May 5, 2004, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: Search Engine Marketing

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Powered by Advertising.com’s AdLearn yield management technology, the AdBid system enables retailers to change campaign rates on a daily basis to meet varying budget and volume goals. As rates increase or decrease, so can the advertiser’s impression, click or acquisition volume.

Managing staffing

“Call-center staffing, weekly goals, daily numbers--the volume of leads I need can vary from day to day. Advertising.com’s AdBid system allows me to control my incoming leads and marketing costs with the click of a button,” says Bob Thorgesen, director of Internet marketing for online insurance seller Eterm. “No contract changes, no complicated campaign analysis. I simply enter my new rate and hit Submit.”

Further, marketers may want to control their keyword bids as conversion rates naturally increase. For instance, Advertising.com conducted a study during the 2003 holiday shopping season that showed click-throughs went up as Christmas approached. Advertising.com studied paid-search results for three advertisers, starting 10 weeks out. Clicks and conversions increased, some dramatically, throughout the period, with one advertiser’s clicks going up 59% while its conversions went up 650%.

“The data serves as evidence of search engine marketing’s effectiveness in driving online sales, particularly during the holiday shopping season,” Advertising.com concluded. “As consumers continue to employ the Internet to meet their shopping needs, search engine marketing enables advertisers to connect their products and services with this highly qualified audience.”

Visibility Factor argues, however, that even before keyword selection begins, retailers should make sure their sites are visible to search engines. Achieving visibility in natural language search is not as easy as it sounds. The problem stems from the dynamic nature of most retail web sites. Because they are dealing with huge amounts of products and information, retailers cannot tolerate static HTML sites, which are the easiest for search engines to crawl, because the HTML approach requires constant manual manipulation of content. Rather, they employ databases to manage the data and deliver to customers exactly the pages customers want to see.

But while the architecture makes sense, it trips up search engines, who employ generic rules in crawling sites. And those rules cause spiders to become confused or caught in endless loops when they get to sites that generate pages on the fly. Crawlers that get stuck at database-driven web sites consume search engine resources, so search engines try to avoid such sites, Walton says. “There are warning signs that certain web sites will be resource suckers and so search engines stay away from those sites,” she says.

Cracking the database

Among the indicators that a site is database-driven are URLs that include session i.d.s and other unusual factors, such as question marks and strings of equal signs. Visibility Factor applies its technology to clients’ sites to clean up those URLs and to present to the search engines sites that they will want to crawl.

Visibility Factor’s technical team analyzes clients’ sites to determine the company’s objectives for the web site, then crawls the site and pre-digests all the information to establish a cached version of the web pages that are then available to search engines and customers. “If you’re driving traffic to your site from keyword buys or if you’ve done offline marketing programs to drive traffic to your site, customers will still get to your site,” Walton says. “The only difference is that we crack open your database so you can be indexed at search engines.”

Walton, noting that everything Visibility Factor does at a web site complies with search engine procedures, says that such opening of a web site to search engines is “the critical first step” before engaging in other activities to achieve visibility. “This helps you get all the search engine traffic you’re entitled to,” she says. She says Visibility Factor’s approach is complementary to other search engine marketing initiatives, such as keyword buys. Visibility Factor charges a $1,000 set-up fee for a 60-day evaluation and test. Clients pay a minimum of $500 a month for ongoing services. Visibility Factor also will work on a pay-for performance basis of 10% of sales.

Walton notes that the Visibility Factor approach does not require any changes to the web site or its underlying database--that once the relationship is established, the review and caching run automatically. “What makes us different is that we are a technology solution,” she says.

Whatever approach retailers take, success in search engine marketing will continue to be critical to retail’s future. “It’s absolutely crucial, especially with e-commerce sites,” Walton says. “If your products and store can’t be found, it’s like someone in a city looking for a street that isn’t on the map. They just won’t find you.”

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