It’s crowded at the top. The top of online search pages that is.
Building a credible Web presence that brings a company to that much coveted virtual real estate can take months and serious dollars. Thankfully, even cash strapped small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can compete with the big guys through some judicious purchases of select keywords which can lure search engines to present their ads as primary choices in a surfer’s search results.
“Everyone want to be on the top three or five spaces of page one, because numerous survey indicate that surfers easily lose interest and rarely go beyond the second page,” says Tim Richardson, professor of e-commerce, marketing and international business at the Seneca College and University of Toronto.
Organizations can either work their way up, building traffic by constantly working on their site creating search-worthy content, and employing various tactics such as establishing Web-links by joining relevant communities, blogging or responding to popular blogs.
Whether done by an in-house staff or a hired third party marketing firm, such a method could take several months to develop the desired results and considerable capital outlay.
Another option, Richardson said, is to buy your way to the top by signing up with online major search engines such a Google, Yahoo, Ask.com and Microsoft Live Search and bidding for keywords they offer in the market. The advertisers pay the search engines for every click on their ad gets. The pay-per-click (PPC) technique has gained industry prominence since 2004.
The objective is the snap-up keywords — often priced at around five cents to upwards of $2.00 per click – that are relevant to your product or campaign and are popular enough to land your site on the primary search list.
For FrontierPC.com Computer Inc., an online computer dealer based in Vancouver, the scheme has been very profitable.
The 15-year-old company, which serves the Canada-wide B2B market, was initially signed up with Google AdWords and Overture. But recently decided to enlist Microsoft Live Search as well for want of “better results.”
“Google and Overture definitely provided a larger audience but we were not getting adequate conversion rates from the clicks their engines provided,” said Barry Johnson, general manager for FrontierPC.com.
Conversion rates refer to the number of click on a certain ad that eventually lead to a sale.
Overture and AdWords conversion rates are below one per cent while those provided by the Live Searches adCenter online advertising tool reached 2.2 to four per cent, said Johnson. “Basically, we get the same number of qualified clients from Live Search for about half of what we pay for with Google.”
The company, however, still retains Google and Overture because it wants to “cover all the bases.”
adCentre, which was introduced in the U.S. in 2005, was only made available in Canada on February this year. Microsoft recently incorporated an improved campaign tracking feature to the online advertising tool, according to Melanie Martin, trade marketing manager for adCentre.
She said users now have a better capability to monitor progress of specific accounts, campaigns of ad groups through an onscreen dashboard. “This enables advertisers to change keyword settings, even mid-campaign.”
It’s a feature that Johnson likes because FrontierPC.com uses search advertising primary for its short term campaigns such as manufacturer sale or promotional events that runs for several days. The company may have several different campaigns going on at any given time.
Typically the company purchases about 100 keywords associated with a campaign, for a total of around $300 to $500. “If we get a three to four per cent conversion rate then we’re doing well,” said Johnson.
Search advertising is best suited for such short-term efforts because anything longer could end up “being very expensive and defeat the technique’s purpose,” according to Richardson.
He also warned that competitor can use the PPC system to “bleed” a rival by clicking on their ads as many times as possible but not making any purchases.
To make the most of the method, Johnson advices advertisers to “make the most of your budget.”
More popular keywords tend to command higher prices, to avoid getting skinned, Johnson bids on associated phrases. “The word ‘computer’ will probably sell for $2.00. Since we sell a lot of custom machines, I bid on five-cent words like ‘green PC’, ‘eco-PC’ or ‘silent PC.’”
Advertisers must also keep close watch of the keyword market because “hot words” change quickly.
Companies must also make sure their ad links actually bring a surfer to the page featuring their product or campaign. “A dead link or a mere link to a company’s main page is a waste of money,” said Johnson.
Above all, Johnson said, companies should practice “truth in advertising.” He said some companies purchase keywords that have nothing to do with their product for the sole purpose of attracting search engines.
Search engines regularly conduct editing processes that weed out such advertisers, Johnson warned.