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Search Engine Strategies: Buying Your Way In

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by Greg Boser, Guest Writer

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2001 Conference, August 16-17, San Francisco CA.

A longer, more detailed version of this article is
available to Search Engine Watch members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member

If you were anywhere near the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco during last month's Search Engine Strategies conference, you more than likely heard someone utter the phrase "monetized search."

For those that haven't had the pleasure, it's basically the new code words being used by Search Engine reps anytime they are talking about charging fees for services that as little as nine months ago were free. The number of new fee based programs being promoted at this year's conference that promise to get you crawled, reviewed or ranked by the Web's most prominent search sites was at an all-time high.

Like it or not, it appears that pay-to-play is here to stay.

Fortunately, conference attendees feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the new potential ways to spend their marketing dollars, were able to find refuge in the in-depth advice panel, "Buying Your Way In."

The session panelists included Dana Todd, Co-Founder and VP of Marketing for SiteLab(http://www.sitelab.com); Kevin Lee, CEO of Did-It.com (http://www.did-it.com); Tim Cadogan, Director of Search Products for GoTo.com (http://www.goto.com); and Scott Kluth, Project Manager of User Experience for Sears.com (http://www.sears.com)

Dana got things rolling by bringing everyone up to speed on the various types of fee-based opportunities that exist. Although there have been several programs introduced over the last year, they all basically fall into one of three categories: paid review, paid inclusion, and paid placement.

Paid Review

Paid review programs involve paying a fee for an expedited review of your Web site by an editor of a directory. The fees paid do not guarantee inclusion, and no refunds are provided if your site is rejected. The two most popular paid review programs are offered by Yahoo ($299.00) and Looksmart.($299.00) However, several smaller specialty directories like Business.com are also introducing paid review programs.

Paid Inclusion

Paid inclusion programs are the newest offering from the major crawler-based search engines. Inktomi, AltaVista, and Fast all now offer programs that guarantee the inclusion as well as regularly scheduled refreshes of URLs submitted to their respective databases.

While the prices of the various inclusion programs vary greatly, they all share one thing in common; signing up for the programs will not effect how your pages will rank. Achieving a positive ROI using inclusion programs will still require some good old fashion SEO skills.

Paid Placement

If spending time wallowing in meta tag minutiae isn't your cup of tea, then you'll be pleased to know there are dozens of opportunities available that enable you to simply swap some cash for a listing located at the top of virtually every major search property on the web.

How much does it cost?

It all depends on where you want to get listed. Paid placement programs come in all different shapes and sizes.

How Effective Are Paid Programs?

According to Scott Kluth, they can be extremely effective. Scott explained how the dynamic, time-sensitive nature of Sears' ecommerce platform has made traditional SEO quite difficult.

Since shifting to an online marketing strategy that is primarily built on the use of paid placement and paid inclusion programs, Sears.com has seen a 367% improvement in customer conversion, a 15% increase in average order size, and an overall ROI increase of 1,109%.

The session wound up with a Q&A session where the panelists offered several additional tips for those interested in getting their feet wet.

- Conduct Proper Keyword Research

Spend some time using tools like Wordtracker (http://www.wordtracker.com) or the GoTo keyword suggestion tool (http://inventory.goto.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion/) to gain some insight into what phrases to target.

- Determine Your Maximum Cost Per Action Up Front

In order to accurately track your ROI, you need to A) determine the specific action that needs to be completed for the visit to be a success, and B) decide how much you can afford to pay for the specific action. Once you've determined what those numbers are, stick to them!

- Start with CPC Programs

Pay-Per-Click program's like GoTo require a great deal more time to manage then CPM based programs. However, they tend to cost less while you're working on refining your marketing message because you only pay for actual clicks. Once you're fine-tuned your program, you can begin exploring CPM programs.

- Write Descriptions That Pre-Qualify Your Visitors

It's always important to write descriptions that encourage people to click. Just make sure you're only encouraging the right ones. If you run a small company that sells custom made golf clubs with graphite shafts, make sure you include that specific info in your descriptions when bidding on terms like "golf clubs." Paying for clicks from golfers who can't stand the feel of graphite, is wasted money.

- Explore useful, yet less competitive phrases

A term like "graphite golf clubs" might not get searched on as much, but it will probably have a greater chance of producing a sale.

Following theses simple steps should enable those interested in "buying their way in" to search engines to do so without breaking the bank.

Greg Boser is the founder of WebGuerrilla (http://www.webguerrilla.com), a consultancy that develops customized visibility programs for clients, to ensure they are well positioned in search engines, directories, and online forums.

A longer, more detailed version of this article is
available to Search Engine Watch members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member

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