Inclusion Just Got a Bit More Enticing

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.