Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and the specialized disciplines of Paid Search and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are amongst the most desirable aspects of online marketing today. Search engines continue to evolve in how they interpret index and access information on the internet.
While search engines evolve into more targeted advertising vehicles, the heart of the SEM game is still finding the right keywords to marry user intention with desired action behavior. Keywords exist in site architecture and content along with search engine advertising.
Start with the search providers, but don't end there…
Keyword suggestion tools from search providers are always a good start. Yahoo! offers a tried and true keyword suggestion tool, as well as separate bid costs projection tools. Google's keyword tool offers a very broad stroke of competitive activity within specific keyword sets.
Always take keyword suggestions and costs from the search provider with a grain of salt. Remember: your mission is to generate a return with keywords, while the search provider's mission is to increase revenue from click costs.
Using robots or other automated tools to scrape keywords from your competitor's websites is generally considered a waste of time on a large scale since you are never really sure how much traffic these keywords have been responsible for over time. Yet there are one or two ways to take advantage of your competitor's terms.
Want to know which keywords are sending the bulk of traffic to your competitors? Try paid services from companies like Hitwise that provide keyword to traffic details for almost any site you choose. Just remember that services like this are not cheap, particularly when compared to guerilla tactics.
Comparing keywords in your search marketing initiative to that of your competitors is commonly referred to as preparing a gap analysis. You are in effect looking for "gaps" in your search marketing initiative as compared to your competitors.
Naturally, when reviewing a giant keyword list one must focus on terms that are relevant to your needs as opposed to simply adopting a competitive keyword list en masse.
Product and service specific terms responsible for sending traffic into your competitors' sites may not do much for your brand. Then again, trademark policies with search sites are a bit, shall we say laissez-faire? Both courts and search sites have consistently proven that is your responsibility to police your brand.
Since desired action rates are high with brand and product specific terms, there might be some opportunity for expansion in this realm.
Match technologies and trademarks
In the paid search (PPC or search engine advertising) world an advertiser can have oodles of fun positioning against keywords that are protected by other brands.
Through successfully manipulating match technologies an advertiser can use search terms to a competitive advantage while avoiding the trademark unpleasantness. Match technologies in search engine advertising allow an advertiser to position against every combination of the word "hotel," for example.
It doesn't matter if the user enters the brand term "Choicest Hotel" if you have chosen a broad match technology option with every iteration of the word "hotel." Your listing as the brand "Mariotti Hotel" will position against searches for competitor brand names as long as they contain the word "hotel." Of course, trademark policies preclude an advertiser's ability to do this, but the "do it until you get caught" mentality has never slowed anyone down. Just look at the number of speeding tickets that are issued each day in America.
Another option for bidding on competitor's product or brand names couldn't be mistaken for the moral high ground, but it certainly has been effective for some marketers. A few brands have chosen to compare their products to competitive offerings in the form of microsite content. Since relevant content exists on the site to support competitive terms, an advertiser can bid away.
And everywhere else…
Cereal boxes, the latest episode of "Monk," cute bumper stickers and every single pearl of wisdom to erupt from Rosie O'Donnell can be assembled into a search marketing program. That is the beautiful part of search engine advertising: it doesn't cost much and it doesn't take long to find a winner.
If the consuming public is thinking it, chances are thought will be translated into search terms. Bloggers and brand advocates are new and effective sources for relevant keywords that might fit nicely into a keyword lexicon.
The down side to some of the sneakier tactics in collecting and using keywords might show cause for pause with some brand managers; others not so much.
In the grand exalted pursuit and subsequent worship of almighty currency, the cost of upsetting a few searchers with low brow tactics often pales in comparison to the revenue generated from adding scope to morality with crafty keyword tactics.
Kevin M. Ryan is Chief Executive Officer at Kinetic Results. Read full bio.