June 3, 2004, 12:00 AM

The growing complexity of search marketing requires retailers to be flexible

Search engine marketing was a hot topic at the Annual Catalog Conference in Chicago in May. The underlying theme of most speakers: Be flexible. Find out what works, go with it, and cut keywords and strategies that don’t produce results.

Search engine marketing is a hot topic among retailers-and it was a hot topic among speakers and audiences at the Annual Catalog Conference in Chicago last month. The underlying theme of most speakers at the conference: Be flexible. Find out what works, go with it, and cut keywords and strategies that don’t produce results.

To attract shoppers of glass stemware, GiftCollector.com will use the term “Waterford stemware” instead of just the brand Waterford, which when used alone left shoppers wondering if the Waterford listings in search results were for stemware, pens or other items, president and founder Sara Blakewood Norment told the conference. She also buys popular misspellings of brands.

One of the more effective search strategies followed by toy company Lego.com is to analyze the keywords its shoppers use in its site search feature, then include those terms in its paid search and natural search site optimization programs, said Steve Hawco, vice president of Lego Shop at Home, the direct-to-consumer arm of the Lego Group.

The most important part of managing keywords, is quickly yanking keywords that are costing too much without leading to sales, said Garret Matthews, manager of Internet marketing for consumer electronics retailer Crutchfield. He suggests temporarily pulling out some of the hottest keywords from broad tests of multiple terms, saving on cost-per-click expenses, then researching their effectiveness separately in a follow-up test.

Choosing the right terms gets ever narrower

Retailers may be getting smarter about their keyword buys, but consumers are getting smarter about the terms they search on at Internet search sites. And that’s costing retailers more money, says David Carlson, president of search engine marketing company Go Toast. The reason: The cost of some formerly obscure or overlooked terms is going up. “Three years ago, consumers were entering broad terms like television,” says Carlson. “Now they are a lot more specific and are entering model numbers.”

The cost of so-called tertiary keywords, such as model numbers as opposed to broad terms like television or somewhat narrower terms like big-screen television, has risen. “Those terms are now 50 cents or a dollar per click, whereas a year ago they were only 25 cents,” Carlson says.

The cost may well be worth it, he argues. “Buying the word television will get you clicks, but it won’t get you conversions,” Carlson says. “The guy who enters a specific model of a big screen television is looking to do comparison shopping. He’s probably ready to buy.”

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