Evaluating Second Tier PPC Search Engines

So you’ve honed your paid search campaigns over many months, deployed them carefully on Google AdWords, Yahoo Search Marketing, and Microsoft adCenter. All keywords and text ads are optimized, you’re all over the search and content networks, everything works. Profits. Success!

Question is, can you take these campaigns to yet more networks or search engines?

So-called second tier search engines can sometimes represent an opportunity to expand campaigns beyond traditional search engines and onto new Web properties.

You shouldn’t expect explosive results with these networks, but in some cases, interesting gains can be made, and for many verticals, second tier engines are the only PPC game in town.

Could an average PPC campaign manager leverage these to increase conversions or sales? Can they actually generate additional profits? These are legitimate questions to ask, because so-called second tier engines don’t have the best reputations, especially when it comes to policing traffic quality and delivering quality results.

But not all of these are suspicious business partners. Many are excellent sources of inexpensive traffic.

If you understand their audiences and the nature of their traffic, and if you can match these to your needs, then it’s possible to increase sales and conversions, and even maintain some level of profitability. Let’s take a closer look.

Second ‘Tierness’ Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Contrary to popular belief, the quality of traffic available from second tier engines isn’t necessarily poorer than that of Google AdWords.

PPC Hero recently surveyed readers about which second tier engine brings the best results.

Twenty-three percent of respondents said they have been most successful with Ask.com. Though their market share as of September was only 1.7 percent, Ask.com still represents somewhat significant volumes of search queries (real, honest search queries!) and can be worth your while, especially if you have the time or the tools to keep an eye on things, or if you deal with high volume PPC campaigns.

Twelve percent of respondents said they had their best results with Business.com — which has a network of partner sites that focuses exclusively on top quality business Web sites.

Though Business.com and Ask.com are typically considered second tier engines, the quality of their traffic is truly excellent.

The ‘Second Tier’ of Second Tiers

Second tiers can’t all be bunched together because many (if not most) second tier PPC search engines aren’t search engines at all. They may have “some” ads showing in search results, but most of them are “contextual” networks. They’re called search engines because they operate somewhat like other PPC search engines — they require keywords, text ads, and a CPC.

This is why alarm bells should go off when your second tier engine rep tells you their network actually generates 500 million searches or queries per day. What they often fail to explain is that these aren’t queries, as in a human person typing a query in a search box, but rather are text ad impressions.

Because of this, not all second tier engines are such obvious choices to expand PPC campaigns. The PPC Hero survey revealed that 31 percent of respondents had never even tried second tier engines, presumably because of a lack of time, or a lack of trust; and that 16 percent had tried them, but didn’t enjoy any success.

Of the “contextual” types, 7 percent of respondents had success with 7search, another 7 percent did well with adBrite. Looksmart (2 percent), eZanga (1 percent) and Searchfeed (1 percent) were also mentioned by some respondents.

Another opportunity in the world of e-commerce lies with the shopping comparison engines. Chief among these are PriceGrabber, Shopping.com, and Shopzilla.

Click Fraud

One of the most obvious issues with second tier engines has been traffic quality and click fraud. Most second tier engines take click fraud issues seriously and have taken steps to try to eliminate it from their networks. But it clearly isn’t solved yet.

Some, though, have a reputation for tolerating unsavory publishers within their networks. When you choose a second tier engine, inquire about their click fraud detection capabilities.

Are Second Tier Engines Worth Your While?

Second tier engines aren’t for everyone. True, prices per click are typically lower. Some, like Ask.com and Business.com, are much safer bets than others because they’re either actual search engines, or because their network of sites is exclusive and are extremely well niched.

Most second tier PPC campaigns will require significant attention, and will deliver much less volume and lower quality than the big three engines. However, if you make the time and are diligent with tracking performance and click fraud, you may find some excellent opportunities to expand your efforts to new networks and increase overall profitability. You’ll never know if you don’t try.

Related reading

Five ways to target ads on Google that don’t involve keywords
small budget guide to testing ad copy, landing pages, and more
keyword research tools you can use for free
Five ways PPC customer support can help SMBs