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SearchTHIS: DoubleClick on Pay-for-Play

SearchTHIS: DoubleClick on Pay-for-Play Kevin Ryan

In the biggest news since DoubleClick acquired the performance marketing firm, Performics, a new search white paper hit the streets today offering a summary collection of guiding principles in pay-for-placement search and a taste of the upcoming DoubleClick Search Trend Report.

Today’s white paper is a first look at industry studies of the same ilk as DoubleClick’s trend report, but with a slight difference. The collaborative Performics/DoubleClick issue has the look and feel of the reports we have come to know and judge from DoubleClick, however the structure of the information and its language echoes the no-nonsense culture of a Midwestern firm, rather than a polished New York industry monolith.

Search is complex. Search is difficult. Search can be unforgiving and costly if you don’t watch it closely -- just a couple of the report's delicate pearls of wisdom delivered with a sledgehammer. Some of this information we have seen before, some we haven’t, but it sure is nice to see an easy-to-understand format for such a complicated segment of online marketing.

Un-natural search

The data collected in this document comes from Performics clients with accumulated conclusions from “hundreds of thousands” of “active keywords,” which raises an important question. What exactly is an active keyword? The answer is the first in a series of surprisingly useful clarifications.

In the absence of industry guidance in the arena of defining search terms, advertisers, marketers and search providers often adopt a make-it-up-as-you-go methodology. This practice can lead to disaster and often leaves the above mentioned entities wasting time trying to translate similar information which should be time well spent doing other things. Almost anything else would be good.

The white paper seeks to avoid this by clarifying search specific terms from the word go. Since traditional online marketers rarely use the phrase “active keyword,” the term is readily defined as a phrase that receives at least one click a month. Another beyond-the-norm definition offered is “Average Position” that refers to a mean rank for keywords in a given time period.

Another handy definition is “keyword length,” that refers to the number of words in a phrase. Some will argue that the length of the keyword or phrase is not quite as important as the depth and breadth of its application. Most notably, elsewhere in the report is an indication that searchers are becoming smarter in their use of terms. Reinforcing a continuing trend of deeper use language by searchers are conclusions that over 82 percent of active keywords are two, three or four keywords long, while only 7 percent are one word long.

Good news and bad news

One of the main focal points of the white paper is the delivery of an 80/20 theorem in pay-for-placement search as it relates the number of terms in a given campaign. Although it might seem blasphemous for a search solutions provider to do so, Performics reports the largest portion of keywords often shows the smallest portion of return. Specifically, 62 percent of active keywords generate less than ten clicks per month.

The blasphemy comes in the realization that only 15 percent of keywords generate the dominant portion of conversions or desired actions. Hypothetically, if a paid search advertiser currently bids or positions against 100 keywords and only 15 of them generate the dominant portion of traffic, then why would the advertiser need a search tool like the one Performics or DoubleClick offers to manage a search program?

It’s just not as simple as finding 15 keywords and sticking with them. Any search marketing dilettante could launch a program with a small bunch of keywords, set it on autopilot, and move on to more important things. Search is too complex for that. To help straighten out some of the complexity, DoubleClick sorted search fundamentals into key categories. Beyond 80/20 (labeled “Click Volume Considerations”) are four other core principles of search marketing.

Fundamentals of search

The number of keywords is only relative to each client’s needs assessment. The white paper labels this first understanding “Campaign Size Considerations.” Since savvy search marketers use a variety of tools to implement search programs (examples include keyword generators and competitive analysis), ultimately keyword selection will vary according to performance goals and activity over time. Keyword selection cannot be limited to the performance of one keyword or phrase on one search site.

Back to the 80/20 rule, the second principle, “Keyword Length Considerations,” relates to search activity and development of search behavior. In the report, it is noted that searchers are becoming more sophisticated in their expectations of search engines. In the end, the more advanced search sites become, the longer keywords will become and more difficult it will be to select them.

“Pricing Considerations” top the list for most advertisers in any media and represents the third core principle. Searchers are becoming more educated about return expectations, yet click costs continue to increase. Performics labeled keywords beyond $.50 per click as expensive and cited 60 percent of active keywords cost $.20 or less. While this labeling process is highly relative, as in specific examples of seasonal keyword pricing, it does illustrate a very good point. A high keyword cost due to competitive activity does not guarantee performance.

The need for placement at the top of the list has been the subject of much debate and conjecture in search. The Performics analysis suggests that while core principle number four, “Positioning Considerations,” is critical, the best results emerge from a combined analysis of where a listing falls on a page and the cost or return goals. The white paper reports that using return metrics in conjunction with position management disciplines are the most effective means of program management. And, in the instance where high positions are sacrificed for the sake of ROI goals, lower positions still generate enough traffic to justify keeping a given search term or group of terms in a search program.

