important that content is relevant and fresh. Ideally, sites should be "sticky," meaning that they should spur user engagement and return visits. If consumers are encouraged to linger on a site, there is a better chance that marketing efforts will make an impact. The more content advertisers have in their arsenal, the better -- but the quality of content is the main reason why users repeatedly visit a website. It also reflects well on a brand because it keeps messaging at the forefront of consumers' minds.
Providing real user value is especially important because consumers will not pay attention to alerts if content is not interesting. It does not matter how many updates are posted if the content is boring or sales-speak. Be funny, controversial, or ridiculous -- grabbing users' attention and engaging them in meaningful ways is the end goal.
5. Get creative with your strategy
Once solid content is in place, marketers need to take steps to pull additional users from search engines to their websites. Creatively including misspellings or slang terms into search engine marketing strategies is one way to do this. A very simplistic example is to include "NYC" and "New York City" in a keyword list. It is important for marketers to think of the language users actually employ when searching for a brand. Since incorporating misspellings into a keyword strategy usually makes companies cringe, marketers need to develop imaginative ways to incorporate these common typing errors into content. While neglecting a hyphen or jumbling letters may not conform to a corporate style guide, the alternative is missing out on qualified traffic.
Aligning every content outlet is the crux of an effective content strategy. It not only drives users to a site, but it also adds value to the brand-consumer relationship. To get the most out of digital content, marketers should take steps to ensure their offline, social media, and on-page content strategies augment and contribute to one another. By creating synergies between messaging and language, successes in one area can feed into other advertising efforts. Quality content-driven strategies will unearth additional traffic and yield conversion numbers that will keep ROI numbers high and smiles on bosses' faces.
Andrew Rodrigues is an SEO and social media consultant.
Myth 4: There are dozens of DSPs today, and there will soon be hundreds more
False. There is no shortage of organizations claiming to be a DSP. But you can count on one hand the number of solution providers able to deliver a truly successful DSP campaign (perhaps even minus a couple of fingers). In the heyday of networks, there were reportedly more than 300 ad networks out there, but few had a significant amount of their own proprietary technology. It is the large, technology-rich networks that have successfully transitioned to become real DSPs. The rest are scrambling to rely on relationships for their technology, as they had little or no technology of their own to expose when the DSP tsunami hit our industry's shores. Because of the technology required, there will be far fewer successful DSPs than there were ad networks. Dozens? Maybe somewhere down the line. Hundreds? No way.
Myth 5: DSPs are a fad and will not have real staying power
False. Far from a fad, the DSP trend is about control, efficiency, and profitability. Advertisers never wanted to outsource all of their control; they did it for the quick scale and reach that networks provided. Now that the exchanges have matured and have exposed real-time bid APIs, control can move back to the advertisers, while retaining all of the scale and reach that networks can offer. Once we go down this road, there will be no turning back. The DSP trend is causing a fundamental change in the nature of how display media is used.
With any significant new trend, there is bound to be some confusion. Hopefully this clears the air around some of the more prevalent myths in our industry. There are sure to be more myths and many different viewpoints, but this is a start. What is certain is that the trend toward the self-service DSP model is going to have some staying power. It has already made an irrevocable impact on how display media is brokered and continues to drive upheaval. It was way back in 475 BC that the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "The only constant in life is change," and those words are just as true today. The display advertising industry has gone through constant change since Hotwired ran the first banner ad in 1993, and the nimble organizations will be the ones that continue to flourish.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
4. The framework is in relationship terms
- You never get a second chance to make a good first impression -- so make it count and put your best foot forward.
- 53 percent of women feel they form "relationships" with brands online; 37 percent first see brands they encounter online to be "good partners" -- sending relevant ads they need and use. This demonstrates a positive attitude, in general, toward brands online.
INSIGHT: Women see brands in relationship terms. They don't silo or separate. A coupon in the mail, a website, a social media post, the in-store experience. Ensure a smooth, consistent experience. Gather intelligence from each point of contact and get to know her -- personally.
5. She has an inner circle -- learn from the best to crack into it
- Women pinpointed five brands offering the best online relationship:
- Procter & Gamble
- Betty Crocker
- General Mills
INSIGHT: Study the best. Like any meaningful relationship, a brand must provide positive reinforcement and trust to ensure a quality relationship. Clearly, these five brands are investing and offering the "other guys" a template.
6. You gotta give to get
- In today's market, brands are expected to give consumers something of value to help develop the initial relationship. Make that something special. Provide women with a reason to engage, whether it's a free sample, a coupon, or an educational tip/recipe. Value is key.
- Nearly 60 percent of women share the secret to a better relationship. They "want brands to give them something or offer them more deals."
INSIGHT: Though relationships are being formed, there is still room for improvement. More than 21 percent of women said brands tend to be "clingy" online, and more than 17 percent said they are "too flashy." Provide value, substance, and meaning.
7. Bridge offline and online
- Half of women are influenced in-store by the online ads they encounter, and 67 percent "feel" a brand's online experience is meshing with the in-store experience. There is room to bridge the gap.
- Remember, while women are online, the majority of their time is spent socializing and researching -- tailor your ad to enhance either experience.
- When brands send women helpful content online this interaction translates to the in-store experience.
INSIGHT: Ensure your online dialogue positively influences offline transactions.
As brands and marketers adjust their campaigns to enhance the online consumer engagement and experience, keep in mind, women understand and appreciate targeted ads that pertain to their busy lifestyle. Further, ensure the brand communication correlates with all channels -- i.e., online and offline -- and when establishing a relationship with your consumer, initiate with value.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.