Letter From Australia

I've been in Sydney this past week for the Search Engine Strategies conference, and in this article, I thought I'd share a few things that stood out in my mind as I listened to the various local speakers discuss search engine marketing. Not all of this is Australia-specific, so even if you don't target the region, give the rundown a quick skim. In particular, there's a mention of how Google AdWords may now be shown in the Premium Sponsorship area.

LOOKSMART AUSTRALIA announced at the conference having closed another deal for the distribution of its local paid listings, "LookListings," this time on ninemsn, the local MSN site in Australia. This, on top of previous deals with AOL, Yahoo Australia and other important search sites, gives LookSmart a paid listings reach in Australia comparable to the dominance that Overture enjoys in the United States.

While Overture built its paid listing base on the back of small and medium-sized businesses, LookSmart aims for the big budgets. You won't be getting into the top three listings distributed to other search engines for only $0.05 per click here. Instead, you'll be paying a minimum of about US $500 per month, with CPC prices ranging from $0.75 to $2.50, depending on industry segment.

LookSmart Australia LookListings

In contrast to LookSmart Australia, GOOGLE does allow those smaller businesses in Australia to get affordable paid listings through its Google AdWords program. A hands-up question from Google to the audience of one of the sessions at the conference showed that the vast majority of those in attendance were making use of Google AdWords.

While they may be using the program, the audience did have one big complaint: minimum bid amounts based on the US market. Several indicated they wanted to purchase terms that no one was bidding on, but that Google had set a price based on US traffic. With the Australian dollar fairly weak at the moment, audience members indicated that the US prices were too high. In response, Google indicated that "geopricing" might be rolled out for various countries in the future.

Google also announced that in situations where only one Premium Sponsorship has been sold for a key term -- those "text banners" that appear above regular results -- the first ad from the Google AdWords area rises up to fill the second Premium Sponsorship position. This has been happening for about a week or two now, Google said.

Google Adwords Select

OVERTURE wasn't present at the conference, but that didn't stop the audience from raising questions about the service during the session on paid listings. A chief complaint was the inability to target some Australian specific phrases because they were deemed to be too low volume for Overture. A desire for the ability to "pause" ads, then restart them in the way Google allows, was also raised.


ALTAVISTA had questions for the audience about the use of local sites. AltaVista was finding, through its questioning, that many people were going to AltaVista.com to conduct worldwide searches because they were afraid that the AltaVista Australia site was not going to give them complete coverage. In reality, when searching "the world" at any AltaVista international edition, one should get the same results as when searching at AltaVista.com.

Displeasure was also expressed over the use of redirections by AltaVista, forcing someone trying to reach AltaVista.com to go first through AltaVista Australia. The company said it would examine the issue and see if there was a better way to alert users to the local site while not irritating them.

AltaVista Australia

GOOGLE has its own issue in having a local Australia site. The company is trying to obtain through legal channels the google.com.au domain name, which is owned by someone else. This is why it hasn't yet launched a Google Australia site, something the audience said it definitely wants, for it would make narrowing searches to Australia information easier.

The .com.au domain is the equivalent .com in the US -- many in Australia will guess that a company web site would be found at companyname.com.au, for example. Given this, the audience did agree that Google should try to get the domain name, but they also indicated that launching the site with any domain name would still at least meet demand.

The audience also had questions for search engines, as to whether they find a difference in searches conducted at their "world" versus "local" Australia site. Not really, came back the answer. People search for the same things. However, audience members themselves did seem to indicate that including geographical terms in their pages or paid listings was important to help capture local users, as they tend to add such locations in order to help eliminate non-Australian material. For example, "web hosting Australia" or "buying new homes in sydney" illustrate how users might add such terms.

Returning back to LOOKSMART, the company also said that since April, it has been showing LookSmart Australia paid listings not just on Yahoo Australia but also on Yahoo.com, to those reaching Yahoo.com from Australia. This is a hugely significant move for Yahoo. To my knowledge, it's the first time anything other than Overture ads have been shown on Yahoo.com.

Remember, the Overture deal is only for the Yahoo.com site as viewed by those in the United States and Canada. People beyond these countries still come to Yahoo.com, rather than their local sites, in droves.