The real data is yet to come

This white paper serves only as precursor to the more complete search report due out in the next month, but there are still a few questions unanswered by the DoubleClick/Performics merger. How will advertisers react to placing all their search eggs in one basket with Performics offering search consultation along with DoubleClick branded tools? Will firms competing with Performics shy away from DART for search for this reason? What effect might this potential fallout have on the two firms?

The answers to questions such as this often come quite hastily when advertisers or search agencies are presented with difficult choices in the marketplace. Despite possible conflicts or all-in-one considerations, one thing is certain -- the no-nonsense approach to disseminating intelligence should be the rule, not the exception. In this regard, the DoubleClick/Performics combination is a clear winner.

Additional resources:

Download a copy of the DoubleClick white paper (when it becomes available). 

iMedia 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. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization and several regional non-profit organizations. Meet Ryan at the Kelsey’s ILM:4 Conference, November 3-5, 2004 and Ad:Tech, NY November 8-10.

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Do: tie in other online programs
Desktop applications are just what the doctor ordered when it comes to a deeper level of engagement with customers and prospects. Just be sure to remember to make it easy for people to engage further with your brand and products.

For instance, a desktop application is a great way to generate signups for newsletters and other email communications. You might also use a desktop app to get people into a loyalty or continuity program. Don't forget links to key pieces of information on your website. I've even seen desktop applications provide easy ways for downloaders to access online videos and commercials that they're interested in seeing.

Don't: produce boatware
Anybody remember the Miller Lite Beer Pager?  It was an application designed to help people get their friends together at Miller Time (after work). Problem is, the thing was so huge in terms of the size of the download and the system resources it hogged, the app didn't stand a chance at mainstream adoption.

A thorough assessment of a desktop program includes a reality check with respect to the size of the download and any side effects it might or might not have when installed on a machine. One desktop application we downloaded here at the office a couple years ago caused our computers to slow to a crawl any time they accessed web pages containing Javascript. Once we figured out the app was the culprit, we purged it from our machines and never downloaded it again. 

Remember that bloggers and members of online communities in general love to pick apart inefficient software and post negative reviews if they think an application is unwieldy.

Do: respect the user's desktop
Attention is at a premium, and desktop applications can't be overbearing in competing for attention. A desktop application that pops up a window every five minutes or constantly blinks in the taskbar is going to be uninstalled pretty quickly. Provide news and utility when it's relevant, but avoid temptation to try to dominate attention 24/7.

The user experience is key to making sure you stay relevant and that you continue to be allowed a presence on the end user's desktop. Respect your users and you'll do fine.

Don't: violate user privacy
We've all been down the spyware road, and users are suspicious of desktop applications from the get-go as a result. There's a temptation to gather all sorts of data on desktop app users and get around privacy violations by disclosing it in 2.5-point type a dozen pages into the EULA. 

Don't bother. 

Word will get out and your program will die a quick death. A good desktop application will gather information by asking the end user, and by promising customized information and utility in exchange for the information.

The quickest way to get booted off someone's desktop is by giving the user even an inkling that an application they've downloaded is gathering information without consent. Remember that your app is there by invitation only: an invitation that can be withdrawn at a moment's notice.

Tom Hespos is the president of Underscore Marketing and blogs at Hespos.com. Read full bio.


Quick tips for optimization:

  1. Provide regular updates. Like most social media, a Facebook page is only as good as the content available for fans to interact with. Generally speaking, the more digital assets (videos, photos, etc.) the better. Provide regular updates (at least daily and preferably more, though this will depend on your niche) that encourage user participation. Respond to user feedback. To keep from falling behind, consider creating a calendar of updates at the beginning of each week or month.

  2. Choose a good name for the page. The name of your Facebook page is arguably the most important early decision you will make because this is the very first thing the search engines will see when they visit your page. At the very least, you should include the name of the business. You might also include targeted keywords if appropriate.

  3. Choose a good username. A username allows you to have a "clean" URL. For example, if you choose "dwaynejohnsonrocks" as your username, your page URL will be "www.facebook.com/dwaynejohnsonrocks." These URLs look nicer on business cards and letterhead, and they are easier to remember.

    Vanity URLs, as they are called, also provide an opportunity for further optimization with your business name or a selected keyword. Given the choice between the two, the business name will be more appropriate in most cases.

  4. Take advantage of the "about" box. The "about" box is a great place to include relevant content and keyword-rich descriptions. This is one of the only places on a page's "wall" that allows for fully customized copy to be written. Many pages use this space to simply provide a link back to the corporate website or place their tagline, but it is an ideal place to help the search engines understand more about your page.

  5. Customize your page. Facebook allows for a moderate amount of customization. You can't change backgrounds or otherwise skin the page, but you can completely customize other things. For example, you have a large degree of control over how your tabs appear. In addition to adding unique content inside "boxes," you can frame a page hosted elsewhere, which allows for full control over the look and feel of that particular tab (within the confines of the Facebook page that surrounds it, of course).

    A customized page immediately communicates credibility to the user and also shows a commitment to your brand's involvement with not only Facebook but also social media as a whole.

