SEO

Pay Per Click Search Engines

Does it Pay to Pay? Pay Per Click Search Engine Marketing

Getting listed and FOUND in search engines is not as easy as it used to be. First came the “pay-per-click” (PPC) search engines. Overture (formerly GoTo) changed the face of Internet marketing when it began allowing sites to bid on keywords and assert more control over their rankings. Soon after, other PPC search engines began to emerge, and today there are literally hundreds (though few have the reach or power of Overture).

Next came paid submissions. Search engines with paid submissions *require* that a web site pay a fee to be included in their search engine. The most notable of these is Yahoo!, which now requires that ALL commercial web sites pay a hefty non-refundable fee to be reviewed by their editors…and with no inclusion guarantee.

Then there’s “pay for inclusion” (PFI). PFI programs guarantee your site inclusion in the search engine database that drives search query results…but these still do not guarantee that you will rank well when queries are done.

Now there are all sorts of text-based ads that look like search result listings but are really paid-for placements. Some, like Google’s AdWords(1), are not so disguised. Google AdWords allows advertisers to purchase target keywords and have text box ads appear down the right-hand side of the search results page. Others, like Yahoo! “Sponsor Listings” and MSN’s “Featured Sites,” are less obvious.

All these pay-to-play options don’t even take into account web sites that have been well optimized for search engines, which a good Internet marketer needs to also take into consideration. Given this landscape, one has to ask, “Does it pay to pay for search engine rankings?”

We believe that in many cases it does, so this week we’re offering some pointers on planning your own keyword buying campaign.

Understand the Landscape

Overture has always seemed to be the leader. First it introduced the pay-for-placement bidding system, which it has constantly honed and refined over the years, but it’s truly brilliant move was securing partnerships with other popular search engines like Yahoo!, MSN, and Alta Vista. With these partnerships, Overture syndicates its top bid results on its partner sites, meaning that bidding on and securing top placements on Overture will also garner you highly visible placements on Overture’s partner sites as well. With Overture, the “follow the leader” strategy makes sense.

Still, Overture faces a serious competitor. Google is not only the #1 search engine of preference on the Internet, but it has also begun to chip away at Overture’s PPC kingdom. It’s already usurped Overture as the syndication partner of AOL Search and soon Ask.com, too. Google’s AdWords Select program, a similar bid-for-placement offering, drives the syndicated results. These two search engines need to be given heavy consideration when implementing search engine marketing strategies.

Choose Your Keywords Carefully

When selecting your pay for placements keywords, drop your own perspective and put yourself in your typical buyer’s shoes. Think, “What will my buyer type into a search engine and how do I want them to find my site?” Keep in mind that most people today search for keyword phrases (two or three keywords grouped together) to help eliminate irrelevant results so consider purchasing or bidding on more specific keyword phrases which will save you money as well as bring you more qualified buyers.

For example, let’s say you sell scented candles in glass containers. If you just purchase the keyword “candles” you’ll still run the risk of paying for visitors who are looking for three-wick pillar candles, tapers, unscented candles, carved candles…well, you get the picture. Look instead at terms like “scented candles,” “container candles,” or “cinnamon candles” where you can get more bang for your buck.

Also, don’t forget to consider common misspellings for your keywords. Although Overture has recently introduced an “anti- misspelling” technology called “Match Driver,” Google and the other PPC engines do not distinguish between singular and plural terms or commonly misspelled terms…which can also mean effective, inexpensive ad placements for you.

Write Effective Ad Copy

With search engine listings, you’ve only got a small text box or one or two lines to include a title and description of your site. You need to strive to make every single word count. This can be especially important with Google AdWords & AdWord Select buys, which rank your ad by a formula based in part on your ad’s click-thru rate. If your ad gets poor click-thru, it might appear far down the page depending upon the number of other advertisers.

Here are a few tips for writing good search term ad copy:

* Include keywords in the text or title of your ad
* Identify what makes you unique or better than the competition
* Use calls to action, but try to be more creative than “click here”
* Write a description that will pre-qualify the visitor. You are paying for that click so try to encourage serious buyers while discouraging casual browsers.
* Be sure to proofread before submitting

Track Your Results

As with any Internet advertising program, you ought to monitor your click-thru results and analyze what keywords and what ad copy works best at converting visitors into sales. The beautiful thing about both Overture and Google programs is that you can change your keywords and descriptions by yourself and instantaneously using their Web interfaces.

As for tracking, Overture provides a significant number of reports you can generate at any time to allow you to see your click-thru rates, bid costs, etc. Google’s reporting is more constricted but still important to review.

On your own end you can also implement some simple techniques to track your campaigns. Start by assigning unique URLs for each keyword. For example, a URL for an ad on Google AdWords might look like www.yoursite.com?referrer=google+keyword. More sophisticated tracking can involve unique tracking id codes and/or post-clicking tracking using a combination of tracking urls and invisible pixels on desired “action pages.” Refer to our previous marketing tip “Greater Uses of Post-Click Tracking” for more on this.

In order for your campaigns to be optimally effective for you, you also ought to figure out what you want from your visitor: mere branding and awareness, a lead or registration, a subscription, a sale, etc.. Once you know this, you should try to pinpoint exactly what that action is worth to you cost-wise because that amount should become your cap or “max bid” as Overture now calls it with their Auto-Bidding program. Calculating your cap and tracking your click-thru and conversion rates ultimately determines if you’re receiving the kind of effective ROI you’re looking for out of your search term ad placements.

You should also be aware that there are now many third party bid management tools for PPC bid-based search engines like Overture. These bid-based search engines can be dangerous to advertiser’s time and pocketbook if not managed correctly. Bid management tools can help control your search term campaigns, but you still need to be vigilant and continue to monitor your own ROI if the bidding on your chosen terms rapidly escalates.

The Pros & Cons of PPC

One thing about PPC search engines is that you can quickly and sometimes relatively inexpensively achieve top placement in search engines rankings. If you’re trying to reach a targeted market quickly and assuredly, PPC programs most likely should be part of your online marketing mix. PPC programs are also a great way to test terms and ideas. The information you gather with PPC search engine programs can be invaluable for implementing other online marketing initiatives like ad campaigns, email marketing and traditional search engine optimization.

However, an ad is still an ad, and if what you’re offering is not relevant to the searcher or is not written well, it’s still not going to attract visitors. Plus, there has been some feedback lately that searchers now recognize the paid placements as ads and have begun to ignore them much as they do most banner ads.

Bottom line for the savvy online marketer: embrace both PPC AND “old-fashioned” search engine optimization programs for better overall long-term results.

Reprinted with permission from WebAdvantage.net, an Internet Marketing and Online Advertising Firm Not to be Reckoned With

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Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
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