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Managing Search Marketing Campaigns

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While search engine paid placement campaigns can be immensely profitable, effective bid management can be time-consuming and can quickly become a drawn out game of chess, or tug of war, depending on your rules of engagement.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2004 Conference, March 1-4, New York.

Choosing a price or bidding position is relatively easy, especially if you want to be within the top three positions. But can you save money by more effectively managing positions, ad creative, and keyword choices? How do you know which terms were getting the best ROI?

Speakers on the Ad Management Case Studies panel answered these and other questions. The panel featured both vendors and users of ad management tools. Users presented their reasons for choosing the vendor solution, and the vendors had the ability to describe their basic features, pricing, and answer specific questions during Q&A.

Presenting case studies were: Mondy Beller, of Shoes.com, Eric Neuner from Netscape/WebMD and Jeff Landers from Offices2Share. Vendor representation included Dave Carlson of GoToast, now a subsidiary of eonMedia, a do-it-yourself bid management and tracking solution for agencies or in-house online marketing managers, Greg Byrnes of SendTraffic.com, and Kevin Lee of Did-it.com. The latter two represented full-service consultative approaches that included their own in-house tracking tools.

Using GoToast, you may find bid management rules and tracking return on investment (ROI) a little more difficult than with the other products. You'll need to learn the bidding jargon and various rules. For ROI tracking, you'll need to append some javascript code to your site, and set up tracking URLs. It helps to have training from GoToast. BidRank, a desktop bid management solution that excludes Google, may also require some basic training.

That's the added value of a full-service approach from Did-it and SendTraffic.com. "I don't have time to worry about the latest bid rate," said Jeff Landers from Offices2Share. "I used to be afraid to leave for lunch, because I'd worry that someone would outbid me during that time." With a full-service solution, a business owner does not have to worry about learning rules-based bidding, appending javascript to his web site or making sure ROI tracking is working. Did-it.com and SendTraffic.com are good choices for the company who wants to focus on fulfilling customer orders and running the business itself.

For other firms, a hands-on approach to managing a search marketing campaign is the only way to go. Mondy Beller of Shoes.com ultimately decided that no one knew her business better than someone internally. Shoes.com, an online retailer, sells 150 brands, 2500 shoe styles and maintains over 30,000 shoes in stock. They do a combination of organic search engine optimization, paid placement, paid inclusion, shopping comparison, affiliate and email marketing. Shoes.com is managing over 1,000 keywords, and is preparing to add another 500.

The biggest challenge for Shoes.com was constantly changing inventory, fast moving brands, and a desire to limit overseas clicks, since they only ship to North America. Beller noted that the craze for Ugg boots over the previous holidays caused their inventory to run out within hours of posting. To maintain a positive ROI, Shoes.com needed a robust tool to quickly remove ads to keep the site from attracting visitors that would not be able to purchase out of stock items.

Shoes.com wanted the ability to manage the program in-house, monitor keywords in real time, and quickly adjust keywords and bids as needed. The company uses GoToast's BidManager, ProfitBuilder and MasterList. BidManager enables rules-based bidding, automatically checks the status and position of bids, and makes appropriate bidding changes based on parameters.

Shoes.com no longer spends countless hours checking bids or pulling bids down at night. ProfitBuilder monitors paid placement keywords, but also keywords that customers use to find their site from other web sites, including organic search referrals. Using that information, the company identifies new keywords that can deliver additional traffic. It also tracks conversion rates by the referring site.

The MasterList provides a single interface where Shoes.com can manage all online search and product listings at Google, Overture, and other PPC providers. Using GoToast, Shoes.com reduced bid management time from three hours to one hour per day. The number of active keywords increased from 300 to 1,000. The company's cost to sales ratio decreased from 40 to 20%, while revenues more than tripled.

Jeff Landers from Offices2Share.com noted that bidding for keywords has become much more competitive over the past year. Landers was faced with an average CPC price increase of over 200% in less than one year. Using trafficPatrol and trafficROI tools from SendTraffic.com, Landers was able to match keywords to the value of an actual sale and revise online advertising strategy accordingly.

With ROI tracking, Offices2Share.com was able to prove that some keywords thought to perform better were actually not performing as well. For example, for their company, plural keywords did not perform at the same rate as the singular version. A phrase like "short term office space for rent" attracted more targeted visitors. As a result of employing bid management and ROI technology, lead volume increased while maintaining a profitable Cost Per Lead (CPL).

Eric Neuner of WebMD Medscape Health Network chose Did-it.com's Maestro CPC ROI tracking tool for bid management and reporting. Medscape is the largest online population of clinically active physicians. The company's goal is to acquire physician users at the lowest cost per order (CPO). Did-it reporting enabled measurement and more granular management, based on a specific cost per MD registration goal, yet required significantly less time to manage than the Medscape's previous tools. The company increased monthly clicks by 14%, increased registrations by 19%, decreased average cost per click by 26%, and cost per registration by 30%.

Using tools and services such as those described on this panel, it's easy to track ROI on every keyword phrase, regardless of whether you choose to do it yourself or have a full-service provider manage your ad campaign.

Laura Thieme is the president and founder of Bizresearch, a search engine optimization (SEO) and Web site traffic analysis company.

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