With Growth, Paid Search Gets Complicated

The complexities of paid search (SEM) have apparently reached a critical point, where re-evaluating and re-b uilding the internal search team infrastructure is becoming more important. At the Search Engine Strategies conference i n New York last month, the "In House: Big PPC" session addressed these issues, as well as tactical aspect of & quot;cost effective" best practices and techniques, especially among multi-divisional companies, organizations and SEM firms whose biggest competitors are themselves.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies confe rence in New York, April 10-13, 2007

This session highlighted on key "buzz words" such as holisti c, centralization, organization, testing and tracking. In many of the presentations, participating panelists and audienc e members discussed the emerging difficulties that "in-house" search divisions of companies and SEM firms/agen cies are facing everyday with regard to the continuous rising costs of paid search, along with the overlapping and redun dancies of their own search teams.

It wasn't long ago that these PPC sessions mainly focused on the "b idding wars" and how to win the game by outbidding your competitor for #1 position. Now, the focus has shifted to n ot only keeping costs down and optimizing performance with multiple KPI's using high powered analytics programs, but also the refining of the SEM organizational structure at the campaign, adgroup, keyword and ad/creative levels (ala Qua lity Score).

Elyse Thibault of Hearst Magazines summed it up perfectly when she said that "Bidding wars ge t all of the glamour," but keyword research and campaign organization are what are really most important. In additi on, there was interesting emphasis placed on the agency/internal company best practices on handling the complexities of redundancy and duplication of keyword coverage within multi-divisional product and service lines.

One would thi nk that having a larger, more diverse search team, would result in a better organization and improved performance. Well, that wasn't quite the case according to Olivier Lemaignen of Intuit. He discussed the common "real-life" issues with having a multi-divisional SEM team at Intuit. He regularly deals with the complexities of handling paid sear ch for all of Intuit's products such as online editions, Mac vs. PC editions, QuickBooks, TurboTax, etc...

Lemaignen said that redundancy, and the overwriting of ads (caused when someone else uses the same display url, which co nfuses the engines), make it a nightmare to track performance, loss of traffic, etc. Another area of focus is learning h ow to best manage the teams, as well as harness the best practices and processes.

Intuit has developed a more & quot;holistic approach," where one person has oversight over all SEM teams, with aligned keyword development and SE M strategy processes. That approach reinforces faster, more efficient sharing of best practices, consistent communicatio n and methodologies, he said.

Another interesting perspective came from Matthew Greitzer, of Avenue A | Razorfi sh. Grietzer reiterated a similar message as Lemaignen, acknowledging that most big companies have intra-company problem s with paid search. He stressed the importance of having a well organized "centralized vision," and pinpointed four rules for managing internal competition:

  1. Building an organization & service structure to support collaboration
  2. Having accurate unified tracking
  3. Strong keyword allocation
  4. Brand protection

Another area of concern raised by Greitzer was trademark protection, especially with affiliates and reseller partners. He noted that even though all of the engines address trademark policies, they are all different. His best sug gestion to get a handle on this is to simply restrict affiliates and partners from bidding on your company's tradema rked terms. A strategy that worked well for him was to convince the client to run a test without affiliate bidding. The client saw lower CPC (quality score & less competition), higher conversion rates, better ROAS% and more qualified tr affic volume.

According to Hearst's Elyse Thibault, the most interesting challenges that search marketers ar e facing these days are messaging, tracking/reporting, keyword management, bidding wars and differentiating between metr ics such as downloads, form submissions, and sales.

She said that the key ways to overcome all of these challen ges are to create achievable benchmarks and have a more centralized internal structure. A lack of coordination between i nternal divisions leads to irrational bidding, she said. Other intra-company issues include generation gaps, sibling riv alries, new kid syndromes and the "world cup" where companies are competing regionally and internationally.

So it's safe to say that paid search is still evolving into a complex, multi-faceted channel that has brought tremendous promise and online marketing star power. However, it has also defined many obstacles such as trademark polic y issues, affiliates competing in the space and the corporate re-structuring of search teams so they can best handle the millions of keywords and campaigns.

Greg Meyers is a Sr. Search Manager at Commerce360. He also blogs abou t search marketing issues at SEMGeek and Search Marketing Gurus.

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