For those aiming to rank better with search engines, the growing availability of paid placement listings can seem wonderful. No longer need you worry about meta tags, be concerned about the vagaries of directory editors liking you or the many other factors that have traditionally influenced good positioning with search engines. Instead, you need only whip out your credit card to attain the position you desire.
Unfortunately, paid placement brings its own set of troubles that may cause your new found affection to wane. Bid management can consume a lot of time, especially if you have listings for many competitive terms. If you don't keep a close watch, you can find yourself bumped out of the top listings. You may also find that you fail to take advantage of opportunities where you can lower your bid and still maintain a top position.
Coming to your rescue is a new breed of tools, especially designed to help you optimize your listings on paid placement search engines.
Most of the tools I've seen are what I'd describe as "gap analyzers" or "alert services." These are designed to let you know if you can lower your bid without losing position. For example, looking at a search for "dogs" at GoTo recently showed these rankings and bids:
1 - $0.68 2 - $0.62 3 - $0.60
Notice the gap between the first and second listings. This means that the top bidder could drop down to 63 cents and still stay at number one. Similarly, the second bidder could drop to 61 cents and still remain at number two. Gap analyzers watch for these type of openings, so that you can lower bids and save money.
The problem with a standard gap analyzer is that it doesn't save you time. You still need to access your paid placement account and lower your bid by hand. Then, if the bids change (and they often do), you may need to go back in and make further adjustments.
In contrast, what I'd call "paid placement management systems" aim to take complete control over your listings -- or as much control as you wish to give them. PPCMax is an example of this type of system and the most prominent one that I've heard of.
Operated by search engine optimization firm Did-it.com, PPCMax emerged out of that company's need to efficiently handle listings for multiple clients on different paid placement search engines.
"Many clients asked us to manage their GoTo accounts, and we noticed inefficiencies, the primary one being that GoTo is more than happy to let you know if you've been outbid, but they didn't let you know if the person below you had dropped their bid," said Kevin Lee, Did-it's chief executive officer.
In addition, as Did-it's clients became concerned about costs, the company urged them to target a wider range of keywords, rather than paying high rates for only a few very popular terms.
"Even though the traffic is less, you can find some real bargains, and by averaging in these far less expensive clickthroughs, you can lower the cost of a campaign," Lee said.
Of course, going after additional keywords made account management more difficult. A final problem was the emergence of alternatives to GoTo, such as FindWhat and Sprinks. These other services could also deliver traffic and often at lower rates than GoTo, Lee said. However, the inertia of opening and managing additional accounts kept clients from trying them.
"Many of them were sticking with the leader [GoTo”, so as not to have too many accounts to handle," Lee said.
The PPCMax service is designed to solve all of these problems. Launched to the public in May, it watches for gaps. If they are spotted, PPCMax will automatically log into your account and adjust your bids. It can also handle bids for many terms automatically, saving you time. Finally, it works with a variety of paid placement search engines. That means after you open the initial accounts, PPCMax then logs in and establishes the terms you want to bid on, as well as managing those terms over time.
The system also has tools so that it stays within set budgets and doesn't exceed set costs per click. PPCMax even lets you allocate your budget in different percentages for various paid placement services.
There's lots to like about PPCMax, but an important improvement is in the works -- conversion tracking.
Specifically, many site owners who begin with search engine marketing focus too much on ranking and traffic, rather than conversion. They want to be in the top results for particular terms, and they hope that by doing so, they'll receive lots of traffic. However, not all traffic converts into sales.
For instance, let's say you are number one for "shoes," but your web site only sells hiking boots. In this case, many visitors may immediate depart in search of a site that can serve them better. That's an expensive loss, if you've been getting your traffic by paying for listings.
Conversion tracking lets you know whether visitors came to your site from a paid placement listing and then made some type of conversion action, such as filling out a request form or placing an order.
"Right now, the assumption is that all clicks are worth the same," Lee said. "The new version we are working will allow a tracking code to be placed on a thank you page, which would then communicate back to their account that this traffic converted."
Naturally, once conversion tracking is in place, site owners would then be better able to evaluate their bids, concentrating on the particular words -- or the particular paid placement search engines -- that produced conversions rather than sheer traffic.
Do the paid placement services object to PPCMax? Apparently not. The company has agreements with FindWhat and Sprinks, so you should have no worries about using the service to interact with your accounts there. The company is also in close talks with GoTo, so their should be no fear on that end.
How about costs? PPCMax charges 10 percent on top of what you spend on paid placement listings managed through its service.
An alerting system from the makers of PPCMax, it monitors up to 1,000 terms and watches for bid gaps. Pricing is $99 per month. Unlike PPCMax, you must change bids by hand.
Like PPCMax, this brand new service promises automated bid management. It will maintain designated rankings automatically, looking for changes every 24 hours. Pricing begins at $25 per 100 keywords, and there's a 30 day free trial. If you don't use the automated portion, then the service's other features may be used for free. Currently works with GoTo, Netflip, Kanoodle and Bay9.
Alert system and gap analyzer for GoTo. Free service allows you to check on one term for one domain. Paid service starts at $8 for 16 keywords per month. Automated bid management is promised for the future.
Keyword Bid Optimizer
Alert service and gap analyzer for GoTo, FindWhat and Ah-Ha, with pricing starting at $14 annually for a single domain and up to 100 terms.
PPC Bid Cap Calculator
Free tool designed to help you understand how much you can afford to bid on clicks.
Paid Listings Search Engines
A guide to major places that accept paid listings.
Comprehensive guide to paid placement search engines large and small, along with links to articles and resources about dealing with them.