June 3, 2004, 12:00 AM

Why retailers are getting Google-eyed

(Page 3 of 4)

Factoring in the search results it feeds to AOL, Google’s reach is broad but it’s very nearly matched by that of Overture, which powers search at Yahoo and MSN. Like other search marketing specialists, Wehr often fields retailers’ questions on the relative value of buying keywords on either engine.

“Unless the retailer already has a history with one or the other we recommend doing a test,” Wehr says. “We choose a small set of keywords and run them on both, using the same creative, and see where the results are coming from. Then you can refine your keyword list to the point where you can see that these keywords work better on Google AdWords, but those are more effective on Overture.”

Perfomics’ Larkin starts forming a retailer’s Google strategy around the size of the retailer. “Are they a retailer that sells a single product like Gevalia Coffee, or are they a retailer with multiple products like an L.L. Bean or even a Target? The smaller retailer is going to be limited in the number of keywords they can buy that are relevant,” he says.

Next up, he asks retailers to define campaign goals. ROI campaigns may have unlimited budgets if results hit certain parameters, but branding campaigns will have a fixed budget. He then starts retailers on the free Froogle feed, where he says Performics’ clients have seen a lift in traffic since the link jumped to Google’s home page. But the biggest driver of traffic has been paid listings, and like Wehr, he’s frequently asked to handicap paid listings on Google vs. Overture.

“If it’s an ROI campaign with unlimited budget, we recommend using both engines if not more. With a fixed budget, we will put the money where it gets the most reach and frequency and we will use one over the other. If the average CPC for a campaign on one is 25 cents, and for the same traffic it’s 35 cents on the other, go with first one,” he says.

Larkin finds that AdSense works best for retailers in niche categories whose products lend themselves to content sites. “Our client Bass Pro Shops has a lot of fishing gear. If AdSense has distribution to a sports site about fly fishing, that’s a great partner,” he says. l


< font size="4">Poppies and peppers and a Google strategy

While search engine marketing firms can offer counsel on how to form a Google strategy, it’s the marketers who take the lumps, and the rewards. Wildflower seed retailer AmericanMeadows.com has experienced some of both.

Its free data feed to Froogle has produced some orders, but president Ray Allen questions whether the feed will remain free. Similarly, AdSense listings on content sites have delivered some orders, but he considers the traffic from AdSense less valuable than that from paid listings that appear on Google itself. Web users are in a different state of mind when visiting a content site than when they are visiting an e-commerce site, he believes. “When you go to Google and type in ‘wildflower seeds to buy,’ you are about to buy wildflower seeds. If you are at Floridata.com reading about Black-eyed Susans, you’re there to read about how to grow them,” he argues.

American Meadow’s biggest producer of traffic is Google AdWords. About 25% of traffic to AmericanMeadows in April was referred by Google.com, up from 16% a year ago. In the last year, it’s seen impressions on Google soar, a function of both the buzz around Google and its push for wider distribution. In April 2003, AmericanMeadow’s ads were served 980,800 times on Google and across the sites to which it distributes. In April of this year, it was about 5 million for essentially the same keyword list.

But as Google’s ad distribution increased, so did AmericanMeadows’ spending on the Google ads. Allen maintains 210 to 250 keywords on Google. His average daily spend on Google pay-per-click advertising climbed to $180 this April from $119 last April, while his average cost per click rose to 36 cents from 25 cents, due to greater competition for some keywords. “While Google would say they’ve given me five times the distribution of last year, my cost for about the same things I did last year was up by 67%,” Allen says. “The good news is that while my cost went up 67%, I got 74% more orders from Google than I did last April.”

The bad news is that Google’s monster distribution raised his cost-per-click spend by increasing the volume of traffic from unqualified prospects as it increased the volume of traffic overall. For some of that unnecessary spending, Allen blames himself-a point that underscores Marckini’s advice about taking care not to multiply spending on keywords that don’t convert. AmericanMeadows sells only wildflower seeds, but this season Allen hung onto a paid AdWords listing under “seed.” In response, he got-and had to pay for-a lot of clicks from people seeking vegetable seeds. “We paid for a lot of tomato people,” he says. After the season’s over Allen says he’ll weed out from the list the most expensive and non-producing keywords.

The Froogle Google balancing act

In April, Northern Tool & Equipment Catalog Co. saw its web sales off Froogle triple within a month, says e-commerce manager Nate Miller. Sales took off after Google that month moved the link to Froogle from deep in the site to its home page and also started running a short list of top Froogle results identified as product links at the top of Google search results.

Northern Tool started submitting its data feed to Froogle early last year. Northern Tool uses Performics Data Feed technology that converts feeds from marketers to meet the requirements of different search engines and shopping aggregators, which means the marketer doesn’t need to build a separate automated feed for each search engine on its own. “It’s free to submit it to Froogle, and we already had this feed built, so we said, let’s just submit it and see what’s out there,” says Miller.

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