May 5, 2004, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: Search Engine Marketing

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The conversion enhancement program entails a re-structuring and re-architecting of a web site with a single focus on increasing the conversion rate, says Larry Kerstein, iProspect’s director of web consulting services. Using a combination of understanding the personality types and determining the demographics and psychographics of the targeted audience, iProspect helps retailers design sites that it says will maximize conversions. Marckini says the service can increase conversion rates from the usual 2% to 22%.

“People need different evidence at different stages of their interest level,” he says. “But retailers typically build web pages with a buy-it-now mentality.”

One example of how a marketer might need to back away from the buy-it-now approach comes from a provider of a service that had geographic locations that delivered the service but who could serve customers from anywhere. The provider listed locations online, but prospective customers clicked away when they found there was not a location near them. Removing the locations from the web site prompted customers to call about locations and gave reps the opportunity to explain their services. The company ended up closing more sales.

The importance of maximizing conversions cannot be understated, Marckini says. A low conversion rate means fewer sales, less revenue and, of course, lower profits. “That reduces your ability to be competitive in the search engine market,” he says.

As the researchers’ numbers show, being competitive in the search engine market is key to succeeding online. “Search has the most impact because that’s where people are spending most of their money,” Marckini says. How vicious will that competition become? “Most people have brought a knife to a gunfight,” Marckini says. “Marketers are waging war in the search engine marketing arena.”

One of the keys to ensuring success is to measure the results of search engine marketing campaigns. While many marketers have become adept at measuring results, many still need help. To that end, Overture recently released its Marketing Console, which measures results of any marketing program. “It helps marketers understand the performance of their overall marketing campaign and the pieces of the campaigns, including pay-for-performance, e-mail and banner ads,” Daum says.

Smarter about lifecycles

Retailers feed marketing and sales data into the database and the console computes conversion rates and ROI of marketing expenditures. While it measures results of all marketing campaigns, Overture expects it will show the particular efficacy of search engine marketing. And while Overture will charge for use of the Marketing Console, it expects only to break even on the technology itself, with the benefit coming in more spending on Overture’s search engine marketing. “Overture outperforms the market in key metrics,” Daum says. “As marketers understand that, we are hopeful that they will shift money to our business.”

The Marketing Console builds on a free product, the Conversion Counter, that helps retailers understand how search engine marketing campaigns are performing. “The Conversion Counter gets marketers’ feet wet; it helps them understand basic but important keyword performance data,” Daum says.

And from there, Daum says, he expects marketers to learn more about the keywords themselves. “One of the things we’ve seen in the market has been advertisers getting smarter and smarter about keyword life cycles,” he says. For instance, he notes that a marketer just getting into a particular product line will buy broad keywords so that shoppers will associate the retailer with the product. Once the retailer is established as a source for the particular product, then the retailer can buy more specific keywords. “Once you’ve got the awareness that you carry the product, you’ll want to put more specific listings out there,” he says.

Avoid restrictive standards

Getting specific with keywords creates its own challenge, though. A by now well known story recounts how a customer of iProspect bought the term “rubbing compound” in search engines, then wondered why it didn’t generate traffic. Analysis of the company’s customers showed they were searching for a product that would remove swirl marks from their automobiles’ finish and so were searching on the problem--”swirl marks”--and not on the product.

Retailers also must make sure their company doesn’t operate under a brand standard that inhibits search engine results. For instance, Marckini recounts how one computer seller refused to use the word “laptop” in describing a portable computer. The company’s rationale was that someone once got burned by an overheated laptop battery and the company didn’t want to take the risk that promoting a computer to hold on the lap would leave it open to a lawsuit. “The problem was that laptop is the most often used query when people are looking for a portable computer,” Marckini says.

Further, he notes, avoid jargon. “Industry vernacular may not have penetrated the rest of the world,” Marckini says.

Another key to success is making sure that the bids for keywords are right. Bidding the right amount has a couple of benefits, besides the obvious one of making sure a retailer is not overpaying relative to what others will pay. For instance, a marketer may want to control how high its site appears in search results as a way to manage staffing or hit sales goals, says Advertising .com., which announced its intention of going public in April, in January released its AdBids automated pricing system that Hallmark Flowers used. The AdBid system is a self-serve interface that allows advertisers to automatically set and adjust pricing for web, search, e-mail and affiliate campaigns. By reducing the time and analytics necessary to manage campaign spending, the AdBid system enables advertisers to evaluate and control their client acquisition costs on a daily basis.

“The ability to increase or decrease campaign rates across all forms of interactive media, without the often-timely process of price negotiation and contract changes, is truly revolutionary,” Scott Ferber, chief executive officer of said at the time the product was released. “Typical price changes can take a week or more of paperwork, campaign evaluation, etc. AdBid cuts this process down to literally 60 seconds. We put the power of price back into the advertiser’s hands. Only interactive media can provide this level of control, and only can make it work.”

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