January 2, 2007, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: Search Marketers Broaden their Horizon

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These concepts include podcasts, blogs, third party sites and paid placements for press releases and other types of advertisements that can heighten brand awareness, make the purchasing decision easier, and improve post sale customer care.

"Keywords that link search results to podcasts and third party sites with related content can enrich the quality of the search results, and in turn help retailers get more out of their search marketing strategy," says OneUpWeb`s Wehr. "There are some huge opportunities in these areas that can easily be overlooked."

With retailers receiving the tools and knowledge of how to use them to communicate with shoppers in different ways and through third-party sites, the opportunities to broaden their horizons when crafting search marketing strategies has expanded as far as the eye can see.

 

Finding the right search engine--then the right budget mix

As if retailers didn`t have enough to consider when figuring out how to optimize their search engine marketing strategy, they must also determine how to allocate their search marketing budget. That means figuring out which search engines they want their listing to appear on and how to divide marketing dollars between paid and organic search to achieve their goals.

The former is becoming increasingly important as retailers must take into account the power of establishing a presence on search engines besides Google, Yahoo and MSN.com. While the big three dominate the search landscape, secondary search engines still deliver quality, although smaller, audiences and provide a more affordable way for retailers to syndicate their search listings.

"Developing a strong syndication network for search listings is part of developing a more sophisticated search marketing strategy by buying keywords that drill down deeper to deliver what shoppers are looking for," says Dave Hills, president and CEO of search engine LookSmart Ltd.

Choosing the right secondary search engine on which to establish a presence requires investigating the performance of the engine and the quality of the audience delivered. If the engine attracts shoppers that convert in fewer queries and that know precisely what they are searching for, targeting that engine can prove a valuable addition to a retailer`s search marketing strategy.

"It`s important to have a presence on all the major search engines, but retailers also need a selective presence on the next tier of search engines," says Dave Williams, chief strategist and co-founder of search marketing agency 360i LLC. "Google may dominate the space, but it will see more competition."

Intent on maintaining the market share gap it has opened on competitors, Google is diversifying its search marketing options. Google Base, for example, allows retailers to submit direct data feeds, as opposed to having their sites crawled. While this affords retailers a better opportunity to submit more targeted content that can boost their organic search rankings, the information is only applicable to Google Base.

"There are pros and cons to using a site such as Google Base and they need to be kept in mind," cautions Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor Corp., which provides e-commerce platform and marketing services to retailers. "One of the downsides can be lower consumer usage and potential consumer disconnects. In the early stages of a product like this, it is best to first thoroughly consider the pros and cons before jumping in."

The rule of thumb when determining whether to establish a presence on a search engine or a new service from Google or other leading search engines is to treat each search engine as its own line of business. "It`s best to look at whether each search engine can deliver the projected return on investment," explains Wingo. "Every search engine has its own economics."

Nevertheless, direct data feeds to search engines are gaining popularity according to Williams. "It`s another way to get strong content and product information into the search engine," he adds.

Another issue to consider when establishing a presence on a search engine is whether the engine`s platform is compatible with competing search engines. If so, retailers can immediately establish a presence on more than one search engine, thus sparing further optimization costs, according to Robert Murray, president of search marketing agency iProspect. "AOL is licensing Google`s algorithms, so retailers that get listed on Google are also set on AOL," explains Murray.

Watch those algorithms

Just as important as platform compatibility across search engines is whether a search engine has limits on the number of results that can be returned per URL. "Google and Yahoo never allow more than two listings per domain," adds Murray. "That needs to be kept in mind when creating a search marketing strategy."

Besides checking on the number of listings per URL, retailers are advised to determine how often search engines change the algorithms for their spiders. Getting caught off guard by such changes can be detrimental to a retailer`s search marketing strategy because it can mean the loss of visibility to a large portion of pages. The same thing can happen if a retailer makes changes to a page, such as adjusting the price or adding a product.

Manually checking each page to ensure visibility can be time consuming and take up to a year for a retail site with thousands of pages. A more effective solution is to be sure the search engine spiders will respond to a bridge link that is automatically put in place after changes to search engine algorithms or the retailer`s page that may hinder page visibility by altering the URL of the page. Such links ensure page visibility to the spider until the URLs within the page can be adjusted.

"Any change in the way the search engine gathers information or information is presented to the search engine is going to have an impact on the search strategy," says Gary Smith, vice president of worldwide sales and marketing for YourAmigo, provider of organic search engine optimization applications. "The ability to adjust quickly to these changes is essential."

Finally, retailers need to look closely at the rates of click fraud for secondary search engines, especially when purchasing keywords, cautions Lisa Wehr, president of search engine marketing firm OneUpWeb.

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