E-commerce grew 20% for Costco in fiscal 2015—20 times faster than store sales.
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A balancing act
Beyond basic best practices to shorten and clarify search ad copy, the choice of language used in the creative should depend on what the objective is, according to search marketing experts. “Creative can impact click-through and conversion rate, and many times, the two act in opposition to each other,” says Harrison Magun, vice president and managing director of Avenue A/Razorfish AR Search.
Magun recommends clients balance click-throughs and conversions in their search ad copy against the desired outcome and offered an example of how that works: A hypothetical online bookstore creates a paid search ad that says, “Free books, click here” to support a promotion in which consumers who buy 10 books receive one book free. While that copy will likely increase the overall click-through rate, once visitors discover they must buy 10 books to get the free one, the conversion rate is likely to go down.
On the other end of the spectrum, the online bookstore that wants to pre-qualify visitors who click through so as to minimize ineffective paid search spending, limiting them, say, to those who are willing to wait to get their books, could create an ad that says, “More than 1 million titles, 30% available to ship now.”
“That may improve the conversion rate, because people who don’t want to wait won’t click through, but the click-through rate is going to go way down,” says Magun. But that can also be an effective approach, as in the case of one AR Search client whose paid search ad creative- “Win an iPod. Free trial. Credit Card required”-was effective in discouraging click-through from unqualified prospects.
While marketers and search engine marketing companies are compiling a growing body of data on what works for search and what doesn’t, testing is a critical part of maximizing ROI for search campaigns, Magun says. “People are always looking for the silver bullet, but there is no silver bullet. It’s silver buckshot,” says Magun. “We never say we know how something is going to work. We say, here are the possibilities, here are the things we test for and here is how we focus on testing creative elements, categorizing them and coming up with regimented tests.” Magun also believes ad testing should be of statistical significance. “You can’t just say after 300 or 400 clicks, ‘This works or this doesn’t,’” he says.
To speed up the testing and optimize campaigns based on test results sooner, Google uses a creative optimizer that will automatically rotate multiple versions of an ad and automatically serve the one that initially received the highest click-through more often. The rationale is that’s the version more people will choose to click on in the future. Yahoo also allows advertisers to test multiple versions of an ad over time, but it is a more manual process.
Google advertisers can opt out of the optimizing feature, meaning that different versions of the ad will be served up equally, a strategy typically recommended by MoreVisibility, says Leitch, who believes that automatically optimizing the ads as soon as a trend appears doesn’t produce test results as valid as an equal comparison. “If there are a lot of marketing points we can use, we may end up using all the ads,” she says.
Nevertheless, Chin says most advertisers choose to leave the creative optimizing feature in Google campaigns. “Most people tend to use the feature because it does the extra legwork for them,” he says.
Creating effective search copy is a challenge, as typing in a few keywords and looking at some of the ads that come up will show. “There are a couple of things that should be focused on,” says Leitch. “Make it short and sweet and compelling. Brand yourself, define yourself, qualify the click, explain who you are, what you do, and any special offers you might have-in 70 characters or less. Writing good copy is not easy.”
‘You say bamboo, I say woven wood, but let’s not call the whole thing off’
Copywriting is one way that wordsmiths ply their craft online; writing keywords for search engine marketing is another. And while keywords are usually only one, two or three words, they are important to the success of a web site.
Take the term “bamboo shade.” Pretty simple, huh? How else would you describe it? Well, to the shade-manufacturing industry, bamboo shades are “woven wood shades.”
“It’s a copywriting challenge,” says Sarah Cook Perkinson, vice president of marketing at Blindsgalore.com, which uses both “bamboo shades” and “woven wood shades” as search engine keywords. “You try to improve your rankings and be relevant to consumers based on the search terms they use-you don’t want to fall prey to the fact that those aren’t the correct terms.”
The search engines themselves offer a lot of specific guidance to paying search advertisers and those seeking to optimize natural search, including which keywords get the most searches. Marketers work with the engines on creating an ad strategy from data compiled by the engines, create campaigns on their own, or look to a third party such as an interactive agency. That’s what Blindsgalore.com did in turning to Avenue A/Razorfish’s AR Search unit for help with boosting natural search rankings.
As part of an initial benchmarking exercise, the agency looked at the number of searches on major engines over the previous 120 days for about 50 words relevant to Blindsgalore’s business. It found that the industry and consumers in some cases used different language-like “woven wood shades” and “bamboo shades”-to describe the same products, leading to missed connections that affected search rankings, click-through and sales. Other examples included “cordless” shades, which some shoppers called “cord-free,” and “top down bottom up,” which is the industry term for shades that can open from the top or the bottom, but which are described six different ways by the six major manufacturers that fabricate them.