Search Engine Marketing Shop Talk Forum

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

The Shop Talk forum at the Search Engine Strategies conference featured lively discussion and a wealth of tips and techniques from pros for maximizing search engine marketing efforts.

The Shop Talk session at the Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose was a rousing success. This type of session is my favorite because it's audience-driven as opposed to speaker-led. The moderator was Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Watch, who provided his own insight when appropriate.

The first question had to do with why WordTracker numbers for the predicted hits of many keywords don't seem to match up with the actual hits received. It was suggested that it's really more important to look at the ratios of the numbers, as opposed to the actual numbers themselves. When using any keyword research tool, the real value is in seeing the relative position of the various phrases (as opposed to the number of predicted hits).

This led to a discussion on the merits of using WordTracker as opposed to Overture's keyword selection tool. The Overture numbers are often inflated due to automated query tools constantly querying the engines. WordTracker is more immune to this because it gets its data from engines that don't generally receive automated queries.

Along the same lines, one gentleman asked if there was any way to research keywords that are seasonal in nature. For example, he would like to find what keywords people might be typing in during holiday seasons. Unfortunately, the popular tools aren't capable of providing this sort of information.

Danny Sullivan mentioned that Yahoo had a product called "Yahoo Buzz" that can provide this info, but it was very expensive to use at about $50k per year. (I checked the Yahoo Buzz site, but couldn't find any information on how to subscribe to it -- other than their free reports.)

The next question had to do with the pricing for Search Engine Marketing (SEM) services. It was generally agreed that prices were all over the board because there are a variety of factors involved. You could pay a small price to get your site submitted to hundreds of engines, but if you want in-depth SEO consulting work from a reputable company, it would very likely be expensive.

Barbara Coll from WebMama talked about why ethical SEM companies should be sure to charge what they're worth, as that is the only way to bring SEM into the ethical mainstream where it belongs.

A related question was how to charge for pay-per-click (PPC) campaign management. Some were using a pay-for-performance deal, where they would consult with their clients to make sure they got better conversion rates. Others simply charge a set-up fee and a percentage of the total amount spent on PPC ads.

Next, someone asked about companies that claim to guarantee a #1 placement in all of the engines. This sounded very shady to many of us. Without seeing the actual site(s) offering this, it is believed that these companies must have simply been buying top placements through PPC ads. If this was true, most felt it should be fully disclosed.

Another way companies might run this kind of scheme is by already owning tons of #1 positions, and simply selling them off through redirects to their clients' sites. One downside to this is that you'd lose out on having your own brand show up in the search results. This could be especially bad for companies with a name brand. Plus, this would only guarantee the listing for the time being, as search engine results are always fluctuating. In all likelihood these sites would eventually get banned, as redirects of this kind are frowned upon by all of the search engines.

Along the same spammy lines, someone recommended that if you ever have a salesman calling you to say that their company is replacing "Real Names" at Microsoft -- don't believe them. Microsoft has stopped the Real Names program for good, and has no plans to use another company for this service.

The next question related to whether there was much value in being included in the Inktomi database these days. Now that AOL is no longer using their database as part of their search results, Inktomi's only major partner at this time is MSN. The problem with MSN is that they're showing Overture and LookSmart PPC ads plus many old editorial listings within their results *above* most Inktomi URLs.

The consensus was that for competitive phrases, Inktomi is not a worthwhile proposition at the moment. On a positive note, the Inktomi database was recently updated to contain a lot more URLs, so it's possible that sites may soon start seeing more MSN traffic.

A more expensive but apparently effective way of getting some good MSN traffic is to sign up with MSN eShops. With eShops, you work with an account rep and usually have to sign a minimum one-year contract. The audience member who brought this up said that it is costing her company around $175k per year, but that they are receiving a positive return on investment. (When I visited eShops, I couldn't find information on how to open a new shop.)

Switching gears, Dana Todd from SiteLab International asked about international search engine marketing. Danny chimed in that when he was in Australia recently, it was obvious that the Australians were desperate for their own market, which seemed to be a long time coming.

Someone else mentioned that Overture is becoming more international, with the ability to create ads in languages such as German and French. However, they apparently have no plans to translate English ads into other languages.

Barbara Coll reported that it was important to own regional domain names and submit them to international/regional directories. Unfortunately, she found it was often hard to buy these domains from within the U.S. She suggested partnering with your clients' international sales reps to purchase them from within their own countries.

Google AdWords Select can also be a good source of international traffic, as you can specifically target different countries by language. Also, Espotting is a major player in the international PPC market. Danny commented that right now PPC is probably your best bet for reaching an international audience.

The next topic focused on whether SEMs were seeing a demand to advertise on a per-city basis. Unfortunately, the Internet isn't always the best avenue for advertising local companies. There are many types of local businesses which could probably do fine by just advertising in the Yellow Pages and using their Web site for informational purposes.

On another note, someone asked whether LookSmart was worth dealing with these days, since they changed business models back in April '02. Many are still upset about their shifting from a paid-inclusion directory to a pay-per-click ad model, especially with the way customer service issues were handled at the time.

There were plenty in the audience who were continuing to boycott LookSmart on principle. However, others were more pragmatic and have been testing LookSmart listings. One woman, whose company was part of LookSmart's "LookListings" program for large businesses, was very pleased with the allowances they have been making for her. She said she knew it wasn't very popular to like LookSmart; however, the program was converting visitors into buyers and was highly targeted, so she was pleased.

On a similar note, Barbara Coll commented that LookSmart's small business listings were working for her. For highly competitive keywords, she is saving a lot of money by using LookSmart (as opposed to Overture).

The last topic to be discussed focused on whether paid listings are effective for branding purposes. Many companies seem to be trying it, but it's one of those things that can work for some clients and not for others. It's good for those who don't necessarily need clicks but just want their name out there.

There are still many Web surfers who perform their shopping research online, then make their final purchases in brick-and-mortar stores offline. Paid listings can work for these types of companies by keeping their name in the search results.

All in all, the Shop Talk session was very interesting, and one of the best I attended at the conference. I highly recommend checking it out at future Search Engine Strategies conferences.

Jill Whalen is a search engine marketing specialist and the publisher of the High Rankings Advisor.

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.