May 30, 2008, 12:00 AM

10 secrets to paid search success

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Non-brand keywords also are important to attract shoppers who are looking for gifts as opposed to shoppers with very specific intentions, and to e-retailers who serve a niche, says Broussard of

“Terms like ‘personalized golf balls’ and ‘monogrammed golf balls’ are among the most profitable for us. They don’t have to have ‘Titleist’ or ‘Callaway’ brands in order to be successful because they center on a product category, a niche,” Broussard says.

Category-specific terms generally perform very well around gifting times, like Father’s Day or Christmas, he says. Also, price-sensitive shoppers frequently type in non-brand keywords-they know they want the category but are not sure how much they want to spend, he says. “So they start with the general to lead them to more specific information on a web site,” he adds.

8. Ranking shoppers

Online marketers are accustomed to measuring the value of paid search keywords and ad copy. But what about the value of shoppers coming to an e-commerce site via paid search?

An e-retailer can create an engagement score that ranks shoppers based on how they interact with the e-commerce site and then associates that activity with the keywords that brought them to the site, says Kevin Amos, vice president of strategic planning at Impaqt.

“Assign a value to page views, reading e-catalogs, signing up for an e-newsletter, and all important activities. Perhaps a page view gets 5 points, an e-mail capture may get 200 points, and so on,” Amos explains. “Then, add up all the points for shoppers and give the shoppers an engagement score, and you now can assign very precise values to both shoppers and the keywords they used.”

Marketers or their search marketing firms can track shoppers by keyword through web analytics, creating reports on shoppers’ activities to be scored and evaluated by in-house or search firm staff, Amos says.

“Retailers need to start looking at visitors and their behavior, not just tests that show a one-shot view of someone coming in to pick something up or not,” Amos says. “Once you know which engines and keywords produce customers with the highest engagement scores, then you can place search ads based on what you want shoppers to be doing: viewing five or more pages, visiting certain product category pages, signing up for an e-newsletter, and more. This will make pay-per-click campaigns even more successful.”

9. Seeking help

Sometimes e-retailers need to know when to raise their hands and ask for help. For Luggage Online, managing paid search simply got to be too much. With so many keywords, increased competition, increased cost per click and the intensifying focus by search engines on keyword relevance, paid search became a task that required outside help, the e-retailer’s Jacobsen says.

So the merchant in January began working with NetElixir, which now handles all aspects of paid search. “They can do what we could not: monitor the campaign on a daily basis, uncover positive and negative trends as they happen, and act quickly,” Jacobsen says. “I just couldn’t keep up with it anymore, and that created too much of a lag to act fast enough.”

Jacobsen first considered hiring someone full-time to do nothing but manage paid search in house, but it didn’t work out.

“We weren’t able to find someone with the skills and expertise we thought were needed to manage the campaign. So I saw two options: train someone for this position or find a company that has the experience to take this on from Day One,” he says. “Now I feel we are getting more for our money by outsourcing. I don’t know that one person in house could do the detailed work the search firm is doing for us. A search firm has a large bank of experience, systems and tools in place to be more efficient than we ever could be.”

Jacobsen points to cost per click as a yardstick of success. He says cost per click increased during the last quarter of 2007 and credits the search firm with bringing the cost back to the level it was at before the increase.

Even when a search firm is doing well, it does require oversight-an e-retailer executive or team must play the pivotal role, Jacobsen adds.

“The day-to-day tasks are off my plate, and now I can dig in to the weekly reports, which have much more information,” he says. “Being able to look at things from a top-level view frees your mind to make better decisions while the firm is the one doing the heavy lifting.”

Freed from keyword and copy creation and routine monitoring, Jacobsen now has more time to strategize, he explains. “I now can better see where we need to act,” he says, “and I can focus NetElixir on getting cost per click down, for example, or driving more traffic on particular days. We’re working well together.”

10. Getting a second opinion

Something new has bubbled up at search marketing firm Apogee Search. It has been receiving requests from e-retailers who already have search marketing firms or handle paid search in house to take a hard look at how the other firm or in-house team is performing.

“We’re starting to see merchants call us to look under the hood and do a paid search audit or come in and give their paid search programs a tune-up,” says Apogee’s Leake. “Some retailers are specifically saying they’re not looking to switch their vendor, but they want us to tell them what their vendor should be doing.”

Under these circumstances, Leake says Apogee examines numerous elements of a paid search program, including the number of keywords, how tests are conducted, underlying metrics and overall performance.

To ensure paid search programs are on the right course, Leake advises e-retailers it is best to have at least one person in house who knows the marketing strategy well.

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