Where are Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask and others when you really need them? We think that they ought to be helping their customers even more actively. Right now, it's mostly up to the advertisers and their SEM agencies to improve clickthrough rates and buying efficiency.
Of course, creating strong paid search systems is not a trivial matter. There are, however, a variety of ways in which the ad sellers can provide incremental boosts for both advertisers and themselves.
1. Show ads when you know they work. Currently, advertisers buy keywords and ads are delivered to them. This seems fair and creates a smoothly functioning marketplace…or does it?
MSN example: I searched “chocolate” and saw that Godiva showed up in organic results and suggested searches, but not in ads. Some sponsored ads seemed appropriate while others appeared to be backfill. Of course, Godiva ads showed up when searching for “Godiva chocolate” directly.
There seem to be missed opportunities for advertisers. Perhaps Godiva advertisers only bought their brand name. Still, the suggested searches alone could help trigger and serve more appropriate Godiva ads, even without any refinements to user queries. We're sure these placements would be welcomed.
2. Prevent unnecessary buys. The ad sellers know what gets searched actively and how those terms are connected to the query tails. Maybe there is a way to share this intelligence, and bridge the gap between broad match and backfill buys.
Yahoo example: I searched "running" and found many appropriate sites to learn about it. Most ads were tied directly to the sport, such as running shoes. One exception came from Art.com, which featured "running" pictures; it linked to people or animals in motion.
Another Yahoo example: I clicked on one of the “top searches” shown about puppy names. There were plenty of great sites to find names for my future Fido. At the bottom were two sponsored ads, including a classic eBay backfiller: Puppy Name For Less.
Imagine if advertisers could eliminate less productive (or pointless) placements and clicks, via new performance models. In addition, advertisers might be attracted to different backfill tiers if they became more refined and reliable low-end buys.
3. Help with contextual buys. We're fond of the snafus that are easy to uncover while checking out ads shown on content pages. There are real disconnects, even when the subjects or terms seem quite clear.
Google example: I clicked on a Washington Post article about religious pilgrimages and saw two ads -- one about Catholic pilgrimages and another about Pike's Peak. By the second page of the article, there were unrelated backfills for accident lawyers.
There should be enough logic (and inventory) to show ads for other religious information or similar travel locations, right? Buyers would welcome this kind of opportunity, if their ads were connected to related interests. We're looking forward to improved matching algorithms.
4. Consider portfolio cooperation. The largest buyers and agencies are lucky -- they have sufficient resources to create portfolios and get coveted keywords. It's the smaller advertisers who can get stuck in the middle.
Ask example: I searched for “DVRs” and appreciated the mix of commercial and non-commercial organic results. The ads were predictably from big spenders including TIVO and NexTag.
Additional marketplace opportunities are already getting created. For local advertisers, geocoding makes these kinds of buys possible now. What about specific products that seem limited in scope but are related to a broader topic or search? For these advertisers, there should be new mechanisms that power cooperative buying.
5. Offer related searches for ads. Today, search providers create active coaching for end-users based on their queries. In their role as sellers, they leave it up to the advertisers to come up with their own approaches to inserting dynamic keywords. Perhaps there is a better way to help advertisers, rather than letting them "sink or swim".
The search engines have all the capabilities to suggest a term or two for each of the sponsored ads. These terms can connect what was searched to what was shown in sponsored results. It seems like a natural fit -- helping the advertisers and even the end-users who click on ads.
The marketplace won't be in this hyper growth mode forever. Even with a handful of major ad sellers, it's a matter of time before they will need to provide more than just the standard inventories being offered today. Servicing customers and helping them succeed isn't revolutionary thinking. It's generally the next evolutionary phase in differentiating your business, once certain processes have become commonplace.