SearchTHIS: Top 10 Questions

If there’s one thing I love about traveling, it’s… on second thought, I can’t think of one thing to be happy about when trudging about the world. Smelly cabs, ambiguous union flight attendants, cancelled reservations, lost luggage, and of course, extinct customer service guidelines industry-wide. I guess the only thing worthy of expressing glee about is one’s arrival. For example, my favorite destination of late is lovely and beautiful downtown Long Beach, Calif., aka home.

Speaking of favorite things upon arrival, whenever I attend an online advertising presentation, my weekly anger management lecture or even a fly fishing seminar, the most exciting part of a live audience anything is the interaction between speaker and attendee.

The only real way to find what’s on people’s minds is, of course, to ask them. Well, we have -- all over America. As Grand Exalted Emperor of all things Q&A in the iMediaLearning Search Tour, I bring you the top 10 most frequently asked questions to date. Unedited (who am I kidding?) and in the director’s cut format, because you deserve nothing less.

How can I get higher on natural search rankings?

It’s quite simple actually. Stop smoking that low-ranking shwag. Short answer, take the iMediaLearning search marketing course (please note: I receive no proceeds from said endeavor) and study your site’s needs architecture. Long answer, a volume of information exists on the best practices for search engine rankings. Here are a couple of top thoughts.

  • Focus on relevant content and text
  • Follow the rules; cheating gets ousted or parked on page 50,786,234
  • Pay attention to search dynamics before, after and during site construction
  • Get spidered and tag each page appropriately
  • Don’t ignore secondary rank possibilities, i.e. link popularity

Why is performance different with Overture and Google?

This one always has the sponsors cringing. Rumors of one search provider universally dominating another are rubbish. There are, however, certain listings that seem to do better with a longer, more detailed listing. That is to say, Overture has a larger character capacity than Google. For example, if one has an emerging technology product in a competitive category, users find a long description helpful. Conversely, the Google abbreviated listing may bode more favorably when all you need is a short line and a link.

Most often, the problem of one doing better than the other has a cause and effect relationship with a lack of understanding of the unique dynamics of Overture and Google. The two providers have very different systems for listing efficiency. Google is the listing Darwinism provider, because users determine positioning with clicks much more so than Overture. The trick is finding which description works best with your product or service’s landing page -- and remember to treat Overture and Google with unique consideration.

Is it essential to have the No. 1 position in PFP?

Sure -- if you are compensating for inadequacies elsewhere or your helplessly outmatched ego has you bidding through the roof for the sake of being numero uno. The ultimate answer to this question is measure, measure and measure. Measure the effect of being in position one as opposed to positions two through four with multiple listing groups. Measure the effectiveness of position shifts while accommodating target dayparts. Focus on measuring return over the inherent joy of seeing your listing come up No. 1. Often, you can achieve significant savings through optimizing and underbidding ego-driven advertisers for lower positions.

What are sources for keyword development?

Overture, Google and many other providers have keyword-building tools in their respective user areas. Enter a keyword and up pop a few relevant terms -- or not, as the case may be. If one sells Diesel Denim, the keyword suggestion for bidding on Vin Diesel might not be the best way to go.

Golden rule: When in doubt, test the keyword out.

Log files might be the least tapped but best source for keyword development. One non-search advertiser told me recently he passed on paid search for several months until he collected enough keyword usage and behavior information from his log files to give searchers an exact match from term to landing page. If everyone studied log files and path analysis to help optimize search initiatives, the world would be a better place.

How often should I manage my bids?

Don’t you just love it when people answer your question with a question? How competitive is your category? Do you find that each time a valued position is achieved, is it quickly lost to another advertiser? Are you selling high tech wireless phone accessories with fifty other advertisers? Is your product or service set so obscure that very few advertisers contend with you? Do you find that modifying or updating bids on hourly, daily or weekly intervals is either impractical or unnecessary? Is the answer perhaps unique to every advertiser? Can it be that specific keyword groupings directing traffic into the same site might require unique keyword bid management strategies? Are you catching my drift?

