Here's the good news: at your disposal is arguably the most targeted advertising medium conceivable -- paid search. Consumers literally tell us what they want, every minute of every day. While this is great news, there are many inherent challenges. When consumers search, are you reaching them at their moment of need?
Finding a way to do this is not an easy task, considering that there are now four major search platforms - Google, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, MSN - each with an abundance of factors and variables to determine ad placement. The complexity is so great that maneuvering through the maze can be hard. But targeting consumers immediately is absolutely vital, because they expect to find their information quickly and easily.
Point of Entry
Like all of us, when consumers decide exactly what they are looking for, they want it right away. In other words, they go straight to a trusted, well-known source to find their answer.
In the world of search, consumers have numerous points of entry from which to choose. They have the traditional search engines like Google and Yahoo!, targeted sites like Expedia and Orbitz in the travel space and marketplaces like Amazon. By combining the strengths of both, many aggregator sites have started to develop a strong following. And, local search, while still in its relative infancy, is growing stronger and more widely used.
To add to the complexity of search engines is the plethora of additional online advertising options that are cropping up almost weekly and are having an influence on how consumers are buying online. Some of those include behavioral targeting, contextual advertising, as well as others -- we read about them every day. Plus, the addition of publisher sites provide advertisers with even greater reach.
The crucial point to all this madness however, is still this: all of these options are nothing more than a means to help consumers get what they want as fast as they can, which more often than not is at their point of entry (i.e. the first location they go to search).
Consider this fact: according to "How Americans Search," a study conducted by Harris Interactive, 53 percent of adults search every time or almost every time that they are online. However, they have high expectations for search in terms of time and efficiency. The average search engine user makes 34 searches a month, spending roughly 43 minutes total and viewing only an average of 1.9 pages per search, according to "Search Engine Users," a Pew Internet & American Life Project study.
That's little more than a minute per day. And, what that means is that advertisers need to make the most of those precious few minutes consumers spend on search or jeopardize losing an interested buyer.
Abundant Choices, Little Time
Some things never change. You have to know your stuff. As I said, the search engines are dedicated to providing their users the best experience possible; they are constantly tweaking their systems and pursuing new ways to be smarter in their mechanics. You need to do the same thing - "smarten" yourself by forming two solid foundations for your online advertising strategy: consumer intelligence and experience, and technology.
Consumer intelligence is built on your company and your customers, which are inextricably linked. Consumer experience is what happens after the consumer clicks on your ad. To ensure the customer experience is one that will keep them coming back you need to ask yourself, is my site ready to serve, do I have inventory, and have I created a positive experience. To reach your customers at their point of entry, you must know who they are and how they behave. What engines do they prefer? How do they conduct their searches? When do they search?
Brand equity is a consideration as well; consumers display a considerable amount of brand loyalty to certain platforms. Travel customers, for example, routinely go to aggregator sites such as Expedia.com before even consulting airline, hotel or rental car company websites.
The technology base is made up of two components: the search engine outlets and optimization technology to ensure you derive the highest value from your search strategy efforts. It's critical to know how search engines do their business. As we all know, no one will be able to crack the code completely, because each engine has its own sophisticated and complex way of scoring quality. However, what we do know is that search engines want to provide the most value for their users by directing them to what they want immediately. Capitalizing on this is slightly more complicated. Sophisticated technology can make the crucial difference in uncovering trends on each engine's tendencies and methodologies. It's how you gather insight into constantly changing APIs and the many factors, including price, content and CPC, that go into them.
And that's where the strategies come into play. The industry has progressed far past managing keyword campaigns on an individual basis via Excel spreadsheets. As we have all come to learn with pay-per-click, it's not about coming up first on the list with the highest bid; it's about maximizing your ROI by finding the best combination of keywords and bids across multiple platforms. Predictive modeling and automation help you catch the consumer not only at the right place and right time, but also in the right position.
Having a solid foundation of knowledge and technology ensures that you will make the most of sophisticated search options. Managing a comprehensive search advertising and marketing campaign is almost impossible without technology, but technology is only as good as your ability to use it. You must also monitor your data constantly to capture critical audience characteristics and behaviors. If you can solidly balance consumer intelligence with technology, you will be in position to reach your consumers at the right place, the right time, and the right position - their point of entry.
Ellen Siminoff is the chief executive officer of Efficient Frontier, a leading provider of paid search engine marketing (SEM) solutions. Today, Efficient Frontier manages more than $150 million in annual PPC spend, counts 40 of the top 500 search advertisers as clients and manages over 10 million keywords