October 31, 2007, 12:00 AM

Search Strategy

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4. Data integrity

Synchronizing a search engine marketing management system with a search engine is easy, right? The idea is that you write a script that pulls campaign data from Google using Google’s application programming interface and populate a database. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly that easy. Data integrity is one of the toughest issues that any search engine marketing systems developer has to deal with. If you are looking at incorrect performance numbers, you will make incorrect bid decisions and potentially lose money. It’s a difficult criterion to assess during the vendor selection process, however, because you have to use the system before determining if there are any data integrity problems.

Samir Patel, CEO of SearchForce, a provider of search engine marketing management software, combats this problem for clients with synchronization algorithms. This approach catalogs multiple versions of data to keep track of the latest information and considers daily network latencies and search engine programming interface specific requirements to ensure consistent data reliability and accuracy. “One of the common problems is retailers updating data on the search engines while working with a centralized search management platform,” Patel says. “Search engine marketing managers need the flexibility to work directly with the engines. Therefore, a search system must be able to determine for every data point whether the most recent change occurred on the search engine or on the search management platform.”

Additional data integrity problems can arise from search engine reported data. “The major search engines constantly restate their click, impression, media cost, and keyword position information,” says Dave Fall, vice president of product management search technology for DoubleClick Inc. “We’ve invested heavily in engineering resources to build an infrastructure that retrieves and replaces search engine data as it changes. Search engine marketers should expect their management system of choice to reliably report and optimize on the same numbers search engines report in their own interfaces.”

With the above insights, the best advice is to get a trial license before making a long-term commitment. If that is not possible, make the sales rep explain the steps the company goes through to assure data integrity for client campaigns before a purchase.

5. Ease of use

This one’s pretty obvious. If you need a team of techies to operate your search management tool, you’ve probably wasted your money. Google set the high-water mark here with AdWords. Since AdWords was created for the marketer rather than the I.T. department, its dashboard and reporting capabilities are extremely intuitive. Pulling custom reports and interpreting data is easy, and marketers can quickly and efficiently get the desired data. The same should hold true for any tool that you select.

So how do you find this magical search tool? First, really evaluate your search marketing strategy and what you need to successfully deploy your search campaign. And by all means, test. There are many providers of management tools, and any worth considering will allow you to take their tools and services for a test drive. There’s no better way to determine the right fit than seeing the tool in action.

Hitting the ROI

And for a little real-world perspective, Swimlocker.com is an online retailer that began using a pay-per-click search management system in July. The ROI from the system was almost immediate. Swimlocker has achieved an estimated reduction of more than 50% in the time to perform the same optimization tasks that were previously done without a search management system. Furthermore, its search campaign managers are able to more easily analyze data trends that may lead to improved campaign performance, which was time-consuming prior to implementing a search management system.

But as with all technology systems, search management systems can’t work wonders on their own. So don’t forget the people element. While you’re evaluating these tools, perhaps it is most important to consider these words of wisdom from veteran search consultant Andy Beal of Marketing Pilgrim LLC: “Search marketing is not an exact science and 80% of your success is driven by the expertise of the individuals you hire.”

William Leake, an Internet marketer since the early 1990s, is founder and CEO of online marketing services firm Apogee Search, which operates as a division of Leads Customer Growth. He can be reached at 512-583-4200.

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