Teasing Search Engine Advertising from the Soup

Alphabet soup is on the menu today, except I'm going to ask you to search among the floating pasta for these letters: S, E, A, O and M. Grab three Ss and three Es while you're at it. The rest you can eat ... and while you are slurping away, I'll talk about some search engine stuff that is terribly important to how you manage your online marketing efforts.

Eating alongside me is Catherine Seda, president of Seda Communication. The author of Search Engine Advertising: Buying Your Way to the Top to Increase Sales1 (which has the enviable distinction of going into a second printing within weeks of its release!!), Catherine will share with us some valuable suggestions for paid listings.

Making Sense of the Soup

Those S, E, O pasta letters stand for Search Engine Optimization. This area covers all the structural tactics you use behind the scene that allow search engine spiders to crawl your site effectively and identify the critical information that will help you achieve higher rankings in the search engines.

The S, E and A would stand for Search Engine Advertising: pay strategies - specifically pay-per-click - that help you get the word out to the millions of people typing their search queries into a search engine.

And then there's the S, E and M. Search Engine Marketing. This is the umbrella label for the constellation of efforts you direct toward both site optimization and online advertising.

Okay ... now you can gobble up those letters. What a way to internalize some definitions!

A Focus on Advertising

Catherine reminds me that paid listings are not merely about buying a position in the search engine rankings. Rather, they are a refined tool for bringing qualified prospects to your site. And as a tool, they must be designed with conversion principles in mind. I scrunch a few eyebrows and ask, "So, what gets qualified prospects to click on a paid listing?"

"Highly-targeted copy," Catherine says after using her napkin. "The most effective strategy is to state a specific benefit of the product or service you're promoting - right in the copy of the paid listing - before offering an incentive. This pre-qualifies ad viewers, because they're forced to read what your company offers. The right audience will then see the special offer which can persuade them to buy right now."

Oh, that incredibly powerful beast - copy. Yet further evidence of the value of speaking to the dog, in the language of the dog about what matters to the heart of the dog. "But," I wonder aloud. "Do they always buy right now?"

Catherine sets down her spoon. "No, and that brings up a good point. When consumers click an ad listing and then return to the site later to buy something, that's a deferred conversion. Search engine advertisers need to make sure their tracking solution captures that data and gives credit to the referring paid listing. Sales can happen 24 hours later, or more than 30 days after the ad was initially clicked."

"I've often said," I mumble into my soup, "that not all folks act impulsively when it comes to making a decision to buy. Some need to spend a lot of time thinking and researching. That doesn't necessarily mean your ad didn't work ... it simply means the horizon on taking action was further out there." Celery has got stuck in my teeth, and I start picking at it, then realize my poor manners. Which makes me think, "What's the biggest mistake you see in paid listing campaigns today?"

Catherine smiles sweetly at my predicament, then turns serious. "Many advertisers are still sending ad viewers to their home page, instead of to a relevant landing page. No, no, no! Don't even think of doing that. It's so easy to direct potential customers to a particular product or service page. Conversion rates will skyrocket by simply changing the destination URL."

"Furthermore," she continues, "only a small percentage of search engine advertisers are creating custom landing pages for their ad listings and routinely testing new creatives to run the most profitable ones. Traffic is just becoming too expensive to neglect getting more current visitors to become customers."

In Catherine's world, and hopefully in yours if you incorporate paid listings in your SEM strategy, SEA presents an opportunity to design, test, measure and optimize one small conversion system. SEA has many of the same requirements as SEO, emails and landing pages. It's a mini experience in Persuasion Architecture.

Soup polished off, Catherine and I are headed out for ice cream. You, however, need to get cracking on some exciting work!

1 Ordering entitles you to a 30% discount on the book, $25 in free ad coupons from Overture and $10 from FindWhat.com for new advertisers.

Volume 89: 3/15/04

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