August 28, 2008, 12:00 AM

All Together Now

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If the API is the pathway through which inventory/search communication happens, then what, exactly, is being communicated in inventory/search integration?

Controlling search bids

In a nutshell, inventory/search systems work as follows. Whenever an inventory level changes, it updates the XML file on the advertiser’s web site. Each update is then reported directly to the campaign management software, which works through the API to inform the engine and to change bids accordingly.

On the simple end of the scale, this might just mean letting your web site tell the search campaign when you’re out of stock. Once the software knows that there’s no inventory left on a given SKU, the system turns off bidding on related terms.

There are more sophisticated versions of search-inventory integration. The system can lower bids as inventory declines, bringing in less traffic as less product is available. The system can also automatically shift gears in search advertising, promoting a different product if one product runs low on stock. The system might also change ad copy/landing page messaging-to capture interested searchers with information on related products and keep them engaged in a shopping session even if the initial product they were seeking is out of stock.

Obviously, when it comes to search/inventory syncing, timing is essential. If your stock runs out at 10 a.m., you don’t want to wait until 3 p.m. for your bidding to respond. You want to settle the problem right away. The need for inventory/search integration is a real-time need.

But most search engine marketing technologies can’t communicate with the search engines in real time. Many change bids only twice a day, or even less frequently. If you’re dealing with a slow-response search technology, you won’t be able to really take advantage of the core concept of letting your inventory guide your search bids. After all, if it takes several hours or more for your search bidding technology to respond to your inventory, then your technology’s response will probably be based on old inventory counts, not current ones-and you’re more or less back to the search/inventory problems you had hoped to fix.

If you’re going to incorporate search/inventory integration in your search campaign, then, make sure that the search technology you’re dealing with offers a quick response time.

Going multi-channel

It’s important to think about search in the multi-channel context.

If you’re like many Americans, your computer is sitting within arm’s reach while you watch TV. At least once in a while, you probably also watch television and surf the Internet at the same time. Or you might listen to the radio with the computer on and your web browser open. And even if none of this describes you, it probably describes your neighbors, your friends, or your kids.

Today’s media consumers are phenomenal multi-taskers. They’re also bombarded with extremely diverse information, at an amazingly fast pace. Those media consumers then turn to search engines to make sense of-and to act upon-the information that they acquire. That’s why studies find a very short time lag between, say, the time a TV commercial runs and the moment there’s an uptick in search traffic off of that ad. As media becomes faster, more deeply integrated, and more widespread, you can expect that media/search relationship to only deepen.

That means that the red-carpet shoe scenario I mentioned above will become increasingly commonplace. Simply put, more media access plus more search access means that your search campaigns will become increasingly unpredictable. You never know what will send customers beating down your virtual door, and so you can never accurately predict the final relationships between your levels of search traffic and your inventory quantity.

The lesson here is that you need to expect the unexpected. But is your search marketing prepared? To answer that question, start by looking at how well your back-end inventory software can talk with your front-end search efforts-and get ready to sell those shoes.

Mark Simon is vice president of industry relations at search marketing firm Didit. He can be reached at

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