January 2, 2007, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: Search Marketers Broaden their Horizon

(Page 5 of 5)

"How well search engines police themselves to prevent click fraud is important, because retailers can`t really do it themselves," Wehr says. "The higher the click fraud, the lower the audience quality and the less worthwhile it is to have a presence on that search engine."

Create a strong brand

In addition to general search engines, retailers should examine comparison shopping sites and understand the differences among the sites and between comparison shopping sites and search engines. Wehr cautions retailers to closely examine the quality of the audience on comparison shopping sites when linking those sites into a search marketing strategy. "Comparison shopping sites are price driven, which means the retailer can become a commodity," warns Wehr. "Price is not always enough of a point of differentiation in search marketing."

Once retailers have decided which search engines they want to establish a presence on, they can determine how to allocate their budgets between paid and organic search. The starting point is to remember that organic search strategies also figure into the selection of paid search keywords.

Creating organic content aimed at brand building helps strengthen the appeal of paid search by making the brand more familiar to shoppers who start with organic search and then move to paid search. "Using organic search to create a strong brand influences click-through rates on paid search," says 360i`s Williams.

The inventory factor

Brand building through organic search can also be achieved by programming a landing page to display a marketing message once the shopper links to it through organic search results. "The ad that appears can be for a new product or service, even a press release that casts the retailer as market leader," says YourAmigo`s Smith.

In addition to myriad decisions on strategies, search marketing efforts must take inventory and page design into account. For instance, landing pages can be programmed to redirect shoppers to a page featuring a similar product if an item is out of stock. "The goal is to have an organic search strategy that is agile to ensure constant relevancy," adds Smith.

Regardless of the level of sophistication built into any organic search strategy, the payoff is less immediate than paid search. Retailers must not only identify keywords that will consistently generate high rankings, but also conversion rates to justify the cost of their campaigns. Maintaining a high conversion rate may require tweaking of landing pages and the creative copy used in the paid search ads.

"We will reconstruct a landing page if necessary so that it resonates better with the shopper and boosts the conversion rate on paid search ads," says iProspect`s Murray.

Successful organic search strategies can deliver click-through rates 6% to 10% higher than paid search, according to industry experts. Organic strategies that achieve that level of success guide customers through the research process and into the purchase decision.

"One way to look at organic search is as a funnel, where the information and landing pages start out generic, then move into branding and finally get into the specifics of the product," explains Christopher Wallace, vice president of strategy for iCrossing. "But it can take 90 days to see a good return on investment. That`s why retailers must be realistic about what kind of payoff they want."

Retailers that want to budget more for paid search can`t afford to dip their toe in the water by purchasing only the most popular keywords. With most paid search supported by online and offline advertising that drive consumers to conduct a search query, retailers must purchase more highly specific keywords to match lengthy search strings.

Once a retailer prompts a customer to conduct a search, the retailer can create the appropriate paid search strategy based on whether it expects the shopper to enter general or specific keywords.

"There is a lot of work that goes on by retailers using sophisticated customer management tools in their advertising to move shoppers into online search," says LookSmart`s Hill.

And this is just the start, search marketing practitioners say. If what retailers want is to be on the cutting edge of communicating with shoppers through search, then creating landing pages with links to podcasts and blogs that instruct shoppers how to access the desired information is the way to go.

"Optimizing natural search rankings is something every retailer knows they need to do, and quite frankly is old news," declares OneUpWeb`s Wehr. "What is more important to organic search is how new web technologies and marketing and media campaigns launched outside the web can influence natural search results."

Given the rapidly evolving sophistication of organic and paid search marketing and the growing role of secondary search engines, retailers will face some tough choices about how best to budget for their search marketing strategies. Finding the right mix won`t be easy, but for the retailers that do, the payoff will be big.


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