Search Marketing Off the Beaten Track

Opportunities for effective, inexpensive search marketing are abundant when you and “think outside the (Big Search) box” and look to vertical or specialized content sites.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference, August 2-5, 2004, San Jose, CA.

How do you attract your target users to your site using search tactics that do not rely on Big Search — Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL and Ask Jeeves? Scottie Claiborne, of Right Click Web Consulting and Harrison Magun, managing director of eonMedia, presented a wide range of tactics that would work for companies large and small.

The availability of off-the-beaten-path online visibility is huge, according to session moderator Chris Sherman. He and SearchEngineWatch founder Danny Sullivan have observed the growing number of industry-specific vertical portals that bring your message directly before your targeted users, as well as create highly relevant links to your website.

“There are plenty of opportunities to drive qualified traffic to a website outside of Google and Yahoo,” said Claiborne, principally by linking from relevant directories and vertical portals. Here’s why you should consider these “vortals” in your web strategy.

  • Steady traffic. “A diversified traffic strategy will allow the site to maintain traffic regardless of algo changes,” said Claiborne. “Remember “Florida (Google’s December 2003 index update) . Many who put all their Christmas eggs in the Google basket were bombed by the algo change.” Verticals send their own search traffic — users who look for resources on industry portals. “ sends more traffic to a restaurant there than Google or Overture,” said Claiborne.
  • Credibility. “The web is all about trust,” she added. “Build credibility for your site by associating it with relevant resources.”
  • Conversion. Going vertical builds conversion by attracting users already interested in your topic. Would you rather have 1000 visitors and 10 buyers or 100 visitors and 50 buyers?
  • Link popularity. “Getting your name out there is like gold; you can’t beat it,” Claiborne said. Links help in search engines, especially Teoma, as verticals build link popularity.

How to find the right vortals

There are many excellent resources for locating specific vertical portals for your target user. Beaucoup! has 2,000 search engines indices and directories. Robert Clough’s Search Engine Guide has 2500 listings. Search Engine Colossus offers 5000 entries, though it’s the least selective.

Also search by “keyword + indices” or “keyword + databases.” And don’t overlook Google’s “link:” operator. “Birds of a feather link together,” said Sherman.

In the event there is no suitable directory, you can create your own, maintains Claiborne. She described how creating a directory to divert out of state calls to her husband’s local Moonwalk rental business led to great rankings for the site, as well as evolving into an unbiased resource for a network of suppliers across the country.

Starting a blog is another avenue. “For a lot of people, links are what its all about, to get quick updates on their industry, said Claiborne. “Give people something to talk about and before long it will grow.” Blogs based on RSS feeds pull people back into a forum; that way they won’t forget to check back for news. Jill Whalen’s High Rankings gets links without asking because of her credibility. Art & helps find professionals. The cost to belong is a link back to the publisher’s photography site.

Going vertical in paid search

For large advertisers with perishable inventory such as travel bookings and concert tickets, vertical focus will produce more effective advertising results, said Harrison Magun, of eonMarketing. This is critical for large advertisers because more than 90 percent of online customers use one of the major search engines, meaning that less than 10 percent of paid search activity is available below the major portals.

“If you’re relying on hundreds of millions of dollars in sales, you’re not going to find it on Dr. John’s Auto,” he said. In the travel category, 80-90 percent of people who book travel use major search engines. Focus on making the majors profitable, advised Magun. The challenge is how to buy advertising in competitive markets without losing your shirt.

Perishable inventory makes the challenge even greater. “Searches for Bob Dylan tickets go away when the concert’s over,” said Magun, the same way searches for New Year’s Eve hotel rooms disappear on January 1. Flowers on Mother’s Day is another example of a seasonal item. “We all have mothers. Costs, click and conversions all soar around that date.”

Vertical advertising tactics

  • Use precise keyword phrases. “It’s amazing how many searches for Britney Spears are not by people looking for seats at her next show.”
  • Specify regions. “You gotta be in Boston to go to a game at Fenway.” Still, make sure to cover searches nationwide. “Full time residents are not the ones buying tickets from brokers; visitors are.”
  • Know your conversion rates trends. Evaluate your cost per click by conversions rate and use this information to stay ahead of the curve. “You can save 20% to 30% on your costs-per-click without next to no impact on sales,” said Magun.
  • Anticipate high periods of demand. “It is possible to have a lot of inventory and high demand, but usually it doesn’t happen this way,” said Magun. Bid aggressively when you expect high demand and have inventory. Always test after a week using a good conversion metrics tracking product. If you decide you’re wrong, you haven’t made a big commitment.
  • Monitor conversions. Make assumptions, test and measure. And compare. “When you have year-over-year data, you become very good at predictions.”

Both speakers suggested trying to gain leverage with directory owners. Most will work for you because they need your market. “A lot of clicks are redistributed by savvy affiliate marketers, who arbitrage these to their profit. Conversion is 50 times higher because they have 50-50 sites.

Anne Kennedy is managing partner of search engine marketing agency Beyond Ink.

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