Promotions: Marketing and Sales 8.6. Search Advertising/Paid Placement

Over 70% of your site visitors will arrive from search engine results pages (SERPs); done right, the lion’s share of these visitors will be coming from paid placement ads. When you pay for placement (PFP) or utilize a search engine’s advertising service, your ads are placed in a distinct advertiser section when users search on keywords you have determined are most relevant to your site. While these links are clearly distinguished as paid ads, they nonetheless look enough like the organic results so that users typically associate them with their search rather than as page noise.

“Paid Placement” in Section 8.3 thoroughly discusses the mechanics of search advertising.

8.6.1. Google AdWords and Google AdSense

http://adwords.google.com/select/Login

http://www.google.com/adsense

Google AdWords places text ads on Google search engine results pages as well as on a network of affiliate Web sites that are part of Google’s AdSense network. This network―Google AdWords combined with AdSense―is by far the Internet’s largest advertising service. You encounter it everyday. When you go to many Web sites, like Time.com, and see a sidebar of links under the title, “Sponsored Links,” you are probably looking at a Google AdWords product served up on a Google AdSense client site

And the great thing about Google AdWords is that it’s available to all advertisers, not just the big spenders. You can be virtually certain that your advertising budget will contain some dollars allocated to Google AdWords.

Creating an AdWords account costs $5.00. Putting together a campaign involves:

  • Choosing a URL as a destination for user clicks.
  • Selecting keywords―when a user searches using one of those keywords, your site will appear at the top or in a sidebar on the search results page (SERP). The ad’s placement will be determined by your bid amount. The higher your bid for the keyword, the more likely your ad will appear on earlier search results pages at a prominent position on the page.
  • Selecting your per-click bid―your bid amount is what you’re willing to pay for each click your ad generates. The minimum bid amount is $0.01 per click. Some keywords are more popular among advertisers than others, so you may need to bid quite a bit of cash to get any kind of useful placement.
  • Selecting your monthly budget or spending limit―this is the maximum amount you’re willing to pay each month for user clicks. When your ad hits its maximum, it ceases to appear unless you increase the maximum.
  • Selecting day parts and locations―you can specify your ad to appear only at certain times of day and only to computers located in certain geographical regions.

High-performing ads―those that generate a high percentage of clicks relative to impressions―will make it out into the wider Google AdSense network. The network works like this:

  • A Web site owner contracts with Google to serve up Google ads on its Web page OR contracts with Google to put a Google search bar on some or all of the pages on their Web site.
  • Google spiders the content on these pages and matches the keywords assigned to Google ads to the content on the pages. It also checks to make sure that the ads are not directly competing with the Web site owner―for instance, no ads for Newsweek will appear on Time.com. These contextual ads are then displayed in a “Sponsored Links” area on the Web site’s pages. In the case of Web site owners who display a Google search bar, the Google ads are served on the search results page when a visitor uses that search bar.
  • If a user clicks the ad, Google collects money from the advertiser and passes part of it along to the Web site owner.

Google also offers a Web analytics product, GoogleAnalytics (see 7.12.2) engineered to work analyzing AdWords campaigns. However, since AdWords is the biggest Web advertising service out there, most Web analytics software handle AdWords analytics just fine.

8.6.2. Yahoo! Search Marketing (formerly Overture)

http://searchmarketing.yahoo.com

Yahoo’s Overture was the first major search advertising service. Coupled with the Yahoo search engine and directory, Overture was the first to offer sponsored ads and an interface to track results. Under stiff competition from Google, Overture has been rechristened “Yahoo Search Marketing.” No matter what it’s called, Yahoo Search Marketing is a tool every marketer should be using.

To use Yahoo Search Marketing, you create an account and then create your ads. As with Google AdWords, you specify the ad’s title, destination URL, short description, keywords, day parts, and the geographical areas that will limit impressions. You then specify a minimum click-through bid for each keyword and a daily ad spend maximum. When a user searches the Yahoo search engine on one of the keywords you’ve bid on, your ad will appear as a sponsored link in a sidebar on the results pages.

