January 3, 2013, 4:02 PM

Beyond Google and Bing

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When it comes to shopping, however, Amazon and eBay have the scale retail advertisers want, and retail-specific search looks to be working. "Product Ads are not only one of the highest ROI programs we work with, but also the fastest growing," says ChannelAdvisor CEO Scot Wingo of Amazon's advertising options. Online retailers including HSN, Build.com and US Mattress also report positive returns from search ads within Amazon that drive consumers to their own e-commerce sites.

While many large retailers are dabbling in earning revenue by accepting ads on their own sites, this typically involves displaying banner ads for advertisers like Verizon or Classmates.com. Some of them go further and support Google AdSense ads in out-of-the-way locations. Understandably, showing ads that let visitors click away generates enough internal controversy and fears of cannibalization to hold back most retailers from the kind of full-scale embrace shown by Amazon. But, as with other once-controversial features, it may just be a matter of time before retailers race to catch up with the perennial leader by offering ad options of their own.

The bottom line is that if retailers can return searches on their sites that are relevant to consumers and that get them to a purchase opportunity faster, those retailers will have served consumers' needs, even if they don't catch the immediate sale. Consumers remember service and they are more likely to return again. The technology that supports search advertising has evolved to the point where retailers can easily provide this service and generate a search marketing revenue stream.

Whether you love or hate the idea, search marketing has already moved beyond the search engines, and it's up to retailers to decide if they want to be a part of the move.

Rob Schmults is senior vice president of strategic partnerships for Intent Media Inc., an online ad platform for travel and retail sites.

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