Is it enough to just buy Google and Overture?

Another sponsor favorite. Well, not exactly. Google and Overture can rarely be overlooked for the sheer reach and frequency they represent. Of course, another way to take this question might be: is it enough to partake only in paid search? Probably not, but I am more concerned with firms that offer "full-service search engine marketing," which consists of one or two paid search offerings.

A March Jupiter Research study concluded that only 25 percent of search marketers measured either online or offline leads. These are the people you are bidding against, folks. They aren’t all that bright, but neither are most people on California freeways, yet we have to live with them both. I suspect a large portion of the non-measuring paid search populace is responsible for driving click costs way up beyond the realm of any return.

When click costs are knocked out of the park by SEM nudniks, look for a buying efficiency off-ramp in tier two search providers like Enhance, Business.Com and Kanoodle. Beyond the cost advantages, paid search providers other than Google and Overture can source the kind of extreme innovation, which sends the industry leaping forward. Just look at Industry Brains.

How can I find cheap keywords?

At the keyword flea market (rimshot). This question is a lot easier to answer than you might think. There’s the tier two search option, of course, but as you're digging through those log files, take a look at three- and four-keyword phrases people use to get to your site. Although longer keyword phrases receive much less traffic, they are inherently more targeted and tend to be cheaper as well.

If I get high natural placement, why do I need paid search?

Clearly, if one stayed away from the commonly found street search and moved into the genetically-enhanced listings, one would not need to evaluate the natural search high euphoria. The fact is, organically optimized listings are at best, unpredictable. Google dances, and listing descriptions take the term "benign" to a whole new level of boredom in natural or organic search.

Even if you are happy with those, uh, natural high rankings take a look at last year’s comScore/IAB study in which paid listings were proven to achieve a much higher conversion or desired action rate. Why do they convert better? One of the best answers is the timeliness of messaging which paid search affords an advertiser.

Brands often ask this question when noticing great brand-based keyword rankings. My answer to them? Look up. See who else is bidding on your brand’s keywords. Legal discussions aside, like it or not, a big chunk of your would-have-been traffic is headed to your competitors.

Which budget should search come from?

Everything except online advertising. This one still kills me. The average online budget is 5 percent of an overall spend, but for some reason a few advertisers are yanking budget from other online initiatives and dropping said funds into search. Why? There are plenty of other resources to pull from.

Look at the thick areas, and start peeling and integrating. How much did you spend on focus groups last year? Do you really need to go back to Punxsutawney to get the local perspective on rodent clairvoyant capabilities? Peel. Is there any fluff in your IT budget? Maybe search should be part of it. Integrate.

I have an idea. How about you give me 5 percent of the $20 million you paid to put your brand’s name on that stock car in order to reach the all-too-critical trailer park demographic. The whine: we don’t have any money. The truth: yes, you do.

Is it better to manage search engine marketing in-house?

Try it and see. Hundreds, maybe thousands of keywords organized into distinct groups across dozens of paid search engines. Countless product or descriptive destination pages that need to be optimized in natural listings. Numerous inclusion feeds that demand tweaking in order to achieve effectiveness.

One of two things happens when a firm attempts to manage search in-house. Said firm begins the endeavor with the best of intentions (the road to where is paved with what?) and later realizes how much work is involved and either commits the resources required or decides to hire out.

Strike that. One of three things can happen. Said firm may also run into an increasingly mind-boggling scenario I’ve noticed of late, in which the interactive agency is taking care of the full-service search (buying Overture and Google) and the tech shop or in-house site builders take a stab at optimization. Have you ever heard anyone say, "Let me take a stab at it," and experienced a good result? I think not. If you are going to do it in-house, outsourced or some unholy combination of the two, do it right. Make sure your experts are on top of their game and leave the stabbing to Marcus Junius Brutus.

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. 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 Kevin Ryan at Ad:Tech May 24-26th, 2004 and the iMediaLearning Search Tour.

 

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