January 31, 2008, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: How to find the payoff in search marketing

(Page 5 of 7)

Finding missed opportunities in paid search

Managing keyword prices is important, but don’t overlook new ways to use paid search.

Although search engine marketing is an integral part of retailers’ online advertising strategies, retailers can become too focused on managing the cost of keywords and fail to focus on identifying new opportunities with search marketing to maximize sales.

For instance, many retailers fail to sync their keyword campaigns with product availability. “Retailers can’t afford to promote an item in a paid search ad and say it is out of stock or that it is back ordered and will ship in a couple of weeks after the shopper has clicked on the ad,” says David Szetela, CEO of Clix Marketing, a Louisville, Ky.-based paid search advertising firm. “Paid search ads have to be backed up by available inventory.”

Matching keyword buys with inventory is only one area that retailers need to pay extra attention to. Others include optimizing landing pages and site design to deliver what shoppers are seeking and matching keyword strategies to how and when shoppers search. “There is a cost associated with each click on an ad, regardless of inventory status or page availability,” says David Cohen, vice president of Databazaar.com, a Miramar, Fla.-based office supplies retailer that uses NetElixir Inc., a Princeton N.J.-based paid search marketing firm, to manage its search marketing. “Monitoring helps to keep the cost per click down.”

15 days & 15 minutes

Keywords ought to be tested for at least 15 days with performance data collected in 15-minute increments to gain a true indication of the value of their performance. “The criteria that need to be measured are ROI, sales generated, cost per sale, average visitor value and the average cost per click,” says Udayan Bose, founder and CEO of NetElixir Inc.

Retailers often fail in managing ad visibility in relation to available inventory for the product. Informing a shopper that an item is no longer available or is on back order after she has clicked on a paid search ad can irreparably damage that retailer’s credibility with the shopper and even result in bad reviews about the retailer in blogs and on other communal web sites to which shoppers are turning for product information.

Creating a link that provides the search marketing manager with updates on available inventory of products promoted in paid search ads can alleviate the bad press-or blog entries-that comes with not having the product to support the ad. “Retailers do not want to mislead shoppers,” Szetela says.

Informing search marketing managers when an item is in short supply makes it possible to adjust the ad copy to reflect the limited inventory. Search managers can include copy to say, for instance, there are fewer than 10 items left, which in turn creates a sense of urgency with the shopper. “If an item is back ordered, state it in the ad copy,” says Szetela. “When an item is out of stock, the ad needs to be shut down.”

There ought to be no delay in pulling an ad not supported by available inventory because any click on it is wasted money. The same principle applies if the link to the landing page unexpectedly goes down.

“Knowing when to turn a paid search ad off because of lack of inventory or a bad link to the landing page requires 24/7 monitoring of inventory and page links,” says Cohen of Databazaar.com. “Cost containment beyond the bid price is important.”

Dropping the under-performers

Keyword monitoring can also indicate when a keyword is underperforming and needs to be dropped from the dictionary or given a rest until a more appropriate time. “In any paid search campaign about 50% of the keywords selected without testing are apt to be laggards that deliver marginal return or are poor performers that need to be replaced,” Bose says.

Another area of challenge is managing page availability. For retailers that manage hundreds of landing pages, monitoring the availability of page links can be daunting. “For some clients, 30% of the links to their landing pages are going to dead pages, but they don’t know enough to pull the pay-per-click ad because the marketing department may be unaware that the links are bad,” says Suzy Sandberg, president of PM Digital, a New York-based direct response online marketing firm.

PM Digital’s Link Checker crawls landing page links for their clients to determine their availability and automatically feeds reports to the marketing manager when the link for a landing page is broken. The application also tracks the status of inventory. “Retailers need to stay current with that type of information and they may not want to drive paid media to pages with merchandise that’s out of stock.” she adds.

Just as site design can influence buying decisions, so too can landing page design. This is especially true for seasonal items, such as branded pro and college sports team hats. In this instance, shoppers that input a search string specific to a team expect be taken to a landing page with headwear pertinent to that search string.

“Retailers don’t want landing pages to look like the home page which has broad consumer appeal,” says Clix Marketing’s Szetela. “Landing pages need to be designed specifically to reflect the copy in the ad and meet the search intent of the customer.”

To help retailers tailor their landing pages to search ad copy, Clix Marketing has developed an application that automatically creates custom landing pages that pertain exactly to the search term used and the ad that attracted the customer. The application is a standard part of the company’s services.

Striking the design balance

Elements that go into designing a good page strike a balance between text and images, include a clean layout that uses callouts to highlight product attributes and liberal use of color, and have an intuitive shopping cart that is easy to locate, according to Robert J. Murray, president of Watertown, Mass.-based search marketing firm iProspect.

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