By now, you have gotten a taste for the difficulty of revamping your site to garner organic search traffic. Although it pays off handsomely, organic search success takes skill, effort, and time. Paid search seems far easier. Select a keyword, plunk down your credit card, and overnight you have the #1 search position! It can work that wayif you know what you are doing. Let's explore paid placement, the fast (and sometimes easier) method of paying your way to the top.
Paid placement is where the action is, generating nearly $3 billion of ad revenue for search engines just in the United States. Google makes 95 percent of its revenue from paid advertising.
Paid placement has been described as a cross between day trading and direct marketing. Most paid placement requires bidding against other search marketers to win the top spot for your site. Bidding can be intense, changing every second as companies jockey for position. Every word in your listing mattersmaking the difference between an ad that gets clicked and one that does not.
Every search engine displays paid placement results differently, but most search engines distinguish paid placement ads from the organic results (usually calling them sponsored listings) and display them above and to the right of the organic results. Figure 3-5 shows a typical approach to paid placement taken by Yahoo! for a search for "ski equipment."
Figure 3-5. Paid placement results. Yahoo! Search presents paid placement results at the top and right of its results page.
Reproduced with permission of Yahoo! Inc. © 2005 by Yahoo! Inc. YAHOO! and the YAHOO! logo are trademarks of Yahoo! Inc.
Nearly every search engine displays paid placement results, but search marketers only need to place ads with two of themYahoo! and Google. These two companies carry 97 percent of paid placement ads. (As we write this, MSN Search uses Yahoo! paid placement, but it has announced plans to become a third major paid placement vendor, probably by 2006 at the latest.) Table 3-2 shows the full list of paid placement competitors. Each one has different fees and restrictions on the content it accepts, and each one has different search engines that display its results.
Google and Yahoo! also offer a variant of paid placement known as contextual advertising, where you bid to place ads on the pages of Web sites that have articles about subjects related to your ads. For example, if your company runs a hotel in Philadelphia, you might want to display an ad on a travel site's pages about Philadelphia tourist attractions. Contextual advertising, although appropriate for some search marketers, is not the first place for you to start, so we reserve that discussion until Chapter 14, "Optimize Your Paid Search Program," when we review advanced techniques in paid placement.
By far, the most money is spent on paid placement based on bidding, which is what we concentrate on here. Sophisticated search marketers also use a technique known as fixed placement, where you negotiate for a particular place on a page for a given search query, usually paying for impressions (the number of times your ad is shown), rather than for clicks. Specialty search engines are more likely to offer fixed placement than worldwide search engines. Fixed placement is not the way a rookie search marketer should break inyou need to know what you are doing before you negotiate a long-term, hard-to-change commitment. As you grow in your search marketing experience, however, you might find that some fixed-placement opportunities make sense as part of your overall search marketing plan.
What It Costs
One of the best things about paid placement is that you can control the costs. You can buy as many or as few keywords as you want, and you decide how much you are willing to pay for each click. And you can adjust anything at a moment's notice, so you can control your budget.
As you embark on a paid placement program, here are the kinds of costs to keep your eye on:
CPM, CPC, and CPA fees are usually mutually exclusiveyou pay only one of them on any particular deal. Table 3-3 shows what a paid search campaign might cost when priced according to each method. Some advertisers prefer one method over another, but there is no surefire way to pay less on a consistent basisit all depends on how many searches, clickthroughs, and purchases there are.
Every pricing method has advantages and disadvantages. Chapter 14 reviews paid search strategies in more detail, and provides examples to help you choose the best option for your objectives.
The Benefits and Challenges
Paid placement offers a proven way to attract visitors to your Web site, but put that credit card away for a minute. For all of the benefits of paid placement, you can quickly burn through your budget, getting few sales, if you are not careful. Managed well, paid placement is an indispensable part of a search marketing plan for lots of reasonsif you know what you are doing.
Highly Qualified Visitors Will Come to Your Site
Just as with organic search, paid placement attracts visitors who are already interested in what your site does. If they weren't, they would not have been searching in the first place. So it makes sense that searchers who click paid placement listings are more likely to buy than visitors arriving at your site from clicking a banner ad or directory listing, for example. But paid placement listings get lower clickthrough than organic search, and searchers say that they trust them less, so organic search might still have the edge in converting searchers into buyers.
Paid placement provides near-total control over what your listing says, allowing you to further qualify searchers so that only the "right" ones click through. In organic search, although you can pick your page's title, the snippet that appears below the title is chosen by the search engine from the words that appear on your page. Paid placement allows you to choose the exact words that appearyou can tune them again and again until you maximize clickthrough and sales.
Remember, however, that the search engines are only paid for clicks, so if you have a great ad that relatively few people click (but you are pleased with your sales), the search engines might not be happy. If your listings are not getting enough clicks, you will get a notice that they will be dropped for poor performance. At that point, you must make changes to your ad to try to increase the clicks.
You See Immediate Results
The biggest difference between paid placement advertising and organic search is that paid placements offer near instantaneous traffic to your site. You can launch a campaign immediately by paying your money, writing your ads, and bidding your way to the top of the paid resultsall without changing a line of code on your Web site. And you can constantly fine-tune your ad copy and keyword purchases to further improve your clickthrough rate and sales. Organic search, in contrast, takes much longer to kick in, and much longer to fine-tune, because spiders take a while to revisit your site each time you make a change.
