SearchTHIS: Jumping Into Specialty Markets?

We live in the most sophisticated marketing environment the world has ever known. We spend billions of dollars doing market research to understand target behavior and how we can better reach intended audiences.

We conduct interviews, collect surveys and build profiles -- we know our audience. We study their every move so that we can look like one of them as we try to sell them our crap. We learn their deepest desires, their needs and try to anticipate future wants so we can be there. We hire magnificently-pricey creative talent to help construct the most compelling advertisements, while our media departments develop comprehensive placements.

Then, we launch a search marketing initiative and somehow forget it all. We want them to use our language instead of theirs. Worse, we arrogantly assume omnipotence in audience knowledge. We have packed our own, triple-checked all of our gear, and proceeded to jump out of the plane without strapping the parachute on.

The BASE-is of knowledge

Case in point; I took up a new sport recently. Riding my motorcycle around California freeways wasn’t dangerous enough anymore, and jumping out of a perfectly-good airplane no longer excited me, so I decided to try BASE jumping. BASE, an acronym for building, antennae, span and earth, represents places from which one freefalls. In a nutshell, one straps on a parachute and proceeds to jump off a fixed structure.

Most BASE jumping experts agree that you must first learn to skydive. The mechanics are very similar. And since I had a few years of free fall jumps, I needed only a few refreshers on DZ targeting and PC techniques while avoiding zero-porosity canopies. Have any idea what I just said? BASE jumpers do, and despite what you might think, most of them are not suicidal. While I’ll grant you some may not be the shiniest apples in the barrel, these guys (non-gender specific term) buy a ton of crap.

Good luck trying to find said crap with a search engine. There are few, if any, equipment manufacturers of BASE specific equipment. That is to say, BASE gear is often borrowed from other sports like skydiving. The big picture here is most sites do not optimize for niche language. An Overture search for "BASE jumping" provided me a link to a child’s toy. BASE enthusiasts along with hundreds of other niche audiences can be served search results in a most efficient manner by using some additional jump parameters.

What’s a "tuner?"

I have a few names for them. How about annoying? Idiotic? How about your neighbor’s kid who inherits the ’95 Honda Civic upon turning 16, and proceeds to start tricking the car out in lieu of saving for college. The first step, it seems, would be the purchase of a deafening flatulence-simulating muffler to be used while driving around your suburban neighborhood at 3 a.m. Tuners, aside from being a bit misguided about financial responsibility and social conscience, do in fact spend money and, like BASE jumpers, speak their own language.

My fellow road warrior, Ron Belanger, vice president of search for Carat Interactive, developed a unique strategy for reaching tuners for an automotive manufacturer client. "The idea was to segment potential buyers; possibly away from the traditional mindset of who we thought were buying our client’s vehicles," says Belanger. They found these tuners who, on average spent $3,000 to $10,000 a month hopping up low end cars. "We unearthed a whole new language and with it, a cost effective means of reaching a new audience for our client," Belanger says.

Advertisers often ask me how to find cheap keywords. While BASE jumpers are an example of a completely undiscovered search audience, the tuner situation is a prime example of an opportunity for locating cheap keywords within a very competitive category. A top position for the "automobile" keyword is going to run you in the neighborhood of four bucks a click. Plug in your tuner lingo, and a bid on the keyword "scissor door”  will cost about 25 cents. Likewise the "suspension" keyword is about a buck, yet the purist street-racing miscreant will be searching for a "coilover kit" at about a 10 cent cost per click.

Where to start looking

Aside from collecting offline data and, dare I say, applying it to the online universe, log files -- the second most underutilized arena for locating search terms -- won’t do you much good in discovering a new audience or serving an existing niche. The idea is to reach an audience that is currently not aware of your existence.

Also, traditional keyword suggestion tools might not be the best way to go. Both suggestive keyword and log analysis have their place in the grand scheme of search engine marketing development, but their inherently narrow focus just won’t help you find the goods.

You have to go where base jumpers eat, sleep and breathe. Places where tuners find the latest hip parts that can be bolted on, stolen or picked up on the side of the freeway. The foundation of the World Wide Web, the original promise, the dream of the Internet: places of free information. In other words, chat rooms, weblogs and discussion boards.

There’s a Yahoo! discussion for just about every activity on the planet. Google also has a directory area with a broad range of subject matter categories. Both of these sites offer a great launching point for discovering language and interests that could be specific to your next great audience.

In any case, the process of discovery is a manual, arduous one and messaging has to be taken quite seriously. For instance "Bridge Day" is a jumper’s paradise site, yet paid search results lead to tips on how to beat opponents at the card game. Many of the new terms you locate may also have meanings you are unprepared to have your brand positioned against. Searchers for information or commerce related activity on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, may find their listings living among a less than relevant crowd. Words of advice: cross-check those listings before buying positions.

Paid, optimized and included

I’m a big proponent of buying keywords no one else is buying. One, you get the word cheaply and two, you now have messaging timeliness latitude. All too often, we forget just how new paid search advertising is, and how much great expanse exists in undiscovered country because we narrowly focus on high-traffic paid categories.

Generally speaking, the more specific and underused terms are, the easier it is to get ranked in natural search as well. Now before I get myself into trouble, I am not saying ranking is easy. I am simply saying getting rankings in less crowded portions of indexes is a somewhat less daunting task. Longer more specific phrases, less chatter means higher rankings if you remember to make sure meta content is up to speed.

Effectiveness on their terms

The new-found audience reach is no reason to ignore tried and true category and keyword selection. Opening the door to a new audience via niche keyword selection may not help you reach the billions of searching masses, but it may help you fill a much needed or unrealized void. So, whether you are looking for a rigger to set up a go and throw with a 42" pc, or trying to locate a really handy way to turn your '92 Honda Civic hatchback into a 'Fast and Furious'  candidate, discovering new audiences with search terms is only a discussion board or chat room away.

About the Author: This is the part of the column that talks about all of the magnificent things I’ve done. Frankly, after traveling around the country in the past few weeks and meeting many of you who read my stuff, this week, I would like to offer a very humble "thanks" for reading. You guys really make foregoing a normal life and my tireless efforts to deliver new and different content every week worthwhile. Thanks again. And now, the self-aggrandizing bio…

 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 Ryan at Ad:Tech May 24-26th, 2004.