April 2, 2013, 2:34 PM

Sponsored Article: Navigating the complex and ever-changing world of search marketing

More than 90% of online adults use search engines to help them find what they're looking for on the web, and nearly 60% conduct a search daily, according to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

For retailers, search's popularity represents a potential sales bonanza, provided they can get shoppers to click on their search ads. But with the growing array of search ad formats available, it can be tough to know which ones will be the most effective. In addition to search engine stalwart Google Inc., there is Microsoft Corp.'s Bing, which accounts for about 30% of web searches and now incorporates Face-book social data into search results. Facebook, too, has gotten into the search game through Facebook Graph Search, a tool that uses data posted within Facebook by its users, including product and merchant reviews, to return filtered, relevant search results. Nor should retailers forget about mobile, which offers its own wrinkles to search strategies.

"While there are a lot of online marketing options available for retailers, they need to be making use of the ones that provide the highest level of visibility for them, give them the most control over their strategy and provide the highest rate of return for the money spent," says Justin D'Angelo, director of paid search marketing for ROI Revolution Inc., a retail-focused search engine marketing firm.

Visual ads

D'Angelo says one of the most effective forms of search marketing is Google's Product Listing Ads that include an image of the product in search results. Consumers respond to pictures, and a product image in a search ad is more likely to draw a consumer's attention than plain text, he says. Product Listing Ads are also effective because they take consumers directly to a product page. The destination URL for each product is defined in the retailer's shopping feed. "Including images linked to a product page enhances the prospect a consumer will commit to the retailer's search ad," D'Angelo says. "Having the name of the specific product and the price further enhances the appeal of a product ad because consumers know they are clicking on a link that meets the criteria of their search query."

It is crucial for advertisers to determine which search ads get the highest click-through rates and sales to determine where to spend search marketing dollars. By making use of features within Google AdWords, retailers can track which ads in their search marketing campaigns generate the highest click-through rates or the highest number of sales. Retailers can then adjust a setting to automatically display those ads more frequently when a consumer enters a matching search query. D'Angelo recommends retailers test ads for at least seven days to gather enough data to fully determine their effectiveness. Purchasing the right keywords, however, remains the core of search engine marketing. Search query reports and keyword tools available from Google and Bing enable retailers to determine the most common keywords consumers use to search for a product and identify new keywords that could help a retailer generate ad clicks and, hopefully, sales. "Tools are even available for retailers to see what keywords are related to their URLs," D'Angelo says.

A mobile strategy

The explosion in the use of web-enabled mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones is also making it essential for retailers to develop search marketing strategies specifically for consumers on the go, who are often looking for a particular piece of information. For example, a consumer searching on a smartphone might be looking at a product in a store and using her phone to check prices with online retailers; in this case, retailers should consider including current product pricing in search ads.

"Consumers do a lot of research online using mobile devices and retailers need to take that into account in their search marketing strategy," D'Angelo says. "The opportunities to create more effective search marketing campaigns are increasing and retailers that want to effectively reach consumers should be taking advantage of them."

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