It Is Inexpensive to Get Started
Getting started in paid placement usually costs less than most other forms of search marketing. You do not have to make expensive changes to your site nor do you have to negotiate long-term deals with search engines. For as little as $50 and a credit card, you can open a paid placement account.
But you need to get near the top of paid placement listings for popular queries to get heavy traffic. Only the top few ads are syndicated to the other partnersso top paid results in Google are shown in Ask Jeeves, too, but lower-ranking ads are not. Typically, the top four ads are shown on the first results page, followed by the next set of four on each subsequent page until all the ads have been displayed. So every searcher sees the top ads, but only the few searchers that page forward see the others.
And, as you will see in Chapter 11, popular queries have a lot of competition. Although some keywords generate high traffic with low per-click fees, most high-traffic keywords require high-priced bids. You can easily burn through your budget if you are not careful. Blindly raising your bids to stay #1 can end up costing you more than the traffic is worth.
You Pay Only for Visits to Your Site
Many advertisers prefer paid placement's fee structureyou pay only when searchers click your ad, not when they view your ad. With banner ads and other types of paid advertising, you are charged for impressionsyou pay every time your ad is shown.
But you must be on the alert for click fraudsomeone clicking your link expressly to charge your account, but having no intention to buy. Although search engines have sophisticated tools to detect click fraud, unscrupulous competitors of yours could engage in this unethical activity.
Pay attention to any suspicious click patterns, such as clicks increasing dramatically for just a couple of queries, with no commensurate increase in sales. Monitor discussion boards to see whether competitors are encouraging readers to click your listing without any real interest. If you suspect click fraud on your account, contact the search engine immediatelythey will provide free clicks to you to make up for it.
You Can Target Your Audience
Because paid placement offers tight control over the keywords you buy and the exact wording of your listing, you can create highly targeted ads that cannot be duplicated in organic search campaigns. In organic search, the same page might be found for many different queries and might not be optimized for each kind of searcherwith paid placement, each ad can be chosen especially for searchers entering an exact query.
Paid placement also helps you reach large audiences, because ads are syndicated across many different search engines. However, sometimes this can be a problem. You might be happy with the policies of Yahoo! and Google, but you might be embarrassed over what content is on the same page as your listing on one of their syndication partner sitesthey might have much looser policies on controversial content. You cannot control which partner sites might show your ads, except to opt out of syndication to all partners, which can cut your traffic substantially. (Many image-conscious companies do opt out, despite the loss of traffic.)
The newest way to target more granular audiences is through a technique called local searchdisplaying your ad to visitors from a particular city or region. Prior to the advent of local search, businesses with natural geographic boundaries had no way to effectively use paid placement. Small businesses, such as plumbers, would be throwing money away to buy a keyword such as stopped drain because anyone in the world could be searching. But medium-to-large businesses suffered, too. A retail chain that dominates several states had no way of using paid search because it was not cost-efficient to pay for searchers throughout the United States.
Local search has changed all that. Slowly growing at about 15 percent a year, local search appeals to the same kinds of advertisers that currently buy printed Yellow Pages ads: doctors, lawyers, retailers, travel agents, contractors, and many others.
The major search engines (Google, Yahoo! Search, and Ask Jeeves) and some traditional Yellow Pages publishers (Verizon and SBC) offer local search. Each local search engine has different capabilities, with most based on Zip codes, cities, or other geographic information in queries. Yahoo! integrates its Yellow Pages and White Pages content into its mapping data to offer local results, and Ask Jeeves partners with CitySearch (www.citysearch.com) for similar function. Some paid placement engines even analyze the location of a searcher's computer on the Internet (its IP address) to guess where the searcher is physically located, to provide geographic targeting when searchers do not even tell the search engine their physical location.
Yahoo! (local.yahoo.com and yp.yahoo.com) and Verizon's SuperPages (www.superpages.com) are the current leaders in local search, with Verizon drawing 16 million visitors per month and Yahoo! attracting several times that. Verizon claims that more than 80 percent of its searchers contact an advertiser, and half say they are likely to make a purchase. We take a closer look at local search engines in Chapter 14.
How to Get Started
There's nothing tough about getting started in paid placement. Table 3-1 listed the URLs for you to visit to fill out your sign-up formall you need is a credit card and an Excel file with your target keywords, your listings, and the URLs searchers should go to when they click your ad. Following a review by the search engine (lasting one to five days), your ads are approved and you can start bidding.
Occasionally, a listing is rejected after review. Each search engine sets its own policies, but most shy away from controversial content, which varies based on local laws and customs. (In Germany, for example, it is illegal to advertise any religious Web sites.)
Search engines are becoming more careful about the copy they allow in advertising. Although one of the great things about paid placement is the control you have over the wording of your listing, search engines must ensure that their searchers are not misled by exciting offers leading to less-than-scintillating Web pages. Reviewers are becoming sticklers for your offer matching what is on your Web page, so make sure that your ad is consistent with the URL on your site to which it leads. If you do not, your campaign might be delayed during your wrangling with the paid placement editors.