May 2, 2005, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: Search Engine Marketing

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Dealing with the lag time

IProspect offers its iSEBA agent, an automated bid management service, to help retailers take advantage of seasonality. It learns from experience and adjusts keyword bids accordingly. "Once you`ve been through sales for the different holidays, the next time that holiday comes around, iSEBA anticipates it and raises bids automatically," Marckini says. "The longer you work with it, the more retained knowledge it has and the more effective it becomes."

In addition, retailers should use natural language search for brand building, practitioners say. "More and more smart marketers are using both in a persistent manner," Holoubek says. "Paid search allows them to conduct multiple campaigns at the same time while natural search is good for longer-term objectives related to their site and their brand. It`s like TV--you`ll do both cable and network. You won`t say yes to one and no to the other."

One area of brand building, however, where a retailer might want to consider paid search is in launching a new site. That applies equally to new retailers as to existing retailers who are creating sub-brands or micro-sites. It could easily take half a year to come to the attention of Google and other search engines who create rankings based on page content and links to sites. "With natural search, there`s a lag time before you start getting results," Wright says. "Paid would make sense there." He adds: "The right mix is different for everybody."

Knowing when to use paid search and when to use natural language search, though, creates big challenges in understanding results. And so some search marketing companies are offering more than just guidance on which keywords to buy or how to optimize pages and are now incorporating analytics software into their programs. "The challenge that most retailers have is figuring out what`s happening and what they need to do to make it better," Wehr says.

Proving it works

To that end, Oneupweb has developed a product it calls ROI Trax, which provides retailers information in an easy-to-use interface that helps them decide what`s working where. The next step for ROI Trax, Wehr says, is to include deductive reasoning capabilities. "It will understand what`s happening and help retailers deduce what the next step should be," she says. "For instance, if a particular keyword is performing better at a certain time of day with a certain landing page, it will direct more resources to creating that result."

Some search marketing companies are partnering with web analytics companies to provide insight into the success of search marketing. But the benefit that Wehr sees to one company providing both search marketing and analytics is that it creates seamless interaction between the two. "We are giving the marketing teams and our company the same tool set and encouraging interaction through that tool set," Wehr says. "If a company is using a third-party analytics product, they`re seeing only a small piece of the puzzle."

The ROI Trax service is an integral part of Oneupweb`s offering and the company won`t offer search marketing services without the ROI Trax component. "I want to be able to demonstrate to our clients that what we`re doing is working," Wehr says.

Similarly, icrossing offers a service it calls Search Intelligence that analyzes searches and applies behavioral and linguistic analysis to help retailers understand which terms and approaches will be the most successful. For instance, it examines search terms that consumers have input at search engines as well as at retailers` own sites, tracks how consumers responded to those terms and helps retailers determine which words to focus on. It developed and tested Search Intelligence last year and introduced it to the market in January. "There`s so much intelligence just out there and you don`t even have to ask for it; it`s there and it offers incredible insights," Holoubek says. "I always say that search is the world`s largest untapped focus group."

More sophistication

The market for understanding which terms work and how will get much more sophisticated as retailers develop a greater understanding of the role that search terms play in influencing behavior at their sites, says Rinaldo of Yahoo! Search Marketing. Web site analytics providers will play a particularly important part in helping retailers come to that understanding, she says. "You`re not going to convert every visitor," she says, "so you`ll have to learn how to engage each customer better." Retailers can engage customers better by collecting their e-mail addresses, for instance, or getting them to go deeper into a site, Rinaldo says. "Then you`ll find that there`s other behavior that`s of value and you may find there are keywords that are of more value than you thought," she says. "It`s all about understanding customer behavior more and not just how to message to them but also how to use search to engage more users at your site."

Much of that understanding will come from retailers` greater use of web site analytics, Rinaldo says. "We see a lot of excitement and growth coming in the analytics area," she says. "Retailers will get a better understanding of the customers who come to their sites through search." In addition, Yahoo! Search Marketing will continue to commission research to provide retailers with insights into how consumers use search and retail sites.

Understanding better how consumers use search also can result in other changes to retailers` practices, such as lengthening a cookie`s duration. Retailers place cookies on the computers of consumers who search on a certain term, then click to a retailer`s web site. Cookies usually have a limited life; they expire and then are deleted from the consumer`s machine. A retailer who understands the search-buying cycle will know better how to mange cookie expiration dates. Rinaldo reports that comScore`s survey reported that 38% of purchases took place more than four weeks after the initial search. "If your cookie duration is 30 days, but the purchase takes place in 32 days, you won`t see that that customer came to you from Yahoo! Search results," she says.

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