Until recently, I would have expected Yahoo.com to soon display paid listings from Espotting to its European visitors, since Espotting powers Yahoo's paid listings in Europe. However, given Overture's recent win to gain the Lycos Europe deal away from Espotting, perhaps we'll see Overture manage to shovel out enough cash to get in front of European visitors at least through Yahoo.com.

The article below has more information on Overture ousting Espotting from Lycos Europe. UK listings from Overture will begin next quarter, then Germany and France come online after the new year. Espotting had promised Lycos Europe $9.2 million over the three years that its original agreement, started last year, was to run. Overture won't say how much it is promising, but to win the deal, no doubt major truckloads of cash were dumped on Lycos Europe.

Overture Signs Lycos Europe
SiliconValley.internet.com, June 11, 2002

Also keep a close eye on Google. With the ability to target paid listings to any country, Google can not only offer any local Yahoo site the ability to carry paid results, but it can power those for visitors coming from different countries to Yahoo.com.

During the second Case Studies session, speaker Adam Rollings from BHP Steel Australia indicated how "traditional" SEO work was effective at increasing his traffic by tenfold. Simple changes -- making the site more accessible, custom page titles and meta tags -- was all that needed doing. However, he found that after a few months, traffic leveled off. It didn't drop, but giant gains were no longer made.

To go further, Rollings went beyond search engine optimization and instead embraced a more overall search engine marketing strategy, involving the use of both traditional SEO and paid listings. The result was even more traffic and better sales, as he targeted some terms he was unable to succeed with using normal SEO.

This underscores what I talk about during my own "Back To Basics" session, the difference between "search engine PR" and "search engine advertising." A search engine PR campaign involves trying to improve your listings in a search engine's editorial results through optimization of page content. PR is great, because as in the real world, it can bring in "free" visitors and may even be perceived as a better recommendation.

Just think of the difference of having a newspaper article written about you versus an ad. If the article is positive, some people will tend to believe you must be good, given that a third party is recommending you. However, in the real world, PR campaigns don't succeed in doing everything. The same is true in the search engine world, so a well-rounded marketer will be budgeting for and experimenting with paid listings, as well.

The second case study speaker Bryn Nicholson, from Wizard Home Loans, introduced an interesting "traffic generation food pyramid." At the bottom was traditional SEO, "boring food but cost effective." Just above that was paid listings, "quality traffic but limited volume." Paid inclusion programs were next, again offering quality traffic but more volume. Email and affiliate marketing followed, deemed able to get large amounts of new traffic but at a price. Finally, the pyramid was capped by banner ad spending, offering tons of traffic and great brand exposure but at a huge price.

Following on this, Nicholson likened banners to chocolate and suggested that some online marketers had consumed so many chocolate banners that they got diabetes. Instead, a healthier diet might involve them for short brand building binges while paying attention to the rest of the pyramid.

Nicholson also stressed that offline PR and ads are important. Raise the consumers awareness of your brand and what it offers in the offline world, and they'll in turn go to a search engine and search for you by name, rather than turn to that search engine and search generically for a product and service. Given that its exceedingly easy to rank well for your own name, this means that offline PR and advertising could be a real secret weapon when it comes to search engine marketing.

One more return to LookSmart Australia. Previously, I'd said the company wasn't targeting small and medium-sized businesses for paid listings. That's true, but only for listings that provide guaranteed placement for particular words. For ordinary directory inclusion, where ranking is not guaranteed, the company is indeed targeting smaller businesses and in a unique way. It has partnered with the major offline Yellow Pages provider, Pacific Access.

That company will be offering its "offline" partners the ability to purchase into LookSmart's online directory. LookSmart has high-hopes that this new distribution strategy will greatly increase its paid directory listings when sales begin later this year.

Pacific Access and LookSmart Join Forces for 5 Year Yellow Pages OnLine Deal
LookSmart Press Release, Feb. 4, 2002

Sadly, I can only report on interesting items that I heard of out of the sessions that I moderated. However, if I see more coverage, I'll run an article in a future newsletter. There is a thread at Search Engine Forums that developed when the conference first was announced that I found, and an initial post-conference comment from the forum moderator is now online. Perhaps more comments on other sessions will be posted there.

Australian SE Strategies Conference

In addition, I'd recommend reading The SearchLight by Kalena Jordan, one of the speakers at the conference and a close watcher of all things search in Australia.

The Search Light