September 30, 2008, 12:00 AM

Google takes the wraps off

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A creative team may want to load up search landing pages with rich media content, for instance, but search engine spiders are not good at evaluating that content. That could push down an ad’s relevancy in Google’s eyes. Although Adobe Systems Inc., the maker of Flash rich media content, is working with Google and Yahoo to make dynamic Flash content easier to index by search spiders, the technology is new and unproven, Rosenblatt says.

Meantime, advertisers will have to manage trade-offs between creating rich media-heavy pages and having enough of the static HTML content that gets indexed by search spiders.

John McAteer, Google’s director of retail industry development, says marketers should focus on the basics. “Don’t make pages too heavy with content so they take too long to load, and make sure the page title matches the product offered on the page,” he says.

As marketers do that, he adds, it will help their pages with different types of content appear in Google’s universal search, which delivers multiple types of content, including maps and images, in general search listings. “Marketers have to make sure content is clear, which is nothing different from what they do today in search engine optimization,” McAteer says.

“The Google bot is looking for good landing pages, quick page loading and a good user experience. There’s always art and science to it, but it comes down to did a searcher click to visit a site and then go deeper into the site instead of bouncing back to the Google search page, so it looks like the searcher had a good search experience.”

More tools

Google is moving more into serving online display or image search ads as well as text search ads, and this year introduced a dashboard through the Google DoubleClick ad-serving system that enables marketers to see the effects of multiple search campaigns.

“We can see how our search campaigns are doing in terms we can act on, and we can also use them to see how we’re doing in other areas like comparison shopping engines,” says Josh Greene, director of online marketing for Discovery Communications Inc., an online retailer of science-related products including books and DVDs.

Google, which acquired DoubleClick earlier this year, released in August a new set of tools that provide marketers more control and insight into how consumers are responding to ads. The tools include:

l Frequency capping, which enables advertisers to control the number of times a user sees an ad, preventing visitors to sites in the Google Content Network from seeing the same ad too many times.

l Frequency reporting, which lets marketers see the number of people who have seen an ad and the average number of times it’s viewed.

l View-through conversions, which let marketers see how many people visited their web sites after seeing an ad.

Google has also been working more closely with retailers to help them learn how to use search marketing to increase store traffic. In a test conducted earlier this year with multi-channel retailer Recreational Equipment Inc., for example, REI ran display ads across the Google Content Network targeting consumers located near a planned store opening in Mountain View, Calif. Of consumers who clicked one of its ads for an in-store coupon, 24% redeemed the coupon in store, REI Internet marketing manager Natalie Crain says. REI is now using Google display to support all store openings, she adds.

Heading into Q4

Each new Google initiative raises concerns about its dominance. A timely example is its tentative deal with Yahoo Inc., which would run Google ads on the Yahoo site network.

SearchIgnite, a provider of search management technology, estimates that the Google-Yahoo deal could result in keyword prices on Yahoo rising an average of 22% if Yahoo pursues maximum profits. The Association of National Advertisers has warned the U.S. Department of Justice that the Google-Yahoo arrangement would control 90% of search marketing and limit marketer’s options while potentially raising prices for high-quality search ads. The federal government has yet to take a position on the deal.

While marketers never want to pay higher prices, they appreciate the new tools Google provides to track performance. “We see costs trending up this year, but we can still see a clear ROI because search is very accountable,” Greene says. “The big question is what our costs will be in December. If I want 10,000 clicks on a Google search ad in December, the cost is up in the air because everyone in the world might decide to make search their primary marketing focus. So the more tools we have to manage those costs the better.”

Regardless of how many new tools search marketers have or how transparent the search engines are, marketers still need to do their homework to make search marketing work, experts say. “It’s still an ongoing process,” Lee says. “You start out any ad campaign with a hypothesis on what will work, see how it works and learn from it, then go back and do it again.”

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