Who did it great
The online T-shirt company Threadless has been active in social media since its inception. Its business model of printing user-submitted and user-voted designs requires an environment that encourages feedback and user interaction.

The Threadless Facebook fan page has nearly 77,000 fans and has customized tabs including one that features new shirts. Next to each design is a comment box, which means that every time a Facebook user comment is left, it will be shared with that user's entire network. That's valuable free advertising. Threadless also does an excellent job with the "boxes" tab, which shows a multitude of unique content.

Mistakes to avoid
Any company that does business online should have a Facebook profile. Existing clients and potential new clients expect to find you there. But more importantly, the exponential sharing aspect of Facebook makes it an ideal location for free advertising. Having said that, it's important to understand that a bad Facebook page -- one with no customization, or worse, no regular updates -- can be more detrimental to your brand than having no Facebook profile at all. So before taking the plunge, have a plan.


Quick tips for optimization

  1. Pick a good username. Your username, or handle, will likely affect if and where your Twitter profile appears on a search engine results page. Most of the time, the most appropriate username will be your brand name, but in certain cases a relevant keyword will be preferable.

  2. Choose a good account name, which is as, or more, important than the username. Search engines look at both the username and the account name to determine relevance for keyword searches. So if the name of your organization is Dwayne Johnson Fan Club, you'll likely want to choose that as your account name. This will increase the likelihood that your Twitter channel is returned as a result for the keyword search "Dwayne Johnson Fan Club."

  3. Add links and keywords to your profile. One of the reasons Twitter is so popular is because it is so damn easy to use. While this ease of use might be good for my mom, it's not the greatest thing in the world for your brand because it means that you have few opportunities to customize the page.

    Write your bio carefully and include relevant keywords if appropriate. For the "web" URL, it would be best to link to a landing page created especially to convert social media users, but you also might consider linking to a Facebook or YouTube profile. Linking to your homepage is a perfectly acceptable option too.

  4. The initial characters of tweets are important for search engine listings. The first 40 or so characters of each Twitter update are the ones that will appear in the titles of the search engines' listings when an update, or tweet, is returned as a result. As such, this is an ideal place to include any relevant keywords that might define the content of the message. And as a general rule, try to include keywords in your tweets whenever it makes sense. It's always best to tell the search engines exactly what you mean rather than let them figure it out on their own.

  5. Tweets should include back links when appropriate. A big part of SEO is link-building, so when it makes sense to do so, include links back to content on your blog, Facebook, YouTube, or website. If you don't overdo it, and keep the tweets on-topic, Twitter can be a good way to build some links back to a page you want to promote.

  6. Optimize your background image. Even though none of the links will be live, you can customize Twitter's background image so that your profile shows links to your other social media destinations. If it's a personal twitter account, you can include a headshot and even a phone number. And by all means, take advantage of this opportunity to stay consistent with your branding so that it matches your corporate website, blog, etc.

Who did it great
The Coffee Bean
The Coffee Bean has chosen a corporate messaging persona for its Twitter account. Therefore, the background has been optimized to display contact information for customer relations, media and entertainment, and career opportunities. The company has also set aside a small space for current promotions in a graphic labeled "Happening Now at The Coffee Bean."

Best Buy's Twelpforce is a Twitter-based customer service forum. It has optimized its background image to both stay consistent with the branding and messaging of the Twelpforce campaign and also to provide instructions for how to use the Twelpforce service. The bio section clearly states the purpose of the profile, and it even lists a non-live link to an associated Facebook profile.

Mistakes to avoid
Abandoned Twitter profiles are cringe-worthy. It's bad enough when a company sets up a Twitter profile but then does nothing with it, leaving the default color scheme and background. But it's even worse when you see a company that created a Twitter profile, changed the default images, perhaps wrote a few updates... and then abandoned it.

These scenarios communicate a lack of commitment to the brand's online client base. Just like all good online profiles, Twitter requires attention, especially in the form of regular updates. Definitely don't use Twitter as a place to post every new blog post, press release, or corporate announcement. Twitter provides nearly endless opportunities for two-way communication with potential brand advocates and loyal customers. Make an effort to interact with your followers as much as they interact with you.

With regards to SEO, many of the same tactics are going to apply to any social media profiles you are looking to optimize. Try to keep in mind that one of the principal ways that search engines measure the importance of any page, whether it is a social media page or not, is by counting the total number of good links, and more importantly the total number of relevant domains that link back to the page.

Therefore, promote your social media profiles in company correspondence. Add them to email signatures. If you run video online or on television, reserve some space to include a link to your Facebook page. All of these tactics help build awareness of your social media presence and can organically attract links. Also remember to interlink all of your different profiles together, and link to them from your corporate website.

Above all, remember to include your social media presence as part of your larger marketing effort. You don't have to create new campaigns specifically for Facebook or Twitter. If you have success with an existing online or offline campaign, you might be pleasantly surprised how well it translates in the social media world.

Drew Hubbard is director of promotions and social media at The Search Agency.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

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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