Advertisers spend billions on search, and the industry is growing at an alarming rate. Depending on whom you ask (insert popular research firm here), search advertising is worth between $7 billion and $9 billion. Also depending on whom you ask (insert popular ad percentage spending speculation here), advertisers spend 50 percent or more of their online ad budgets on search.
Search engine advertising is easy. Upload a bunch of keywords to search engine interface, write some copy and set up some bids. It really isn’t any more complicated than that. Or is it?
Search advertising spending is lumped together with contextual search, which isn't really search engine advertising. It looks like search advertising; you can buy it from search providers, but it just isn’t the same.
The problem is that advertisers aren't thinking of content search differently. Here's how you make content work.
Think tank metrics
Comparing performance of content search to directive search is a losing proposition. Contextual search listings do not appear on search results pages. They appear on articles, in email and other content pages around the web. However, you can buy content search ads from search providers on a cost per click basis, and with Google and Yahoo you can manage the campaigns from the same interface.
Herein lies the problem.
The click to conversion or desired action metric is king, and short of shifting all of your metrics to brand campaign success criteria (audience views), contextual search has to be managed separately from traditional search engine advertising programs.
Since an advertiser can purchase content listings from search providers within the same interface, many advertisers choose to manage the campaigns simultaneously. Once can also choose to drive a car, apply makeup, drink coffee, and discipline the children at the same time as well, but we all know why that’s not a good idea.
Waste not, click not
If you are managing content and directive search together, you are probably paying too much. For example, let's take a keyword group like women’s apparel. Hypothetically, the bid price "women’s jeans" is $.40 to $.50 per click for the top six positions on major search engines.
To be placed in the top three positions for the same in term content search, however, you should be paying about $.18 to $.20 per click to achieve the same desired action activity. Click to conversion rates in content search are specific to each campaign, but they can range from 50 percent to 80 percent lower in content search.
Why? The passive audience found in content search simply is not looking for your product or service. While the user might click, said user is much less likely to make a purchase.
Of course, tracking the user beyond an immediate direct with 30 or 60 day cookies will help, but purchase incidences will be lower regardless.
Calling text listings "creative" is a bit of a misnomer, but for the moment let us agree to suspend disbelief. The passive audience in content search requires a bit of a creative shift in messaging.
You can structure creative differently with a few simple tweaks. For example, in directive search you might emphasize pricing and benefits in order to direct traffic to make a purchase or achieve some other desired action like a lead capture for offline purchase.
Using keyword insertion tools (placing the search keyword directly into the title or description for a search ad) in directive search can be quite effective. But in content search, keyword insertion just doesn’t solicit the same response from users, and you have to work a bit harder to grab the user’s attention.
For example, instead of using a keyword insertion for the term "car insurance quote," you would use the title "save on car insurance."
Additionally, practical considerations can be applied your visible URL's appearance, particularly if you have a strong brand. That is, a display URL should very simple and grab the user’s attention: www.brand.com will be more effective than www.brand.com/contentpage/producta
Find your sweet spot
Today's content search environment offers a tremendous amount of options. With specialized providers targeting smaller verticals like Industry Brains, you can target sites where your listings appear independently.
In content search on major search sites like Google or Yahoo, however, your choices are limited. Your ad might appear in email, it might appear on a website or it might appear on an article that is only live for a day.
As general rule, bidding less for content listings than directive search (because conversion rates are lower) is a safe bet. Just because you can buy contextual listings from search providers doesn’t mean you should lump them together into the same bid process or program management strategy.
With a little time and applied unique tactics you can make content search work.
Kevin M. Ryan is chief executive officer at Motivity Marketing.