Unlike other PPC systems, Yahoo Search Marketing bases your ad’s SERP position on not only your bid amount, but your maximum daily ad spend limit. The maximum spend works exactly the same way as in Google. In Google, however, you set a limit to your monthly spend. On Yahoo, your ad appears every day until the daily limit has been met. This allows your ad to appear throughout the month, rather than disappear before the month ends. So why does Yahoo anchor SERP placement to your maximum daily spend? Because the service wants to make sure you hit your maximum every day. If you have a low daily maximum, this can be hit relatively easy by burying your ad in later results pages. If you have a high daily maximum, Yahoo makes more money (obviously) and the only way to hit this maximum is to feature your ad early in the search results. So getting good placement on Yahoo requires fiddling with both your bid amounts and maximum daily spends.

Yahoo also allows you to specify “goals” for your campaign and the Yahoo system will spit back information on how best to achieve them. In addition, the system identifies your most profitable ads and will rotate those ads into the mix more often than less profitable ads.

As with AdSense, the Yahoo system rotates the most successful ads into its network of contextual advertising partners. This network is not as large as Google’s, but it’s mighty impressive in its own right―Yahoo is the second largest Web advertiser in the world. Their network includes major sites such as CNN, iVillage, and The Weather Channel.

8.6.3. Ask.com

http://sponsoredlistings.ask.com

Once known as Ask Jeeves, Ask.com has really rocketed in popularity in the last couple years. The Ask.com user base is a fairly unique user base and shares only 22% of its users with Google and 20% with Yahoo! This unique user base coupled with the search engine’s growing popularity argues strongly for Ask to be part of any search advertising campaign.

As with Google and Yahoo!, you pay each time a user clicks your ad. While you can set a minimum price for your keywords (the bottom limit is $0.05), some keywords have a “reserve” price, i.e., a higher minimum, based on how popular they are. Other search engines just have a standard minimum for all keywords. Bidding the minimum may mean that your ad never appears until some hapless user clicks their way to the hundredth search result page or so. But you always have the option of being a cheapskate.

Ask’s ad placement system departs significantly from other search engine marketing services. While other services rank ads based on their minimum bid price―a higher bid gets you a higher ranking―Ask bases position on your minimum bid price multiplied by the click-through rate on your ad. If you have a low bid price but a very high click-through rate, your ad will be better positioned than one with a higher bid price but poorer click-through rate. In other words, Ask places ads based on the amount of revenue the ads generate for the search engine.

If you don’t get this―and many people don’t―just do the math. Suppose you bid $0.05 on the keywords “virtual assistant” and your ad gets sixty click-throughs per 1,000 impressions. Ask makes $3.00 for every 1,000 impressions of your ad. Now suppose your competitor outbids you by offering $0.10 for the keywords “virtual assistant,” but only gets twenty click-throughs per 1,000 impressions. Ask makes $2.00 for every 1,000 impressions of that ad. Google or Yahoo! will place the higher-bid ad first and push yours to the back. Ask, however, really likes your ad because they make $1.00 more on your ad than your rivals. Hence, your ad goes to the head of the line even though you’re paying less per click.

The Ask advertising network includes thousands of search properties, meta search sites, and portals as well as lifestyle, technology, travel, and business sites. As with Google and Yahoo!, your text ads appear not just on Ask.com search results, but on these other Web sites as well provided they fit the context of your ad and any day part or geographical parameters.

8.6.4. Microsoft Office Live adCenter

http://www.microsoft.com/smallbusiness/products/adCenter/default.aspx#overviewx

Google and Yahoo really are the big search engines in the room, but MSN’s LiveSearch is a formidable second-ran. Microsoft also makes and distributes Internet Explorer, the overwhelmingly dominant Web browser, and in their infinite wisdom, Microsoft has programmed Explorer to automatically default to LiveSearch when you try to go somewhere that doesn’t exist on the Web. So LiveSearch has a pretty large captive audience.

You place ads on LiveSearch through Microsoft Office Online, but don’t worry, you don’t have to go out and buy a desktop version of Office! Microsoft Office Live adManager works exactly the same way as other search advertising systems. You create an account with Office Live, which is a hosting service. Office Live Basic is free. Unless you intend to use Microsoft as your hosting service, you don’t need to do anything else than sign up for the free service.

You create your text ad by specifying a destination URL, title, description, keywords, minimum per-click bid, maximum monthly budget, and any day part or location specifications. When a LiveSearch user initiates a search using one of your keywords, your ad will appear as a sponsored link at the top of one of the search engine results pages (no sidebars in LiveSearch). Its location (first page, second page, etc.) has everything to do with your bid amount. The higher your bid amount, the closer to the first search results page your ad will appear.

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