Search Engine Strategies: Looking at Links

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2001 Conference, August 12-14, San Jose CA.

Many companies are already "buying their way to the top" of search engines. Most of these advertisers are now focused on optimizing their campaigns to improve traffic and conversion rates.

At the recent Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose, the speakers pointed out at least one major tip that can save companies substantial time and money in managing their current paid listing campaigns.

It's Not Always Best to Be #1

Just because you can buy a #1 position, doesn't mean you should. A #1 spot may be less cost-effective than lower positions due to customer behavior and search engine changes. Kevin Lee, CEO of, has observed that many of the clicks on the #1 position are from "compulsive clickers." These people start at the top of the links and click their way down the list of sites. So, most often a purchase is not made on the first site visited. The more "compulsive clickers" there are for your search terms, the more expensive your conversions.

Overture's new Auto Bid feature can also make a #1 position dangerous for its advertisers. An advertiser's bid on Overture is lowered to only a penny higher than the advertiser below him. Except advertiser #1 pays his "max bid." He does not pay only a penny more than the advertiser below him, as one would expect. So the #1 advertiser is subject to compulsive clickers and much higher per click fees. It's more important to manage position and price intelligently than to fight for a #1 position.

Make Creative Components Relevant

While Andrew Goodman, Principal of Page Zero Media Inc., narrowed in on a few tips specifically for Google, his techniques are relevant to other paid listing engines as well. He provided the following recommendations:

* Match your ad copy closely to your keywords. Sample keywords: "deluxe topsoil." Sample ad copy: "Need better deluxe topsoil?"

* Be clear and direct. "Build a Better Firewall. Reemar ProblemSolver 2.0 outperforms BigCorp."

* Be inquisitive and proactive with editorial policies. If you aren't clear on why an ad was disapproved, explain your situation with a brief email to (or other search engine email)

* Avoid "insider thinking" (jargon) in copywriting. A typical customer search query might be "how can I clean a wine stain in carpet" - not "third generation hydroxypterodactylone cleaner."

In an effort to achieve higher click-through rates (and conversion rates), it's important for advertisers to test creative components that appeal to their target market, not a mass market.

Modify Campaigns Based on Profits, Not Click-Throughs

Jim Novo, President of Drilling Down, encouraged the audience to use their conversion data only as an initial step in evaluating their paid listing campaigns. "The highest-performing parts of a campaign upfront, generally result in the lowest profit for companies trying cost-per-click campaigns for the first time," Jim noted.

Instead of working on ways to increase traffic to the site, he recommended that advertisers first assess current customer buying behavior. Then, use this insight to modify the campaign creative components (i.e. keywords, target URLs, etc.).

It's easier and more profitable to focus on what is already working instead of what is not. Jim said, "Traffic is what it is. You have a much better chance of improving profits by trying to get more sales from the traffic you get, than paying for new traffic." Improvement can come from using Web log analysis to understand current customer behavior and modify the site to increase conversion.

Manage Paid Listings Proactively, Not Reactively

Proactive advertisers constantly evaluate ways to improve their campaigns. Reactive advertisers simply react to the landscape, and then scurry to modify their campaigns when it's often too late. Brad Byrd, Director of Business Development for NewGate Internet, suggested that advertisers frequently ask themselves the following questions:

* What changes have specific engines implemented in the function of their advertising programs (i.e. new relevancy guidelines, price rules, or management tools)?

* Have advertising engines made changes to their distribution/affiliate partnerships, which could affect our results (i.e. when/where our listings are shown)?

* How have our competitors' strategies evolved, and how could those changes be affecting our success in the marketplace (i.e. are they using more enticing titles, are they bidding more, etc.)?

* Have changes been made to our Web site which could be affecting the success of our ongoing campaigns (i.e. have landing pages moved, or has inventory changed)?

Proactive advertisers, who had already determined that a #3 position on Overture provided the highest ROI, were probably not impacted when Auto Bid launched. Meanwhile, reactive advertisers in the #1 spot wondered why their spending suddenly skyrocketed. Keep a pulse on your campaigns at all times. Change can then be worked to your advantage.

Monitor Campaigns for Click Fraud

A portion of clicks on advertisers' paid listings are from competitors. Many search engines have systems to monitor "malicious" clicks and often, these excessive clicks are not debited from your account. However, not all malicious clicks are caught. Click fraud can cost an advertiser quite a bit of money.

Jessie Stricchiola, SEO Professional for Alchemist Media Inc., experienced click fraud while handling a large cost-per-click (CPC) campaign for a nationwide law firm. On two pay-per-click search engines, she tracked nearly $10,000 of click fraud within one month. How did she track this?

Before implementing the CPC campaigns, she worked closely with the firm's in-house PHP programmer to develop a tracking system that would track all click data, independent of cookie and IP address (known as session tracking). Each keyword had its own unique tracking URL that was given to the CPC engines that stored click data, including keyword and the CPC engine source in the database.

She studied the click patterns and tracked click fraud to specific IP addresses. This data was sent to the offending competitor who stopped immediately. It was also sent to a search engine which removed from its network an offending affiliate who was sending "bogus" traffic. Jessie also stated that proper documentation of click fraud can persuade search engines to give advertisers a refund.

The Perfecting Paid Listings session highlights the importance of tracking paid listing conversions. To be proactive advertisers and address inefficiencies as well as improve profitability, advertisers need to track granular levels of their advertising campaigns. Knowing that search engine marketing yields a positive return on investment is a good start. But advertisers who integrate technology with a solid marketing strategy will harvest top results from the ever-changing landscape of search engine advertising.

Catherine Seda is editor of KeywordTextLinks, a B2B Web site focused on search engine advertising, and is the author of Increase Your Sales with Search Engine Advertising. Catherine is also an Internet marketing speaker who has presented at Search Engine Strategies and other industry conferences.

About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.