April 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

Special Report: Getting a jump on your search marketing rivals

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"Retailers should be constantly testing the content, design and features of their product pages, as well as their search marketing ads so they don't become stagnant," says ROI Revolution's Seward. "Stagnant product pages and ads give competitors an edge."

Creating ads for each product in the catalog is also recommended. While many retailers carry thousands of SKUs, the task is not as daunting as it seems. "Leveraging Google's Product Listing Ads feature is a great way for retailers to produce fill-in ads for products they have not gotten around to creating their own text ads for," Seward says. "Retailers should be promoting all the products in their catalog through search."

In addition to managing ROI-driven online advertising for Internet retailers, ROI Revolution is a Google partner for Google Analytics and Google Website Optimizer. The company has more than 120 clients in nine countries.

Race to the top

Organic search also remains a great complement to paid search campaigns and establishing a presence in the social landscape can improve a retailer's visibility on the search engine results page. Social networks, blogs and YouTube videos can all improve natural search visibility.

"Many of the best practices for organic search have not changed much," Sandberg says. "It's still about relevance and good content related to core keywords for a brand or retailer. Title tags, meta-descriptions, search-friendly URLs, strategic internal linking and anchor text continue to allow the search engine spiders to understand the content of the web site and ultimately reward it with high-ranked links."

New opportunities also make it possible to use both organic and paid search to achieve multiple first-page listings. "Google now offers Product Listing Ads, Google Shopping, and Product Extensions for paid search," Sandberg says. "On the natural side, blogs, video, and social networks are likely to be on page one, too. If a retailer optimizes their paid and natural campaigns to win as many page-one listings as possible, the payoff can be tremendous."

PM Digital specializes in paid search, SEO, social commerce, display advertising and shopping feed management for retailers and brands. During fiscal year 2011, all PM Digital clients achieved double- and triple-digit year-over-year growth. Headquartered in New York, PM Digital also has offices in San Francisco, Arizona, South Carolina and Minneapolis.

Blurring the lines

Securing a top three spot among pay-per-click ads comes down to the ad's click-through rate and the retailer's willingness to pay the necessary cost per click for that keyword. Recent changes in how Google styles its PPC ads, however, are making it tougher for consumers to distinguish those ads from organic search results.

"Google has implemented changes that make PPC ads at the top of a page look more like organic search results, which means there will be less contrast between the two," says ROI Revolution's D'Angelo. "While this is likely to create fewer clicks for organic ads, the blurring of the lines has impacted clicks for paid search. Retailers need to be on top of their game to manage this trend."

With search, social, and mobile converging, online marketing is going through a period of monumental change. PM Digital partners with its clients to help prioritize the opportunities and implement them strategically. "In the last few weeks, we've been absorbed in how Pinterest.com can help brands drive traffic and commerce. But soon there will be another opportunity that will need to be vetted yet again," Sandberg says. "It is an exciting time with many new avenues driving incremental customers to retail brands."

Despite the almost daily changes in the search marketing landscape, retailers don't have to be frantically revising their search marketing campaigns every day—as long as they pay attention to the changes and account for them as they map out long-term strategy.

"Key to success in search is to avoid overestimating the impact of changes in the near term," Seward says, "and to avoid underestimating the impact of changes over the long term."

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